BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
As the sable-hued half of Hall & Oates, John Oates has played to hundreds of thousands of people, crafted, with Daryl Hall, dozens of songs firmly wedged in pop music history and received some of the industry’s highest accolades.
But he isn’t the type to remain content with sold-out shows every year that spotlight those hall of fame tunes such as “Maneater,” “Rich Girl,” “I Can’t Go for That,” “Out of Touch,” “Say it Isn’t So,” “Private Eyes,” “Kiss on My List”…how much time do you have?
Oates, who splits his time between Nashville and Colorado, is a restless musician, one who might pop up at Nashville’s Bluebird Café with songwriter Victoria Shaw or enlist Vince Gill for last year’s solo album, “Good Road to Follow.”
On Tuesday, he’ll swing by Eddie’s Attic for a pair of solo shows. A percussionist and guitarist will join him for what he calls a “spontaneous” show. Yes, he’ll play a couple of H&O favorites, but this isn’t about that.
“I hope they’re musically adventurous,” Oates said of the potential crowd.
Calling last week from Nashville, the candid and gregarious singer-guitarist discussed the balance between a solo career and his partnership with Hall, his thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and hanging with doppelganger Baba Booey.
Q: You and Daryl played Music Midtown and Chastain this year. What’s it like to go from playing to 5,000 or 25,000 people to the intimacy of Eddie’s Attic?
A: I love it. That’s exactly why I do it – to balance the thing I do with Daryl. That’s big, it’s powerful, it has history and weight behind it. My solo shows give me an opportunity – it’s a selfish motivation – to showcase my new songs. The problem with Hall & Oates shows – and is this good problem – is that we have too many hits. I like old standards from the ‘20s and ‘30s, so sometimes (in my solo shows) I’ll play songs from my childhood. I’ll go back to my blues roots, things I was playing as a kid before I met Daryl, and show how that music informed what I’m doing today. My shows are freewheeling. I have a huge set list, 30, 40, 50 songs to choose from.
But I hope that people don’t come to hear a Hall & Oates show without Daryl Hall, or they might be disappointed. If you really want to hear those songs, you should come to a Hall & Oates show. The common reaction I get at the end of the night is, ‘I’m glad you played a couple of those hits, but it was really cool to hear your music.
Q: A few nights after your Eddie’s shows, you’re back with Daryl. And he of course stays busy on his own with the TV series (“Live from Daryl’s House” online and on Palladia). How do you guys balance the solo work with the band work?
A: The emphasis over the past few years has shifted. Hall & Oates has gone crazy. It had this incredible resurgence. We just sold 9,000 tickets for a show at Madison Square Garden (in February) in one day. We’ve developed a younger audience. In the music business, you learn not to say no too often! It’s a blessing to be able to do the music together. Daryl has his TV show and I have my solo work and those projects recharge our creative batteries. Even though we tour a lot as Hall & Oates, we do it in short, compact chunks. We found a really good balance.
Q: Daryl has had some cool musicians on his show. Has that ever translated to what you do in Hall & Oates?
A: Absolutely. The stuff that Daryl is doing on his show transfers to what we’re doing together. We booked Mayer Hawthorne and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings to open for us (at Madison Square Garden) and that’s a direct relation to them being on his show.
Q: Your most recent solo album, “Good Road to Follow,” came out last year and now the “Another Good Road” special has been on Palladia.
A: I’ve been on the road my whole life. This theme of the road, I know it’s a cliché, but it’s an extension of the album, ‘Good Road to Follow.’ I wasn’t touring behind the album, but it’s been on Palladia the past year and gotten great response. A lot of people from the album are in it.
Q: And you worked with some great people on the album, like Vince Gill…
A: Vince, everybody loves him. What’s not to love? When I was going to do this project, he was literally at the top of my list, and I just called him up and the first thing he said is, ‘It all starts with writing a good song.’ I went to his house, we grabbed acoustic guitars, ate some barbecue and wrote a song in 90 minutes. Went back to his house and we picked the musicians together. I learn from everyone I work with. Vince said, it’s not about who is the best player, it’s casting the right player. It’s like casting a movie, you have to find the right actor for the part. In Nashville, there is an embarrassment of riches here. You have a huge Rolodex and have to pick the right person for the right moment.
Q: Tell me about “American Roots,” the TV series you were working on.
A: I wanted to explore American Roots music and drive cool cars. We spent a couple of days shooting, but it’s been pushed into the background for the time being because I really don’t have time. I want to see what happens next year and see where Daryl and I are at. I stumbled upon this idea that music has been a road that has taken me physically and spiritually everywhere. I kind of use it as an overriding theme.
Q: I hear you’re working on a memoir to come out next year.
A: That’s really what I’m focusing on creatively this year. I’ve been working on it for about a year with (journalist) Chris Epting. It’s not the Hall & Oates story without Hall. It’s about when I was a kid, the kind of stuff that got me interested in music, the music I was playing. Everyone knows about Hall and Oates and the success, but do people know what it took to become what we became? The late-‘60s, early-‘70s when we met, that’s a much more engaging story. I skip a lot of the well-trod info. It’s not about who wrote ‘Rich Girl,’ it’s not a tell-all. There’s not a lot of dirt, but a lot of interesting stuff. It fast forwards through the ‘80s to this low point in my life in the late-‘80s when I had to restructure my life through a divorce. I moved to Colorado. I had to lose the guy with the goofy mustache. It’s pretty deep. It’s about getting remarried, having kids, realizing there is another life out there.
Q: Has it been a positive experience so far?
A: It’s like regressive therapy. Chris is an incredible researcher. He’ll bring up these things that trigger memories. Sometimes I just go, ‘Wow!’ or, ‘I did that?’ It’s a really interesting process. I’m really glad I’m doing it because it gives me a greater appreciation about where I’ve been. I don’t want it to be just another tell-all music memoir. I do a lot of writing that isn’t songwriting. I was a journalism major; I am writing the book. Chris will give me outlines, then I color it in or sometimes I’ll totally just write something by myself.
Q: How far along are you in the process?
A: We’re in the late-‘80s now, getting into the ‘90s. That was a period when Daryl and I weren’t really doing much, but it’s the most important time of my life. People think the ‘80s were the best time of my life because we were so popular. They actually were not because all I was doing was running around the world.
We were shooting to release (the book) in Christmas of 2016, but we’re probably going for more like early 2017. I want the (book) promotion to be musical, maybe do a multimedia show with photos and video and me playing. Then Daryl will know what I’m doing and he can plan around it.
Q: Daryl has been pretty vocal about his feelings about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Did you feel any gratification with Hall & Oates’ induction last year?
A: Interestingly enough, being inducted, the results have been great because you get the press that comes with it. But the reality is that we were eligible for 19 years. It’s really a very subjective clique of people who have their own opinion of who is worthy. I don’t put a lot of stock in that. It was much more satisfying to be inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. Had we not written the songs we wrote, we wouldn’t be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To be included with people like Gershwin, that means so much. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was like a bowling trophy at the end of the tournament.
Q: It was great to finally hear you and Daryl on Howard Stern’s show together earlier this year.
A: Howard was in a really good mood. Daryl had done his show, but I didn’t know what to expect. But when we got on there, Howard was really knowledgeable about us.
Q: And of course there was the inevitable discussion about your resemblance to Baba Booey (Stern show producer Gary Dell’Abate).
A: (Laughs) I’ve known Gary since the ‘80s, so whenever we see each other we take a photo. I think it’s something about the shape of our chins.
7:30 (sold out) and 9:30 p.m. Nov. 24. $45. Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur. www.eddiesattic.com.