From 1975 through ’85, John Oates and Daryl Hall created a trove of era-defining R&B-influenced pop/rock hits on the way to being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Oates is releasing 12 new songs – one per month for a year – via digital outlets, with guest guitarists including Tom Bukovac, Guthrie Trapp, and Shane Theriot.
Why are you skipping releasing new music on CD or vinyl?
I have seven solo albums. If you went into my basement, you’d see a wall full of boxes of CDs that never sold. I think the modern world has moved beyond physical recordings. I don’t think it matters that much anymore.
Are the songs new?
Some are totally new, and some are covers. A lot were written during the pandemic. Some were ideas I had sitting around in my digital files. I revisited them when I had time.
What is the guitar’s role in your music?
I’m essentially a rhythm player. I use the guitar as accompaniment for songs and my voice. I’ve gotten a little better at playing leads over the years, but I’m not really a very good soloist. I don’t think of myself that way. I think of the guitar as a rhythmic instrument, especially acoustic guitar; I like to play in a percussive style – I think of it almost like a drum. I want to be in sync with the feel of the drum and bass groove. That’s a very central part of it.
I have a lot of acoustic guitars for different sounds and I’m very particular about choosing the right one for the right moment. When I write a song, and I’m writing on guitar 99 percent of the time, I want to be able to perform that song on acoustic guitar. If I can’t, I think there’s something inherently weak in the composition and structure.
What are some of the especially interesting guitar parts in the new songs?
I wrote “Disconnected” in G tuning. That’s why there’s a lot of really cool modal overtones in it – open-string stuff. Actually, the tuning inspired the writing.
I recorded my version of a Timmy Thomas song, “Why Can’t We Live Together,” from 1972. I thought because it’s an anti-war song written during the Vietnam War, it was perfect considering what’s going on in Ukraine. It’s a very timely message. I played a Coral Vincent Bell electric sitar I’ve had since the ’70s.
“Dreaming About Brazil” is bossa nova translated through Philadelphia R&B! I played that on a ’67 Gibson ES-125 with a P-90. That’s Wendy Moten singing. She’s one of my best friends and has toured with me. She also was runner-up on “The Voice” two years ago.
“Reggae Maneater” came about because when I wrote the original chorus for “Maneater” it was written as a reggae song. When Daryl and I recorded it, it was his idea to change the groove, and I’m glad he did. It made it a much more accessible pop song. I always wanted to record it, and I have a very good friend who’s a Jamaican producer and we talked about it. He said, “Let’s go to Jamaica and cut it with the legends of reggae.” I’m going to come out with a mini-documentary about the recording of this. It’s fantastic.
On Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” that’s the same ’67 ES-125. I wanted to make that feel like a ’70s R&B track, similar to what Daryl and I would’ve cut in the early ’70s.
I’m using a Carter Family strum on “When Carolina Comes Home Again.” It’s something Maybelle Carter invented, but I’m doing it in double time.
Which other guitars did you use?
I played mostly acoustic using a few different ones, including a custom Martin 00-18. The Taylor GTe has been my go-to for live shows. Electrics were the 125, the ’58 Strat I’ve been using since the ’70s, and a John Suhr HSS that I really like.
I’m not one of those crazy guitar collectors. I don’t want to own a guitar just to own it. I have a lot of guitars, and pretty much every one has a function. It does something I’ll use in some way, shape, or form.
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.