While he's well known for the extraordinary partnership with Daryl Hall that's sold more than 80 million units and won him induction into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame, in recent years John Oates has concentrated more on his solo career. Now on tour and heading to Franklin for a concert Saturday, Feb. 9, Oates is content to make music he enjoys, without concern over trends or record label pressure.
"Things have kind of come full circle in the business," Oates tells the Scene. "The listeners are going back to singles, and that's what I grew up on and how I got started in the business. I would look for songs, and work on songs first. Albums were something that came later. So now I go in and do some recording, working on singles and getting them straight, then I go to the next project. When we get everything together, then we'll have a complete album ready for release."
The four solo works he's done since 1999 include a couple that showcase his lifelong fondness for blues, both as a player and vocalist. Mississippi Mile and the live LP The Bluesville Sessions spotlight Oates doing energized, engaging blues numbers. But Phunk Shui and 100 Miles of Life also contain catchy and compelling tunes, though they're more geared towards his pop and folk side.
Oates sang all that music and more growing up in a small town outside Philadelphia. The first musician he ever saw live was Bill Haley. Oates was a huge fan of Top 40 radio in an era when R&B, folk, soul, novelty tunes, instrumentals, even some country songs found their way onto the charts alongside rock 'n' roll anthems.
As a Temple student, Oates penned his first single "I Need Your Love" in the mid-'60s. It got a bit of regional airplay. Oates later met guitarist/instructor Jerry Ricks, who became a major figure in his life. It was Ricks who tutored him on the basics of finger picking and the differences between Delta and Piedmont blues playing, among many other thngs.
He was also introduced to several great blues and folk artists. But the final component was meeting a fellow R&B/blues lover and Temple student named Daryl Hall.
The two quickly became fast friends and later roomates. At one point the mailbox at one of their apartments was labeled "Hall & Oates," and that's the name they chose when they began working together. But they were so versatile labels had difficulty deciding how to market them, and none of their early singles made much impact.
Then an album cut off the LP Abandoned Luncheonette titled "She's Gone" was covered by both Lou Rawls and Tavares. The latter version eventually topped the R&B charts. But the glittering single "Sara Smile," plus their re-released version of "She's Gone," established Hall & Oates as hitmakers.
The duo have made 21 albums. They've scored 10 No. 1 hits, 20 Top 40 hits, and were part of such landmark events as the original "Live Aid" concert and "We Are The World" recording. When asked if he has any favorites among the Hall & Oates legacy, Oates pauses a moment.
"Well, we've been fortunate to have so many big hits, and I still enjoy doing those whenever Daryl and I get together, or in my own shows," Oates says. "You can't leave out 'She's Gone,' that's the one that really got us going along with 'Sara Smile.' 'I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)' [No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts], 'One on One.' I could go on forever."
But Oates prefers to look ahead, not backward, and has been stayed busy writing and performing new music. He did more than 100 shows in 2012 around the world with his own band. With new groups like the Gym Class Heroes, The Killers and Hot Chelle Rae doing updated versions of Hall & Oates tunes, as well as the preparation for his own new full-length LP (slated for release later this year), John Oates has no reason to play the blues — other than the fact he loves them.
John Oates plays 8 p.m. Saturday at the Franklin Theatre.
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