Thursday, September 13, 2007


In February 2006, near the end of our sponsorship by Sony Connect, Roy and I were joined by the shorter, darker half of Hall & Oates for a three-way chat we referred to at the time as a “tri-a-blog.” Because the powers that be questioned the degree of interest in John’s musical opinions, the virtual conversation got shelved, and our most-trafficked blog, with Fall Out Boy’s articulate Pete Wentz, turned out to be our last. Considering that Hall & Oates drew in excess of 30,000 fans to the Hollywood Bowl over two shows last weekend—making it clear that the powers that be had been dead wrong about the duo’s appeal—Roy and I thought this would be the perfect time to post our exchange with Oates, in the original Music Snobs format, including the related playlist, which follows the back-and-forth. You can also read Roy’s review of H&O’s Bowl performance in the latest edition of Trakin Care of Business on

BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US: In which Bud and Roy induct John Oates into the Music Snobs inner circle, as they tackle such topics as Zen and the art of songwriting, the recipe for great soul music and the yin and yang of Hall & Oates. John also gives his takes on H&O’s legacy, Curtis Mayfield, Nickel Creek, Maroon 5 and John's new discovery, Geoff Byrd.

Bud: Hey John, I gotta start with something nonmusical: You look EXACTLY like you did 20 years ago, minus the 'stache, of course. What's your secret?
John: Living in Aspen, CO, good genes and a few thousand sit-ups!
Bud: Ab-solutely.
Roy: It is pretty remarkable, but he has to keep up with Daryl... That can't be easy.
John: What you don't know is that I'm getting shorter!
Roy: It's the laws of gravity...
John: I'm done on that subject
Bud: It seems absurd to say this about the top-selling duo of all time, but you guys are underrated. Not by me, though. I've been following along since Abandoned Luncheonette.
Roy: No Grammys in your entire career... That's unbelievable.
John: Well, I guess it depends on who's rating us... We've never been members of the Grammy club, so I guess that's the reason.
Roy: It seems to bother Daryl... Does that lack of recognition bother you at all, John?
John: Four American Music Awards and an induction into the Writers Hall of Fame (of which I'm very proud). Yes it bothers me – not for the awards aspect, but for the respect within our own business.
Bud: The thing is, when you talk about soul singers, you don't need the qualifying adjective in terms of Hall & Oates.
Roy: Your most recent album, Our Kind of Soul, is a real tribute to your own roots and seminal influences.
John: We started as songwriters and evolved as performers, but I think the essence of what we do starts with the songs.
Roy: What makes a great song for you? Both in terms of your influences and the way you started writing…
John: I'm thinking long and hard on this subject as I've just been invited to do a lecture at Berklee about songwriting.
Bud: Really? There's some validation.
John: There are so many components to the process, it’s hard to deal with it in this format. I would say the marriage of words and music, inspiration and connecting with the listener by tapping into a common emotional thread. There's also the magical part, where you create something from nothing, balanced by the craft aspect, which you can develop and hone.
Bud: So in order to become universal, a song has to start out as a personal expression. There are certain emotions a song can evoke more intensely than any other art form. Longing, heartbreak and I suppose joy, for that matter… Libido...
Roy: I know you first met Daryl at a Philly concert of some of those original inspirations... How important was R&B and soul to your early development?
John: Man, we got the historian and the psychologist!!!!
Bud: Ha! We can change places very easily, though.
John: My brain's frying – settle down, boys... Plus it’s two against one!
Roy: Well, history and psychology... I would say both go into writing a song.
John: Very true... Personal songs are an amalgamation of your past and influences combined by one's personal point of view and style of expressing it.
Bud: Can you enumerate any of those influences?
John: I'm always trying to write a song that captures the spirit of the music of my past...the music/songs that made me want to be a musician. Someday I'll write the perfect John Oates song that captures the spirit of Curtis Mayfield.
Roy: What's your favorite Curtis Mayfield song?
John: “People Get Ready” and “Gypsy Woman.” He was a unique R&B performer in that he played guitar and sang ...rare in the ’60s His singing and playing style is very high on my list of influences.
Bud: That's true. There are only a handful – Bobby Womack is another one...
“People Get Ready” is the essence of gospel, and gospel's the root of soul, right?
John: The spiritualism and pop sensibilities blended without diminishing either form.
Roy: What about your affinity to groups like The Spinners, O'Jays, The Emotions and The Stylistics, all of whom you cover on the new album? What did you take from them? And I imagine Motown was another obvious touchstone.
John: There are so many... I was a big fan of Stax/Volt stuff as well. The Philly stuff is in the blood – what I heard on the radio growing up. It has to do with the evolution of doo-wop and those harmonies unique to Philly music
Bud: There were still regional hits in the 1960s... That may be hard for people to understand in the information age.
John: The demise of American regional music is one of the great losses to our popular culture
Bud: It was your incubator, allowing you to combine culture, immediacy and certain preferred technical elements – including vocal harmonies.
John: The regional sound of Philly is a very important part of the tapestry, and perhaps not as well appreciated as Motown, for instance
Bud: Not as celebrated, except by music scholars, I suppose.
John: Philly music has its roots in the fact that it is one of the first "Northern" cities that combined Southern Black culture and Anglo church music (the English). It’s very piano-oriented, and vocal harmonies are a big part.
Bud: I never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense. Like the blues and Chicago around the same time.
John: The music that came up the Mississippi River was guitar/blues-based, and the Chicago sound is a more sophisticated version of that.
Roy: I didn't realize you were such a musicologist, John.
Roy: You do a great cover of The Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child."
John: When D and I met, we were at a "record hop" in W. Philly, and The Five Stairsteps were the headliners. I thought the song was a perfect vehicle for our voices.
Bud: Your approach seems to be to let Daryl step up while you fill in the canvas. I love that combination.
John: Takes more than that for a backstage pass!!! It has to do with our personalities: what you see is what you get... It’s all very natural and not contrived. He is exactly what you see onstage, and so am I.
Bud: I loved that bit he wrote about you in the notes of Our Kind of Soul about "What You See Is What You Get," one of your rare lead vocals. You're the perfect team player.
Roy: You seem so low-key; you let Daryl take the spotlight...
Bud: But he couldn't do what he does without John.
John: It’s the old Zen thing: Can't have a beautiful sunset without the horizon.
Bud: Dude, you rock!
John: OK, now you get the pass!!!
Bud: The yin/yang thing is at the heart of pop artistry. Phil & Don, John & Paul, Mick & Keith.
Roy: You don't ever feel like telling Daryl he's a prima donna?
John: You can't be a lead singer and frontman without an unusually large amount of confidence and flamboyance.
Roy: You are the perfect "second banana." And I don't mean that as an insult, either.
John: Sometimes I just want to climb a mountain and drive my tractor. I'll eat the banana after I reach the summit.
Bud: You're loaded with Zen metaphors.
John: I'm more of a nuts-and-bolts person, and since no one sees what I do behind the scenes, there can always be some questions about things... A duo always seems to evoke that sort of thing.
Roy: What stand out as definitive H&O songs to you?
John: There are many... “She's Gone,” of course...”Sara Smile,” “Maneater”... But there are album tracks that provide even more insight into us as people...way too much to get into here.
Bud: "Open All Night" is a really good album track.
John: Sure...what about “Adult Education”? How's about “Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)”? “Change of Season” is one of my personal faves.
Bud: And most people don't know you made "experimental" records like Along the Red Ledge in the mid-’70s.
John: Red Ledge is one of my fave albums...
Roy: What about the string of huge hits in the '80s: "Kiss on My List," "You Make My Dreams," "I Can't Go for That”… Do you feel that was your peak?
John: No, I don't feel the ’80s were our most creative – only our most commercially successful. We were free to experiment in the ’70s. Take a look at the styles we dipped into... Abandoned Luncheonette to War Babies ... Need I say more?!
Bud: There weren't the stylistic barricades then that you see now in pop. When your career is consigned to a one-disc best-of, people completely miss the nuances that make an artist special and deep. You guys need a box set.
John: Ah... Box set coming this year!!!! There are so many songs in the catalog – we're talking over 30 years!!!
Roy: Ya know, John, your attitude is downright refreshing in this era of egos run amok...
Bud: Hey John, he says the same thing to me.
John: Nothing like a ringside seat as Egos Run Amok!!!! Sounds like a "B" movie.
Roy: Do you think the critics punished you for that eclecticism?
John: Critics have to write something to get attention... I mostly listen to musicians when it comes to music.
Bud: At the same time, those '80s nuggets like "I Can't Go for That,” “You Make My Dreams” and “Kiss on My List” are absolutely perfect in their organization as songs and as records. Like soul/pop sonnets.
Roy: How did you hit the zeitgeist at that point?
John: We made well-crafted pop records in the ’80s that reflected the time. Our sound became the sound of radio, and we rode the wave.
Bud: Did that become less gratifying after a while? I suppose it could have become an artistic cul de sac...
John: Living in NYC during that time gave us an edge to tap into the common consciousness of the era… By mid-’85 we had done about all one could do... We needed to step out to survive
Roy: Are you disappointed the group seems to have been marginalized by critics into an "oldies/blue-eyed soul” outfit?
John: Obviously you haven't seen us perform lately... The fact that we've never really stopped touring has kept us vital and on our game. We've never drifted into the nostalgia category. Most people say we're a lot better now than we ever were... Not to mention the fact that we seem to draw a new audience of fans who come in curious and leave believers.
Bud: And why not? You have that massive body of work and you've matured as artists.
Roy: I saw the show at the Greek, and you guys were fantastic. The band rocked, and the crowd was into it... I'm just talking about the general perspective.
Bud: Look, people who know what makes up musical artistry can just look at the work and see that it succeeds on so many levels.
Roy: Do you listen to new music?
John: Yes, I listen for songs regardless of the style... One of my fave albums this year is Nickel Creek’s Why Should the Fire Die? Everything about that record is a masterpiece...the playing, singing and recording are perfect. Their musicianship is kinda scary!!!!
Bud: Those three are musicians' musicians.
Roy: They're kind of on the roots-country side, right?
Bud: But consider the parallel, Roy – harmony singing.
Roy: The similarities of all great music.
John: I'm working with a new artist – Geoff Byrd – and he is the real thing!
Bud: I just checked him out on Well-crafted and well-sung. What's your involvement? Guy's from Portland, OR, I see.
John: Wait till you hear his new stuff, some of which I've co-written with him and my buddy Jed Leiber. Geoff opened the show for us in L.A. last summer, and I was taken with his voice... Turns out H&O are a big influence, and we started to write together.
Bud: Where is the new material taking him? The tracks I sampled don’t seem particularly soul-oriented.
John: Soul is a state of mind, not a musical style… He is what the music business needs: a committed, talented artist who can develop and become someone who can have a long career.
Bud: Too bad the music business forgot about that stuff.
Roy: What about Maroon 5? They seem closest to a Hall & Oates for the 21st century.
Bud: Except it's Adam Levine's show. But they are overtly soul-influenced.
John: Yes, their pop stuff is very "today." They've got their finger on the pulse of their audience.
Bud: Daryl also writes in the notes to Our Kind of Soul that in the '90s, because you stopped for a while, you were able to step outside of yourselves, look at yourselves objectively and figure out what you do that's unique.
John: True...not to mention I was able to "get a life" outside of my career...have a child, get married, build a house... Those experiences allowed me to survive. My music is richer for it. Now my career is only part of my life, not all of it.
Bud: You mean there's more to life than groupies and blow?
Roy: Can't be, Bud.
Bud: Can you elaborate on what makes you unique…in 25 words or less? Kidding.
John: We are part of the sound of Philadelphia infused with a lifetime of travel around the world and the personal point of view of two guys who read a lot.
Roy: Quick take, John... Hip-hop... Was it the ruin or salvation of soul music?
John: Hip-hop expressed the world it comes from – just another limb on the tree of rock.
Bud: My turn. Who's the greatest male soul singer ever: Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder or Al Green?
John: Remember, soul is not the domain of race. How can I answer that?? Too many kings, too many castles…not enough crowns.
Bud: OK. John Lennon or Bob Dylan?
John: Dylennon.
Bud: Nice save.
John: Thanx. I've done a lot of interviews!!!
Roy: Ya know, Oates is less a Music Snob than a Zen Archer....
Bud: Bull’s-eye.
John: Maybe more a Zen Swimmer trying to keep his head above water.
Roy: You and we both, sir.
Bud: Looks like psychology trumps history today...
John: Thank God I took typing in 11th grade… Dinner is on the stove and my son just got a Lego with 3104 pieces!!! So maybe we need to wind this down.
Roy: John, a pleasure.... You are an honorary Music Snob, but in your case, that doesn't even begin to convey your point of view.
John: I've always known I was a Music Snob, but now it’s official. Thanx for including me in this mayhem – now I gotta rest my fingers. I need a glass of wine and some eye drops!!!

Bud: I'll drink to that! And blink to that.


Daryl Hall & John Oates
I’ll Be Around
(Our Kind of Soul)
“A real tribute to [their] own roots and seminal influences.” – Roy

Daryl Hall & John Oates
What You See Is What You Get
(Our Kind of Soul)
“One of [John’s] rare lead vocals… The perfect team player.” – Bud

Daryl Hall & John Oates
When the Morning Comes
(The Atlantic Collection)
“I’ve been following along since Abandoned Luncheonette.” – Bud

Curtis Mayfield
Gypsy Woman
(20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions)
“Someday I'll write the perfect John Oates song that captures the spirit of Curtis Mayfield.” – John

Curtis Mayfield
People Get Ready
(20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions)
“The spiritualism and pop sensibilities blended without diminishing either form.” – John

The Five Stairsteps
O-o-h Child
(The First Family of Soul: The Best of the Five Stairsteps)
“When D and I met, we were at a ‘record hop’ in W. Philly, and the Five Stairsteps were the headliners. I thought the song was a perfect vehicle for our voices.” – John

Daryl Hall and John Oates
Adult Education
(Rock ’N Soul, Part 1)
“There are album tracks that provide even more insight into us as people.” – John

Daryl Hall & John Oates
It’s a Laugh
(Along the Red Ledge)
“Most people don't know you made ‘experimental’ records like Along the Red Ledge in the mid-’70s.” – Bud

Daryl Hall & John Oates
I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)
(The Very Best of Daryl Hall/John Oates)
“Absolutely perfect in [its] organization as song and record.” – Bud
“Our sound became the sound of radio, and we rode the wave” – John

Daryl Hall & John Oates
Kiss on My List
(The Very Best of Daryl Hall/John Oates)
“I don't feel the ’80s were our most creative – only our most commercially successful.” – John

Maroon 5
Sunday Morning
(Songs About Jane)
“A Hall & Oates for the 21st century” – Roy
“They've got their finger on the pulse of their audience.” – John

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