A Conversation with John Oates

If you lived through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, then the name John Oates will bring back memories of the legion of Hall & Oates hits that were radio standards during those decades. “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on my List,” “Maneater,” “Private Eyes,” “Family Man,” “She’s Gone,” “Sara Smile,” and “I Can’t Go for That” are just some of their top ten hits that blended R&B and pop into a smooth harmonic mix. While the duo still performs together, each has also embarked on a solo career.

john-oates-v2-66646a3a0965d16a15cf244a64f10218John Oates will appear at Landmark on Main Street on Thursday, Oct. 28, in “An Acoustic Evening with John Oates – The Stories Behind the Songs.” Expect to hear songs from his solo albums as well as some Hall & Oates favorites. Ann Latner, Port WashingtonPatch’s music reporter, spoke with Oates about his upcoming performance.

I’ve read that you were born in New York, and although you moved to Pennsylvania at a young age, that does still make you a “native New Yorker.” Does doing a show in New York have any special meaning for you?

Yes, I guess I am a native New Yorker although at this point in my life I have lived in Colorado longer than anyplace else that I have lived, so I call Colorado home now. Playing in the New York area is always a good experience, revisiting old friends and seeing family.

Your upcoming concert at Landmark on Main Street is called “The Stories Behind the Songs.” Will you be talking about the art of songwriting in general, or the genesis of each particular song, or both?

It’s not a “workshop ” but rather a concert during which I try to give some background context to some of the very well known hits and insight into the creative process that songwriters use to craft inspiration into songs… and tell some funny anecdotes as well.

Port Washington has a strong music program in the schools and there are a lot of aspiring musicians in town. Do you have any advice for young songwriters?

Try to emulate the artists and songwriters you admire and listen to your heart.

I understand you’ll be playing with what you’re calling your “Unplugged Trio” – will this be an acoustic performance?

Yes, with an amazing band consisting of John Michel – a Long Island native –Michael Jude, and Peter Huttlinger, who is an incredible guitarist and solo artist with many recordings under his belt.

It looks like you’ve got a very active touring schedule. You’re still touring with Daryl Hall as part of Hall & Oates, plus you’re touring both solo, and with your “Unplugged Trio” – how do those shows differ, and what sort of performance is your favorite?

They are different. The Hall & Oates show is high energy with a fairly large band. I am proud of the legacy of music that Daryl and I have created over the years and what it means to our many fans around the world. My solo show is much more intimate and gives me a chance to perform in smaller venues where I can really relate to the audience.

You were instrumental in starting the Aspen Songwriters Festival, which debuted last month. How did that go, and is it going to be an annual thing?

Our first annual festival exceeded my wildest expectations. The high quality of talent and collaborative atmosphere combined with the excellent acoustics of the Wheeler Opera House made for a memorable weekend of music. We will have the next festival in late March of 2011.

Your musical influences are very diverse, and you’ve covered a variety of styles including R&B, blues, folk, and pop. Do you have a favorite style at this moment, and do you have any new influences?

I draw upon the music of my youth…the styles and influences are not bound by categories. I find inspiration in the great variety and history of American music. My latest solo album – “Mississippi Mile” – is a collection of these types of songs from rural folk blues to early rock and R&B. When I was a kid I would always jump back and forth between playing in a band and playing solo acoustic music… to this day I’m still doing the same thing.