John Oates made history with his musical cohort, Daryl Hall, as Hall & Oates, the most successful duo to emerge out of American popular music. Their unprecedented sound, dubbed “Rock & Soul,” combined R&B-inspired harmonies with catchy pop melodies, occasional rock riffs, infectious rhythms and timeless hooks.
Oates, with his thick mustache and dark curly hair, and Hall, his blond-haired, piano playing kindred spirit, churned out hit after hit like “Sara Smile,” “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “You Make My Dreams,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “Private Eyes,” “One on One,” “Say It Isn’t So,” “Method of Modern Love” and “Out of Touch.”
The prolific pair sold over 80 million records worldwide and placed six singles atop the pop charts. Despite Hall & Oates’ chemistry, the pair of hitmakers never cared for being called a band or group. Oates says Hall & Oates’ music and relationship are grounded in respecting each other’s space but always being open to sharing ideas.
“We just made the best music we could,” says the relaxed guitarist, songwriter and producer via phone. “We treated every song as though it was as important as the other songs. We look at ourselves as two individuals who want to work and create together. We don’t get in each other’s way or try to tie each other down.”
It is common for Hall & Oates to enhance each other’s musical sensibilities. Oates learned to play piano, and Hall learned to play guitar. When they recorded their 1982 chart-topper, “Maneater,” Oates originally wrote the tune as a reggae song. Hall thought the song worked better with an uptempo, 1960s-styled Motown groove.
Oates agreed, pointing out how he has always been impressed with Hall’s focus in the recording studio. “He has a tremendous artistic drive,” says Oates. “Whether he’s right or wrong, it doesn’t really matter. He’s always committed to whatever path he takes. We blended our talents together. We both have a drive to excel on a lot of levels.”
Constantly moving around has motivated Oates’ entire career. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer calls both Woody Creek, CO and Nashville home. His decision to live in Colorado in the 1990s was originally where he went on sabbatical from his recording career.
Oates’ lifestyle became more tranquil. He settled down, built a home and started a family. “[Colorado] saved my life,” asserts Oates. “Personally I was not satisfied. I became a different person and did all of the things I couldn’t do when I was traveling the world.”
The multi-talented performer’s move to Nashville in the mid-2000s, on the other hand, was where he reinvigorated his passion for musical discovery. Oates embraced the city’s music scene, saying his relocation was fueled by collaboration. His current release, Another Good Road, is a live CD and DVD that offers rare footage of Oates’ ranch and life off-stage.
Oates says of Nashville, “I really started to appreciate there was a whole family of people who embraced me and allowed me to really explore parts of music that I was unable to explore before.”
Oates is concentrating on completing his memoir, Music Moves. The book will chronicle his New York and small town Pennsylvania roots. The bulk of Music Moves’ subject matter will cover the span of Hall & Oates’ relationship in detail.
“It’s the story of how it happened rather than talking about hits and number one records and success and money,” asserts Oates. “The story is much more interesting to find out how we put it together and the kinds of obstacles we had to overcome to make this 40-year-old partnership work.”
Writing Music Moves revisits Oates’ knack for storytelling. Graduating from Temple University with a degree in journalism, the performer reveals that he published numerous short stories along with his song catalog. Music Moves has been a project Oates has wanted to tackle for quite some time, slightly joking about applying his degree.
“I enjoy writing on every level, not just songwriting,” insists Oates. “It just seemed like the right time. The last thing I’m going to do is write the Hall & Oates story without Daryl Hall. That would be stupid. At the same time, it’s part of my experience.”
Keeping busy, Oates, who co-created 7908: The Aspen Songwriters Festival, still has fun touring with Hall and his ensemble, the John Oates Band, or J.O.B. The Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee is also producing a young band, acknowledging their dedication and strong work ethic.
Oates frequently imparts words of wisdom to younger talent and his protégés. “Be passionate about what you do,” he says. “Stick with it if you believe in it. Don’t let anyone change your mind.”
Oates’ credits his 40-plus years in the music business with allowing him to accomplish whatever he sets out to do. He does not take his success for granted, keeping his history and friendship with Hall at the forefront of whatever he does musically.
On many occasions, Oates reiterates that moving around his entire life drives his urge to create. “Movement has always been a big thing in my life,” says Oates. “Every move that I’ve made in my life has been critical, affecting me, my music and outlook on life. I never stop. There’s no time to stop.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for the Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.