On Sunday, July 10 at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream Hall & Oates’s concert from the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, NJ. Tune in HERE to watch!
(photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/FilmMagic)
John Oates is a bit reluctant to discuss his mustache. It was the singer/guitarist’s trademark during Hall & Oates’s incredible run of hits in the ‘70s and '80s, but as that era came to an end, so did the 'stache.
“It was a big deal for the people who cared about it, and it was weird for me,” Oates tells Yahoo Music. “It’s a deep-seated emotional thing. It had to do with me changing my life in the late '80s and early '90s after the big commercial success and pop-star thing; I needed to become a different person to go forward with my life. The mustache represented the old John; I didn’t want to be that guy anymore, so I shaved it off. It was ritualistic, in a way.” Oates currently sports a goatee. “So now,” he shrugs, “it’s just facial hair.”
‘Stache or no ‘stache, these are good times for Oates. On Monday, he celebrated his 65th birthday. Two years ago, he and longtime musical partner Daryl Hall were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he recently released Good Road to Follow, his fourth studio solo effort. When we had him on the phone to talk about his new album and Hall and Oates’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we also asked him to share some of his favorite musical memories with us.
What is the first record you bought?
I think my parents bought me “Cry” by Johnny Ray. That was in 1952 or '53. I was singing when I was 2 years old, and my parents were very supportive, but they weren’t musicians themselves. The first record I bought myself could have been “Oh Lonesome Me” by Don Gibson or “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers.
What was the first concert you attended, and where?
I remember it like it was yesterday. 1954, it was Bill Haley & The Comets at a bandshell at an amusement park in Louisville, Pennsylvania. It was cool. I was right by the front of the stage, and I was 5 years old.
What was the artist/song/video/album/concert that made you go, “Wow, making music is what I want to do too”?
There wasn’t one. I started singing when I was 2. I started playing guitar at 6, and I started taking vocal lessons at 5. So I was already performing during that whole period of time. There wasn’t one of those lightning moments for me. It wasn’t like I heard the Beatles and I wanted to do it. I was way earlier than that. I was already playing professionally by then, but Ray Charles was very influential for me. Ray Charles’s greatest-hits album. I absorbed that. I absorbed the early folk music of the late '50s and early '60s. Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, I was absorbing all that, and playing all that, and doo-wop. I was born at the right time. I was born at the birth of rock 'n’ roll and I got to see the entire development of popular music… It was a very unique time to be alive. I started recording in the early days of analog recording and today’s modern digital technology, so I’ve kind of seen it run the whole gamut of recording gear.
What song by another artist makes you go, “Darn, I really wish I’d written or recorded that”?
Lots. There’s just so many great classic songs. Was it a Little Richard or Chuck Berry song that sounded like it was torn from the throat of the 45-record player? Was it Joni Mitchell’s Blue? Was it the Band? Was it Jimi Hendrix? Was it Curtis Mayfield or Bob Dylan? I don’t know. It’s crazy.
If you could duet with any recording artist, living or dead, who would your dream duet partner be?
Daryl Hall. I already have him.
What has been your unfortunate onstage mishap?
We did two albums, [1972’s] Whole Oats and [1973’s] Abandoned Luncheonette, both of which were really singer-songwriter, folky, acoustic kind of, very laid-back kind of records. And then we switched gears and went 180 degrees and recorded an album with Todd Rundgren called [1974’s] War Babies. And at the time we were on the coffeehouse circuit and were playing these semi-folk venues. There was one venue in particular in Philadelphia that we had played a number of times and it was called the Main Point. It was a very a traditional folk venue. After the War Babies album we showed up, and instead of acoustic guitars and mandolins and things, we showed up with amplifiers and wearing jumpsuits and looking completely insane, and we played this experimental rock record in this small club. I remember we did two sets. My parents came for the second set, and I remember my parents told me that there was this paper placemat on their table and someone wrote on it in crayon, “These guys suck!”
That sounds like the reaction to Bob Dylan going electric.
In our little universe, that’s exactly what it was like.
What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever done for you or said to you?
Oh God, there’s been so many of them. During our pop-star days in the '80s there were just so many of them. When you’re a pop star, weird things happen to you. You see what happens with pop stars today with the paparazzi and all that crap. I had a girl that camped out in front of my apartment house in New York, and she never left. She kept writing letters to me that said she was my sister and my wife. That went on for a month or two, and then she finally disappeared. Then I got a letter from a mental institution in California saying that they knew who she was and they were sorry, but they couldn’t contain her anymore.
Do you have a special pre-show ritual?
Yeah, I make sure I take a piss. It’s called a “safety piss.” It’s the most important thing I do before I play. That’s the truth. Do you want the truth? I mediate with candles and incense and only play Hindu music. No, that’s not true.
What’s the most unusual thing on your tour rider?
I have a problem with my tour rider. I [wrote it up] when my son was like 4 years old. We home-schooled him, and he went on tour with us, but I haven’t really changed it since then. So I get all this kid stuff, like pickles and pretzels and candy, and it’s so funny because I never eat any of it and it’s always sitting in my dressing room. I kept saying, every tour, “I got to change my rider.” And I keep forgetting to do it.
What is your on-the-road must-have?
A good hotel. That’s absolutely critical. The reality of it is, I play and sing for free. You’ve got to pay me to leave my house, spend the night in hotels, and fly in airplanes. That’s what I get paid for. Playing I actually do for free.
What’s the one genre of music you’d never try to do yourself, and why not?
Jazz fusion instrumental music, because I’m oriented as a vocalist — and I can’t play that well.
Do you do karaoke? If so, what’s your go-to karaoke song?
I do karaoke every night with Daryl Hall onstage — “Maneater,” “You Make My Dreams…,” “Sara Smile,” “I Can’t Go for That,” “She’s Gone.” Do you want more?
What’s the most surprising song/artist on your phone or your iPod?
I don’t have an iPod or an iPhone. I don’t listen to music. I very rarely listen to music. I only listen for information. I listen when a friend sends me a song or a new record. I listen to the stuff I’m working on constantly, because I’m always working on something — refining it, checking out mixes, working on sonic improvements on something I’ve already done. When I listen to music, I have to actually listen to it. I can’t have it on in the background, because it’s too distracting. If I can’t hear it well, it’s really distracting, and if I can, I actually have to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to it.
What’s the most recent album you’ve purchased or someone’s given to you?
The last album I got was Jim Lauderdale’s new country album… because Jim and I write together all the time and he wanted me to hear it. I’ve got a song that I co-wrote with Jim on this album.
And the most recent concert you’ve attended?
The last show I saw was 18 South, a great group of studio musicians and good friends who play once a month in Nashville. I went to see them and sat in with them.
Which do you prefer: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Why do I have to make a choice? I’m not going to make a choice. I like both.
Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly?
No, there is no such thing. Why is there vanilla and chocolate? I like everything. The only thing I don’t like is bad music — and bad music is totally subjective, and it’s my own criteria.
Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera?
Oh no. Just no. How’s this? Christina Aguilera is a great singer and Britney Spears is a great showman, and I’ll leave it at that.
The Notorious B.I.G. or Tupac Shakur?
I like Notorious B.I.G. Tupac. Isn’t that one band?