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CONCERT PREVIEW: John Oates talks up new solo album, Philly appearances, new version of his book

John Oates talks up new solo album, Philly appearances, new version of his book

By Brian Bingaman, bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com, @brianbingaman on Twitter

Monday, January 29, 2018

Hall & Oates had such a ridiculous amount of success blending rock and soul that in 2016 the duo received their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

If you listen closely to their early recordings — such as the often-reissued songs in the compilation “Past Times Behind” and 1973’s “Abandoned Luncheonette” — there are some eye-opening forays into folk and blues. Those are the musical styles that North Wales native, and current Nashville resident, John Oates has returned to time and again in the solo recordings he’s made since the 2000s.

“Arkansas,” his seventh album (counting live recordings), drops Feb. 2, and thanks to a crack band of Nashville friends Oates has assembled, “Rolling Stone” included the album on their “Most Anticipated Country Albums & Tours of 2018.” “Arkansas” is like a musicologist on an archaeological expedition. Oates describes it as 1920s and 1930s “Dixieland, dipped in bluegrass and salted with delta blues.” In the set of rootsy songs are a peppy take on the spiritual “Lord, Send Me” and variations on the blues songs “Spike Driver Blues” and “Stack-O-Lee” (later retitled “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price in the rock ‘n’ roll era).

“Originally the album started out as a tribute to Mississippi John Hurt, who I met in Philadelphia in the ‘60s. I actually own his guitar, that he played in the ‘60s,” said Oates in a phone interview.

Although he never intended it to be a country record, “If that’s country, I’m fine with it. Just call it something,” he said with a chuckle.

Accompanied by The Good Road Band, Oates plays a solo hometown show at World Cafe Live Feb. 6. “I have some surprises,” he said. That includes “selected Hall & Oates material” that serves as “icing on the cake.”

In late May an expanded edition of Oates’ memoir from St. Martin’s Press, “Change of Seasons” will be released on paperback. “I’m very happy with it. It’s been well received. It’s something I didn’t know I was going to do,” he said, noting that the autobiography took two years to write.

Last April, Oates had to postpone some book signing dates when his mother, Ann, passed away.

On “Arkansas” the ‘20s blues tune “That’ll Never Happen No More” makes a reference to being so poor that the narrator was “used to eatin’ pork/now I’m eatin’ the salt.” Oates himself never became that broke, but he does write about how he had to spend much of the 1990s putting his financial house in order because of his 1980s spending habits. The challenge in writing the book was “finding the way to handle the negative things that happened to me in my life. I realized it was best to take the high road,” he said.

On May 26 — around the time “Change of Seasons” gets re-released with its bonus material — Oates rejoins Daryl Hall, with whom he’s enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for the second edition of “HoagieNation,” their music festival in partnership with Live Nation, at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing. Oates described it as the Hall & Oates version of The Roots Picnic. The “celebration of food, music and culture” features Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Train, with a promised Hall & Oates/Train special joint performance.

Oates sang the National Anthem at Citizens Bank Park before game five of the 2008 World Series, which ended up being suspended due to weather before the Phillies emerged victorious as champions of Major League Baseball. He said he was also asked to perform the anthem before a Florida/Georgia college football game. A friend of his in Pittsburgh persuaded him to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” once again before this year’s AFC divisional playoff football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field. Oates’ Pennsylvania pro sports team National Anthem win-loss record dropped to 1-1.