John Oates on humble beginnings, hard work, and re-invention

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

John Oates’ new solo record, Arkansas, was one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half of 2018. Recorded with his Nashville-based band, where he put down roots several years ago, Arkansas is a love letter to 20th Century American blues and roots music, particularly that of his musical hero, Mississippi John Hurt.

If all of this sounds somewhat incongruent from your memories of the mustachioed dude singing “Maneater” with Daryl Hall in the ’80s, Oates recent memoir Change of Seasons lays it all out.

Growing up in surburban Philadelphia, Oates cut his early musical teeth seeing roots legends like Doc Watson and Hurt at folky Philly-area clubs like The Main Point and The Second Fret, while also worshipping his R&B idols at the famous Uptown Theater on North Broad Street.  It was the best of all possible educations in American music.

We talked about the half-century since those early Philly days, the half-century that led 70-year old Oates to record this little acoustic record of understated beauty.

It’s been a life in the music business few can match: being part of the best-selling duo of all time, the six #1 hits, the 40 million records sold, the Rock ‘n Roll and Songwriter Hall of Fames, the MTV stardom at exactly the right time, the hometown gig at Live Aid, and the almost inevitable music business screwing-over.

That last part, fascinatingly documented in Change of Seasons, had Oates liquidating many of his assets and moving to a small cabin in Colorado to begin to reinvent himself just a few years after being on top of the world.

Like so many of our storytellers, Oates told me he came out on the other side of those mid-life struggles due to two old standbys: self-belief and hard work.

If you love rock ‘n roll bios like I do, Oates book will completely engage you. In fact, Oates story is the story of the American 20th Century: immigrant families instilling values and confidence into their kids to help them dream big.  It’s a story of humble beginnings and superstardom, of being humbled and recreating the life you were born to live. It’s about staying grateful, and when the swirl around you tells you otherwise, staying grounded.

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You can catch Daryl Hall and John Oates’ amazing big arena show this summer, but if you don’t, look for a guy with a guitar and a smoking Americana band on the road in smaller venues this fall, and prepare to entranced.

Check out Change of Seasons wherever you get your books.  And definitely download Arkansas—the title track is a standout.