For more than 40 years, John Oates has been best known as the quieter, mustachioed half of the best-selling pop music duo in history, Hall & Oates.
So it would seem now that the 64-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist is spearheading his own recording projects, he’d be ready to step into the limelight. But, no, that’s not Oates’ style.
“I love collaboration,” Oates says from his part-time home in Nashville, where in recent years he’s found lots of different musicians with whom to work. “I love the satisfaction of writing a song on my own, but I don’t feel that that’s such a big deal. If it happens, it happens organically. But when you collaborate with people, new things happen, things that you wouldn’t think of.”
The latest new thing to happen to Oates is Good Road to Follow, a projected open-ended series of songs that team him with a surprisingly wide of array of new collaborators. A preview of the project called Stand Strong, which teams Oates with writer-producer Teddy Morgan (a veteran of Kevin Costner’s band who recently worked on the soundtrack to the Emmy winning miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys”), came out in March.
The first official song in the series, “High Maintenance,” a track with Nashville pop band Hot Chelle Rae, will be released digitally June 4, followed by a new song every month thereafter. Listeners can subscribe to the series and receive automatic downloads when the tracks are released. Future collaborators include Ryan Tedder of the rock band One Republic, bluegrass musician Sam Bush and songwriter Jeff Black, and country superstar Vince Gill.
“I want to stop recording but can’t,” says Oates, whose backlog of Good Road to Follow recordings is at 15 and growing. “Every song completely has its own unique character because of the people I’ve worked with. Some of it’s different (from Hall & Oates) and some of it’s not. The Hot Chelle Rae song really turned out like a modern pop song.”
Good Road to Follow comes at the end of a remarkably productive decade for Oates, who performs with longtime partner Daryl Hall on the Orion Stage at the Beale Street Music Festival Friday night. In 2002, after 30 years of writing and recording and producing for Hall & Oates and others, he made his solo debut with the album Phunk Shui. Since then he has released four other records, including 2011’s Mississippi Mile, an album that included a cover of Elvis’ “All Shook Up” and was inspired by the place Memphis and Mississippi hold on his musical imagination.
“I touched on it in Mississippi Mile, but Memphis is hugely important to me,” says Oates. “The Stax-Volt sound — Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Booker T, Al Jackson, those guys — really had a huge imprint on my thinking of how a band should sound. I’ve always played Stax-Volt ever since I was a little kid, and I still do to this day.”
That Oates is able to focus so much more on new and personal projects is due to the diminished role Hall & Oates plays in his life. Formed in the late ’60s at Philadelphia’s Temple University, the partnership had been one of the most fruitful of the 1970s and ’80s with more than 40 Top 40 singles and six No. 1 hits.
With a sound that blended classic Philly soul with a New Wave sensibility, Hall & Oates fell out of fashion for a time, but recent years have seen a resurgence in the pair’s work, with their songs popping up on soundtracks and being covered by younger bands. Last year the duo, whose material seems a staple of TV music competition shows, appeared on “The Voice.”
But since releasing their last record, the 2006 holiday album Home For Christmas, the famously combative duo have become a touring entity only, with both saying their days of writing and recording together are likely over. Hall, who released his fifth solo album in 2011, continues to host the popular web television series “Live From Daryl’s House.”
“The future of Hall & Oates’ music is in its past,” says Oates, who in concerts these days essentially joins Hall and the “Live From Daryl’s House” band in trying to squeeze as many as Hall & Oates hits into a show as possible.