Guitarist With Hall & Oates Says Duo Is As Popular As They Ever Were
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
The numbers don’t lie, with over 60 million records sold and 29 Top 40 hits, including six chart toppers, Hall & Oates are the best selling duo in rock n’ roll history. The two reared in Pennsylvania met at Temple University in the late 1960’s and were recording by the early 70’s. With the release of their second album ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ including their breakthrough single ‘She’s Gone’, Hall & Oates began a 12 year run of dominating pop music radio.
Inspired the music they grew up listening to, the duo were among the first white artists to put their own mix on soul and R&B music, a sound usually celebrated by black groups at the time. Blending pop music with rhythm and blues set them apart and garnered them a larger audience.
Their first chart topper came in 1977 with their signature song, “Rich Girl” (also No. 1 R&B), followed by “Kiss on My List”, “Private Eyes”, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” (also No. 1 R&B), “Maneater” and 1984’s “Out of Touch”. Their six multi-platinum albums ‘Bigger Than Both of Us’, ‘Voices’, ‘Private Eyes’, ‘H2O’, ‘Rock ‘n Soul Part 1‘ and ‘Big Bam Boom’ released consecutively brought the blue eyed soul singers world wide acclaim. Their run also produced an additional six U.S. Top 10 singles, “Sara Smile”, “One on One”, “Family Man,” “You Make My Dreams,” “Say It Isn’t So” and “Method of Modern Love”.
Hard core fans and even casual Hall & Oates admirers might assume the duo peaked in the early 1980’s but according to singer songwriter and guitarist John Oates that couldn’t be further from the truth. “It’s hard for some people to believe but we are as popular today as we were back then.” Oates understands the reasons why. “Our songs have stood the test of time. A couple of generations later and we are attracting newer fans, many discovering our music for the first time.”
While many of the artists that emerged during the baby boomer era were influenced by the British Invasion, Oates says his passion came early on. “I’m not one of those kids at 16 who picked up a guitar, because I witnessed The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My love for music goes back another decade. I was playing guitar in the early 1950’s before rock n’ roll began to take shape.”
H&O have been part of the musical landscape now for over 47 years, something Oates finds truly awe inspiring. “I couldn’t have imagined it in a million years. If you asked me back in 1972 if we’d be doing this in 2019, I’d of thought more like, will we still be around or be alive for that matter.” The reason they still continue to record and tour together is simple. “It has to do with passion and commitment. We both genuinely love doing what we do.”
Whether their meeting and collaborating was fate or destined by the music gods, Oates just knows it was meant to happen. “We both grew up outside of Philly. We listened to the same radio stations and were affected by the same scene that was unfolding in Philly. We both ended up going to Temple. Daryl and I were both really into music. He was more reared on church music and classical, where I was the folk and blues guy. Our commonality is our passion for music overall. Of course we both admired the 50’s and 60’s music that was coming from the radio.”
When H&O began to make their mark they were labeled a ‘blue-eyed soul’ a reference to their appreciation of R&B and the Motown sound, but that designation has never sat well with Oates. “Putting labels on music is insane. To me there are only two kinds of music, good and bad, and that is subjective to the listener. What some people like other might not and vice versa. If you love a song or and artist that’s all that matters. It’s crazy how we categorize music.”
They may not be as commercial as they once were, but it was the 1980’s that propelled H&O into the entertainment stratosphere. Oates admits it was a chaotic time. “I don’t even remember the 80’s. I have more detailed memories of the 70’s than I do of the 80’s. In the 70’s we were just starting out, trying to make great music, and hoping we would make a dent. By the time the 80’s rolled around we had really made our mark. Everybody wanted us. We were pulled in so many directions, and running at full tilt.”
H&O’s 80’s explosion was further aided by newcomer MTV (Music Television), when they went live in August 1981. “We knew some of the people behind the start up of MTV, so we had advanced knowledge. They came to us and said we want you to make a video, and of course we said ‘what’s a video’? The music industry always has advancements. It was just another component for bands to have to navigate. Fortunately for us we were one of the first artists to be embraced by the MTV generation.”
MTV may have added a visual aspect to modern music but Oates wishes he could revisit their four minute exposures. “Looking back we didn’t take it serious enough. The medium was to new, we were super busy recording and putting out new songs like clockwork. And now they want a video to accompany every new single. It was just another thing we had to find time for, and usually we didn’t have the desired time.”
His recollection is evident in their MTV debut. “Our first video was for ‘Private Eyes’ and the director said just find some funny clothes. If we had thought about how we were being portrayed we would have done things a little better. Being among the first artists doing videos, we had no idea what they would add to us as a band. Music was our first priority and still is. We weren’t actors. As simple as they were, they didn’t hurt us, we continued riding high on the music charts.”
Oates sees their naivety to the new art form as a help guide to other artists. “By the mid 80’s videos became much more sophisticated. Artist like Madonna and Michael Jackson were taking music videos to a higher art form. Many artists during that transformation, especially those new on the scene like Madonna understood their look, and the stories told in their videos had just as big an impact on their fans, as did the songs themselves.”
Being at the top of their game in the mid 1980’s did come with some awesome experiences. H&O took part in 1985’s ‘We Are the World’ single, a star studded release to raise funds and awareness on the drought in Ethiopia. That lead to the formation of USA (United Support of Artists) of Africa and the mega summer relief concert Live Aid. The world watched event took place at Wembly in London and in former JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.
It’s a few of the shared experiences Oates remembers well from the 80’s. “First and foremost we were honored to take part in both. Fortunately we were in a position in our career that warranted our participation. Daryl and I believe in giving back. It was the biggest concert ever in history. No concert had ever been shown worldwide. It was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of our careers.”
Amid the charitable aspect was a sense of pride. “Here we were in Philly, in our hometown performing before tens of thousands of fans with the whole world watching on TV. I’m proud Philly was selected for the US location.” A fan of Motown growing up H&O performed with some of their early idols at JFK. “Here we are on stage with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin (The Temptations) and we’re followed by Mick Jagger and Tina Turner. It was definitely a thrill to take part.”
Just weeks prior to Live-Aid H&O recorded ‘Live from the Apollo Theatre’ an eight song disc and video that incorporated some of their hits as well as a medley of Motown favorites. Kendricks and Ruffin took part in the sessions. “Daryl and I really embraced Motown. We were big fans of groups like The Temptations and Four Tops. A lot of great harmonies came out of the Motown era, and even greater music.” ‘We Are the World’ raised over $68 million with the Live-Aid concert adding another $100 plus to the relief efforts. “Thrilled we were able to take part.”
While the late 1980’s and early 90’s brought new music from the duo, they began their decline from the charts. That did not however diminish their appeal or presence. They recorded ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ for ‘Two Rooms’ an Elton John tribute album and picked up steam when they were featured on ‘Behind The Music’ on VH1. That would lead to a greatest hits release in 2002.
H&O released a Christmas album, Home for Christmas in 2006, which contained two Christmas originals and covers, including a version of “It Came upon a Midnight Clear”, which became their second number one Adult Contemporary hit. In 2009 they would release ‘Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates’, a comprehensive collaboration of their life’s musical work.
Newer music may not have made it to pop radio, but the duo have been busy over the past couple of decades. “We keep our name out there. Our music gets played on several radio formats. Daryl has recorded several solo releases. He’s busy with his TV show (Live from Daryl’s House) and other projects. I do my own recording.”
After 30 years of recording with Daryl, John put his first solo effort out ‘Phunk Shui’ in 2002. The album title is a play on the Chinese system of aesthetics Feng Shui (harmony). Among the 14 tracks includes a moving version of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’.
Four albums followed, and with each new release he’s become more introspective. In order they are ‘1000 Miles of Life’ (2008), ‘Mississippi Mile’ (2011), ‘The Bluesville Sessions‘ (2012) and ‘Good Road To Follow‘ (2013). “I love to explore new roads in music.” Among his favorite solo albums, “All my work is special to me, but I’m always proudest of the one I’m currently working on.”
Oates sixth solo release ‘Arkansas’ was released last year. He admits it’s a departure even for him. “It is definitely taking me back. I’m exploring music from the 1920’s and 30’s, back to the birth of the phonograph. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone, but that’s a good thing for me. I want to challenge myself and my fans. It has some delta blues and obscure standards.” Originally inspired by legendary Mississippi blues man John Hurt, the new album features works from other artists as well as few originals.
When it comes to touring and recording he has two outlooks. “Daryl and I don’t record anymore. We have a ton of music and they are great songs. I love getting together with him and going out on the road. I’m a musician so there is always that part of me that loves to play live and feed off the crowd. When it comes to recording I prefer to do that by myself. Of course I enjoy playing these smaller venues when it’s just my band, more of an intimate feel. It’s a good mix for me, and that is fulfilling.”
With their careers are still unfolding H&O were inducted into the much coveted Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. They were part of the class of 2014. “I’d have to say that’s one of the highlights for us in recent years. It’s great to be appreciated for the body of work we’ve put forth. I’m proud to be in the hall of fame. Many of my idols are in there.”
Diehard Oates’ fans can take a look into the legendary musician’s life by reading his autobiography ‘Change of Seasons : A Memoir’ released in 2017. Among the 388 are detailed memories of a young boy who grew up in small town Pennsylvania to become one half of the greatest duo in rock n’ roll history. After 45 years Oates says he was ready to share with his fans. “The time was right for my memoir. Hopefully readers will discover a little more about me than they already know. And maybe that I’ve come full circle, that I was into music long before I met Daryl.” The book was co-written by Chris Epting.
‘Change of Seasons’ mirrors a 1990 album by H&O and Oates admits he lifted the title. “It’s about the evolution of life. It’s basically me looking back on my career and how things have changed over the years. I’m older now so I can appreciate all I’ve experienced throughout my career.” Oates turned 71 this past April 7th.
“I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years with Chris. He’s a good writer and good historian. One day he said to me, had I ever thought of putting some of these time lines down in more of a book form. Frankly I hadn’t. It was never part of a strategy for me to write my life story. But with Chris’ help it took form. He’s a great writer, and writes a lot about history, so it was fun working with him on the project.”
Oates adds it took over two years for the finished product. “It was a lot of back and forth. Of course I’m on tour and finding time was crucial. But it’s a solid read. Basically Chris drew an outline from my notes and recollections and I would color the rest in. Thankfully when we turned the book in it didn’t need very much editing, because Chris knew what he was doing.”
More than six decades later Oates admits he never imagined doing anything else with his life. “Music is in my DNA. I’ve never looked at it in terms of a job. I’ve never considered it that way. It’s just part of who I am.” What would a 71 year old John Oates say to his 25 year old self. “Stay close to your roots, and maybe get more educated on the business side of music.”
One thing Oates doesn’t dwell on is Hall & Oates claim to be the biggest selling duo of all time in pop music. “I think we’ve won by default, because we’re still out here. I’m not nostalgic, nor do I rest on our laurels. I’m happy people like our music and what we’ve done over the years, but I don’t put a lot of stock in it personally.” His measuring stick for success mirrors similar icons. “Hard work, commitment, and dedication, if you apply yourself to those three standards than the rest will fall into place.”
Nowadays he spends most of his downtime in Nashville. “I bought a place back in 2010. I love Nashville for many reasons. It’s central to the country. I can get around easy and get to many other parts of the country in just over and hour. But more than that, it’s a great city. It’s got a good feel to it. Surprising how many musicians now call Nashville home.” When he really wants to relax Oates finds time to visit his second home in Colorado. “It’s just so beautiful out there. I go there for real down time.”
One thing for certain, whether touring with Daryl, or working on his own music, Oates likes to stay busy. “My vacations are when I’m home. I get to see so much of the country when I’m on tour and that’s a plus.” After the Hall & Oates tour he will continue to be on the road. “I’m still kind of promoting the ‘Arkansas’ album. I’ve got some solo dates scheduled in November.”
Like many of their contemporaries Hall & John Oates are not letting age slow them down, nor are they ready to fade into the sunset. “We love touring. I love being out on the road every year with Daryl. We have great fans. Our music is timeless and I really enjoy playing the songs we’ve recorded over the years. As long as we stay healthy and are having fun I don’t see any reason to slow down.”
Daryl Hall & John Oates play the North Charleston Coliseum Thursday Sept 19th. G. Love & Special Sauce, an alternative, hip hop band out of Philadelphia will open the show. Gates open at 6pm with music kicking off at 7:30pm. Tickets are still available.
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