From The Pit To The Mic: Interview with John Oates of Daryl Hall & John Oates

Photo by Talon Kane Photography

I still get amazed when I receive these opportunities to talk to legendary and amazing artists. When I was offered the chance to talk to John Oates, from the superstar pop-duo, Daryl Hall & John Oates, I immediately said yes. When we started our interview, I asked him the same question I ask the majority of the artists I speak with on how they would describe themselves. He replied simply with, “I’m a folk artist in an ex-pop music player’s body.” I was stunned for a moment hearing him say that as he is part of one of the most popular pop artists still out there today. When I asked why ex-pop simply stated “Because I’m not making pop music anymore. Unless the pop music I’m making is from the late 1920s” And it was right at that moment I knew I was getting to opportunity to present our viewers to a side of John Oates they may not have seen yet.

We had a lot to talk about and started off with the big tour announcement made on January 22nd. Daryl Hall & John Oates were going back on the road starting on May 1st in Sacramento, CA and wrapping up on August 11th in Seattle, WA. Daryl Hall & John Oates go on the road a lot and John confirmed, “Well, you know, once a year is pretty normal for us. We’ve been touring since the early 70s so it’s nothing new. We like playing live, I like doing it in different configurations to keep it fresh.” Co-headlining the tour is Train. I asked John about the friendship he and Daryl have with Pat Monahan and his group, “Yeah, we know those guys pretty well. I’ve been on the Train cruise, and I’ve got to sing and play with him at a couple of festivals. He’s been on Daryl’s TV show so yeah we go back.” Unlike the tour with Tears for Fears, John said this tour with Train will be a little different. “We’re going to do a lot more collaborative stuff with them. At the end of the show, we’ll probably do a group encore of some sort. You know, like an extended encore where we play together. As opposed to the last tour we did with Tears For Fears where we just did two separate sets and there was no real interaction between the two groups.” This will definitely be an exciting tour.

One of the tour stops will be in Daryl Hall & John Oates’ hometown of Philadelphia, PA where they will be performing at the 2nd annual HoagieNation Festival. Daryl Hall & John Oates were involved in the creation of the festival. “It’s a partnership that we’ve done with Live Nation to create a Philadelphia centric music festival and it has a lot to do with food and music. Philadelphia has become a real foodie town. And so we celebrate, you know, all things Philadelphia.” Besides Daryl Hall & John Oates headlining the HoagieNation Festival, also headlining are Train and Fitz and The Tantrums. Special guests include Tommy Cornwell and Young Rumblers. And Daryl Hall & John Oates haven’t forgotten their roots when they were just starting out and are showing that within the festival lineup. “We’re inviting a lot of local Philadelphia acts giving younger Philadelphia acts a chance to perform…”. As for the inspiration behind HoagieNation Festival, “We wanted to, kind of, you know, cement our legacy in Philadelphia, being we’re from Philadelphia and having something that can go forward into the future, you know, that we’re associated with….When you’ve been around a while, you always looking for unique new ways of doing things that, you know, that can keep you active and that, you know, can keep you interested really. And these kind of cool events are things that are, you know, all of a sudden are a cool challenge. Let’s figure out how to put this festival together and have something that can go on into the future.”

We switched gears to talk about John’s 7th solo album titled ‘Arkansas’ that will be released on February 2nd. The album is being released by Thirty Tigers. The inspiration was the originally going to be a tribute to John’s idol, Mississippi John Hurt. He recorded a couple of tracks and decided he wanted to try to make it more original. So he brought in a number of his friends in Nashville that he’s both worked with and toured with over the past few years, which included the Sam Bush on mandolin, Russ Pahl on pedal steel, Guthrie Trapp on electric guitar, Steve Mackey on bass, Nathaniel Smith on cello, and Josh Day on drums. And after the recorded the first track, John realized something special was occurring. “And from the very first track we cut, it was so powerful and sounded so amazing that my engineer and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is great. Whatever this is, we don’t know what it is…let’s just keep going.’ So we literally cut 5 songs in 5 days and we took a break over the holidays, this was in November of ’16. And then in January of ’17 we came back and did another 5 days and 5 songs and that was the whole album. It was totally cut live. There was no fixes or repairs or overdubs or any type of technical trickery. It was all about capturing this incredible band really just playing in a really amazing way.” The songs themselves have a significance in American music history. “The songs are all from the late 1920s early 1930s. It ended up being a snapshot of some of the songs that were popular at the birth of radio and at the birth of the phonograph record. So essentially at the birth of American popular music.” Two of those songs included are Emmett Miller’s “Anytime” from 1924 and Jimmie Rodgers’ “Miss the Mississippi and You from 1932. “What I wanted to do was shine a light on some people that a younger generation was not so familiar with and show people there was popular music before rock and roll.” There are two original tracks on the album, with the title track, ‘Arkansas’, being one of John’s favorites. He explained how he was inspired by seeing the cotton fields and the Mississippi river when he visited Wilson, Arkansas. John said that the album was “totally organic and natural. Everything that happened, happened in the most organic and natural way.” He also added, “The songs that I’m singing are very comfortable and very natural for me to sing. I think they suit my voice. On so many levels, it just feels right.”

John has a personal connection to Mississippi John Hurt. Jerry Ricks, who was John’s guitar teacher and mentor, recorded and traveled with Mississippi John Hurt when he played at folk festivals. When Mississippi passed away, his guitar was given to Jerry Ricks. John explained Jerry sold that guitar and just recently John had purchased it. And it was the same guitar that he played on when he recorded Daryl Hall & John Oates’ first two albums in 1972 and 1973. You could hear how elated he was to be able to acquire a piece of history from his idol, Mississippi John Hurt, and his own mentor, Jerry Ricks.

Later in the conversation, John touched back upon ‘Arkansas’ describing it as “a chance for me to showcase and get back to my true musical self. I really don’t think the music of Daryl Hall & John Oates, even though it was super successful, really represents me in my heart of hearts as a musician. I was part of it and it was a collaboration with Daryl, but now I think the music I’m making now is really exactly who I am.”