Standing Strong: John Oates Discusses New Single and Project, 'Good Road to Follow'
Since the formation of their partnership in the early 1970s, Daryl Hall and John Oates have gone on to become the most successful duo in rock history. Together, they've sold more than 80 million albums, scored 10 No. 1 records and amassed more than 20 top 40 hits — and they've toured the world for decades.
Oates' latest solo project, Good Road To Follow, gives the guitarist the opportunity to branch out and work with musicians from several different genres. Oates plans to release a new song every month for the foreseeable future — and not be bound by the demands and restrictions of making a traditional album.
The project’s first single, "Stand Strong," is already receiving attention, having introduced the Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in March.
I spoke with Oates about his new single and Good Road to Follow project as well as his playing, songwriting and future plans with Hall and Oates.
GUITAR WORLD: Tell me about your new single, "Stand Strong."
"Stand Strong" is the first song I recorded as part of a new project called Good Road to Follow, and I'm really proud of it. I'll be releasing a song a month for the whole year and who knows, I may never stop [laughs].
I worked with Teddy Morgan, who I've known for quite a while. He's in Kevin Costner’s band and worked a lot on Kevin's Hatfields & McCoys mini-series. On this track, Teddy played most of the electric guitars and I played acoustic. Luke Bulla played fiddle and Bekka Bramlett did background vocals. We also had Chad Cromwell on drums and Michael Rhodes on bass. It was a great rhythm section.
What makes Good Road to Follow so special?
Every song on this project has a different sound. The next song I’m releasing is one I wrote and produced with pop band Hot Chelle Rae. I also did a blues song with Vince Gill, another with Ryan Tedder of One Republic and another song with Tommy Simms.
Why singles as opposed to an album?
I think the industry has become more of a singles world again. Instead of putting all of your effort and energy into creating an album that only has its day in the sun for a little while I thought, why not just put out several different songs? I'll also be able to work with some really creative people and do different things and not have to think of an album as a whole.
What was the collaborative process like for the songs that you and Daryl wrote together?
We’re not really story teller songwriters. With us, all of the songs were rooted in some sort of reality or truth. We'd take some truthful element, whether physical or emotional, and then craft it into something that has a universal meaning. For instance, there's a song on the Voices album called "Diddy Doo Wop." Daryl and I got the idea for it from reading a headline in the New York Post. There was a guy going around on the subway chopping people up with a machete, and we wondered what would make someone want to do something like that. So we invented the idea that maybe he had a doo wop song stuck in his head and it drove him so crazy that he just went nuts [laughs].
What was it like when Daryl came in with a song like "Kiss On My List"?
That song was a complete aberration. It was actually written by Jana Allen. She came up with the idea and Daryl finished it with her. Then as a favor after a recording session, Daryl sat down at the piano with a drum machine and made a quick demo of the song for her. But when our manager and everyone else at the record company heard it they said, "That sounds like a hit record. Why don't you guys record it?" I remember that in order to save money and tape, we recorded it at 15 ips instead of the 30 we'd normally record at. So the song was actually recorded at a slower speed, which is why it sounds so cool. [laughs]
How did you get started playing?
I started out by teaching myself and taking lessons from a small music school in the next town from where I grew up. I learned early country music, then started playing in a band in sixth grade and never looked back. I also played folk music as well as a lot of traditional delta blues and bluegrass. I'm no different now than I was when I first started. My guitar playing is a synthesis of traditional American acoustic style and Urban Pop and R&B.
What does the future hold for you and Daryl?
I've dedicated this year to working with Daryl and we'll be doing a lot of Hall and Oates shows. We have such a legacy of music that we can barely play anything but our hits, which is a good problem to have. It's all about enjoying and appreciating the music we've made together over a forty-year period of time. I personally feel that the future of Hall and Oates is in its past. Our creative energies right now are in our individual projects.
Is there any one particular highlight of what you've achieved over the course of your career that stands out?
There are so many. Everything from getting our first record contract to going on tour for the first time. From playing Madison Square Garden to having our first No. 1 record. They're all defining moments. We did "We Are The World", headlined Live Aid and played the Apollo Theater. I think there will be another defining moment in May when Daryl and I headline Jazz Fest in New Orleans on May 5. We've never done it before and it's something that I've always wanted to do. And another highlight will be the day after, because I'm going to be recording a few songs with George Porter Jr. that will have some New Orleans flavor.
Any advice you can offer to up-and-comers?
Do exactly what I've done and what every musician has done since the beginning of time. Learn from the people you respect. Listen and try to copy them and eventually an original style will emerge. If you have enough creativity, you'll be able to make something that's uniquely your own.
Photo: Mick Rock
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.