So, it all began with Peter Cottontail…
Asking a musician when they “made it” is a loaded question. Kurt Cobain famously noted that Nirvana must have broken through if their seminal Smells Like Teen Spirit was parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, but other artists see THE BIG TIME as a point permanently in the future. It is something to always chase, always strive towards, but not necessarily reach. Even those artists whose careers are a virtual mountain range of all peaks and no valleys.
“There was never a moment when I sat back and said, ‘Well, I’ve hit it big. Now all my dreams will come true!’” says John Oates, whose pairing with Daryl Hall is considered the most successful musical duo of all time (Note: don’t call them “Hall & Oates,” a term invented by lazy DJs; they are “Daryl Hall & John Oates”).
“It has always been a challenge trying to achieve something, whether it’s to write a better song, to go on tour for the first time, make a better record, play a better guitar part. It’s a moving target, and I don’t think you ever really reach that ultimate satisfaction.”
He will, however, concede that hitting a clear F-chord for the first time as a child was a paradigm shift, as was a particularly moving rendition of “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” at age four (caught on film at Coney Island!). But Oates, born into a family with a love of big band music and witness to rock n’ roll’s first frenetic salvo into popular culture on the shoulders of Little Richard and the hips of Elvis is not one to sit back and stop creating. In fact, even when COVID-19 put the hard kibosh on the entertainment industry, Oates, not missing a beat, simply turned to that part of music you don’t see.
“I’ve tried to use this downtime in a creative way: I’ve been on a pretty amazing songwriting ride, and I’m also producing. And I have Internet projects, something I have never done before. So, in a way, it’s opened up a whole new venue to create on a different level.”
Oates credits his current home of Nashville for keeping the iron hot. Though synonymous with country, “Smashville” is hardly a one-note town; it is also a hotbed of Americana music, an amalgamation of folk, country, blues, R&B, rock, gospel, roots, and other quintessentially American sounds put to electric instruments. Already a dabbler when it comes to instruments, it was only natural for Oates, now 73, to experiment with different genres. In fact, he credits Americana with a reawakening of his first musical stirrings as a young man in the Philadelphia R&B scene in the 1960s.
“It gave me the opportunity to go back to my earliest influences and use them as a springboard to go forward. My current music is a reflection of my earliest music but seen through the prism of who I am today and the experiences I’ve had professionally and personally.
There was also a realignment of priorities; Oates admits that his party animal days are long gone and that family and quality take precedence over late nights and groupies. But if he had to choose a highlight?
“That I’m alive right now and I am doing what I want to do. I have this incredible foundation of success created with Daryl Hall and individually. I’m doing what I was born to do. That’s my highlight.”
What are the projects you are working on?
Lots. I have a live album coming out on September 18 called “John Oates and the Good Road Band Live in Nashville.” We recorded it right before the coronavirus shut everything down in January. The Good Road Band I put together here in Nashville of all-star studio musicians, and they are the guys who played on my Arkansas album two years ago. I’m getting prepared to release that new album, doing videos. I’m also working on a really cool project, a movie, called Gringa. It’s about a young girl who goes to find her father in Mexico. I wrote three songs for that. On one song I am collaborating with a young Mexican female artist because it will partly be in Spanish. The second song I wrote with two very good friends, Daphne Willis and Aron Wright here in Nashville. And the last I wrote with a brand-new South Carolina artist named CerVon Campbell. He’s a progressive R&B artist.
What do you do in your downtime?
I do yoga and a lot of trail runs in the woods. I love driving; I am an avid car enthusiast. I have sports cars I like to drive and attend a lot of car events. I’ve built some custom cars.
Where do you like to dine?
What dishes or cuisines do you order when you do go out?
My mother’s side is Italian, so that’s the soft spot. It’s the ultimate food; you could eat it every day and never have the same thing twice. But I also like burgers, ribs and steaks all the way to Japanese and Thai.
What are your favorite bars?
I don’t drink!
Do you have a favorite mocktail?
My favorite is an Arnold Palmer, lemonade and iced tea.
Have you ever been a bartender?