Daryl Hall and John Oates are iconic. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year, both the band and individual members Daryl and John have quite a legacy. After establishing such an amazing track record through the last few decades, the band has also accumulated a wealth of incredible and almost unbelievable stories. From the members first meeting in the middle of a gang shootout in Philly, to Oates being a professional racecar driver, touring with David Bowie, Lou Reed, having Prince checkout their shows and more, we had the pleasure of interviewing John Oates about his memoir Change of Seasons to give us even more details. We also ask John about touring with Tears for Fears, playing Staples Center, and any pre show rituals he enjoys in Los Angeles. What an interview for the ages!
Phillip Gutgesell for The MAT Magazine: First question is about your Memoir. We were reading that originally you met Hall when you were at a band competition and there was a shoot out between rival gangs and you both ran into a service elevator. That’s a really interesting story, do you address that in your memoirs, Change of Season?
John Oates: Yeah that’s true, but it wasn’t a band competition it was a show. WDAS, which was the RnB station in Philly at the time, had a teenage dance every Sunday afternoon. Disc Jockey Joey Bishop was the host and Daryl had a song out on the radio being played, my group had a song out being played. We didn’t know each other, but we were aware of each other. We showed up at this dance and a big giant gang fight broke out because it was in a really bad neighborhood in West Philly. We got in the service elevator, went down stairs, and that’s how we met.
Phill: That’s amazing. I think that is one of my favorite origin stories I have ever heard. If that’s the beginning of how you met we are very excited to read more in your book.
We also read that you were a professional racecar driver and you drove in Daytona.
You also worked with the make-up artist who did Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane for David Bowie.
Oates: Well that’s two different worlds you got going right there. Well talking about racing, from the time I was a little kid, I grew up in Pennsylvania. A friend of mine’s father ran a Hotdog stand at a local dirt track. When I was a little kid we used to sneak under the fence and hang out with the “little people” and watch the races on the dirt tracks under the lights. That always just fascinated me. I started reading when I was a kid about European Grand Prix racing and just thought one day I’d love to do that. I always loved cars, so when I got a little older and back in the 70s I started racing go-karts and then progressed to sports car club of America, stuff with formula fords and sports 2000’s. I finally started to run some long distance endurance races in sports cars and Porsches, things like that for Imsa. I progressed pretty rapidly up until the 80s when I had a bad accident at Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin and I thought maybe it’s time to hang up my driving gloves and refocus on the guitar. That was really my racing career. I’m still involved, I still like cars, I always run into my old racing friends and that’s great.
In terms of making that album cover with Pierre LaRoche, he also did Ziggy Stardust, he was doing The Rolling Stones. We had made 3 albums prior to that record and we had never had our pictures on the cover. The record company wanted us to do an album and have our pictures on the cover. At the time living in Greenwich Village it was the in thing to do to have this kind of androgynous kind of glam rock thing. If you look at The Stones and Bowie, they all had that style. Pierre was responsible for a lot of that styling. We met with him and I remember him distinctly saying “I will immortalize you.” And he sure did. interestingly enough we’ve mad 23, 24, 25 albums and that’s the only album cover anyone ever asks about. Obviously it was successful.
Phill: That’s one of our favorite covers. Speaking of Bowie, You’ve toured with David Bowie and Lou Reed, do you address that in your memoir?
Oates: Yup, it’s all in there. We opened for Bowie on his first or second show on his first American tour, The Ziggy Stardust Tour. One of the things we were doing, if you listen to our music prior to that we were doing this acoustic based, folk, R&B thing. It was very laid back and kind of introspective. When I saw the Aladdin Sane tour I realized “Ok, this guy put the live performance bar up to another level.” We immediately did a 180 and began to become a lot more aggressive in our live shows after that. I only had a lot of respect for Bowie. He was always very nice to me, every time I’d see him he was always very cordial and friendly. I think it was a turning point for us.
Phill: We are excited to read more about that in the book and all the artists you’ve played with. It’s almost like, who haven’t you played with? We were compiling a list; Prince would come to your shows, Lou Reed of course. Do you have good stories about him?
Oates: I don’t have any good stories, but I got a lot of stories. No, it was a match made in hell it was not the right thing for us. The booking agents put us together. He was at the darkest point of his life and his show’s were very dark and very very… I don’t want to go to far with it. We only lasted a couple shows on that tour. It wasn’t working for us.
Phill: oh wow, yeah we can imagine. Can you tell us more about your book? Any other highlights? We’re really excited to read it.
Oates: The key to this book is that one of the challenges for me was how do I tell my personal story when my personal story is so intricately wrapped up In the Hall & Oates experience. I didn’t want to speak for Daryl, my point of view may not necessarily be his point of view. There was a lot of tightrope walking I had to do when writing the book. Rather than focus on the 80’s and the MTV hits that a lot of people will know about, I decided to focus on the early days, how we met, how we got it together, what it took to get a record contract back in the early 70s, touring around the country in a 1968 GTO, sleeping on peoples floors. That kind of stuff I felt would be more interesting because a lot of people don’t know about that stuff. The book is really more about personal transformation and how I had to overcome a lot of bad things and come out to the other side and I’m doing pretty freakin good.
Phill: yeah you are definitely a legend. I’d say you’re doing pretty good.
I’m going to pass you off to Taylor and he’s going to ask you some questions on the upcoming tour with Tears For Fears and your show in LA.
Taylor Wong for The MAT Mag: Recently you two were quoted in Rolling Stone saying you see this tour with Tears For Fears turning into a really good relationship. I just wanted to know how the tour has been so far and has it lived up to those expectations?
Oates: It’s lived up to those expectations and exceeded them. First of all, they are a great band. Really enjoy being with them and getting to know them a little bit. We had to cancel unfortunately the last 3 shows on the tour which would have been in late July and we are coming back to redo those 3 shows. San Jose will be the last show on this tour that we do with those guys. Overall it has been a fantastic tour, we have been selling out everywhere, it has just been great. I can’t say enough about Tears for Fears, it has just been a real pleasure working with them.
Taylor: For those who don’t know, when was the last time you played in Los Angeles and where?
Oates: We actually played in LA last year at the Hollywood Bowl.
Taylor: Ah yes, I remember that one. The Staples Center is a very iconic venue in LA, have you guys played there before?
Oates: No, we have not had the opportunity to play there yet. We are looking forward to it.
Taylor: It should be pretty exciting playing a sold out Staples Center. When coming to LA do you have any favorite restaurants or rituals you perform before the show?
Oates: We have lot’s of rituals, but I can’t talk about them in public.
Taylor: out of all the cities you’ve played where does Los Angeles fall on your list of favorites?
Oates: It’s one of those iconic tour stops that everyone always looks forward to. When you get your tour together you look down at the list of places you’re going to play and you circle a few. I circle New York, I circle Nashville, I circle London, I circle Tokyo. Not to say that the other cities aren’t important, these are just the cities where the press comes out and the focus of the world is on you a little more. Not to mention you have the component of the industry, you have New York, Nashville and LA. That’s where the music industry is, that’s where the film industry is. I have a lot of friends in the entertainment business and that’s when I get to play for them and they come out and hang out backstage. It always adds a level of fabulosity.
Taylor: Backtracking to Tears For Fears. As you said the relationship is going great, do you foresee working together again in the future?
Oates: I wouldn’t rule it out. I would play with those guys any dat of the week. What happens in the music business, especially with touring, every band is its own little sun with its own solar system working around it. You’ve got your band and you’ve got your crew, you’ve got your management, your booking agents, your lawyers, etc. and your solar system doesn’t always line up. Those guys are going to South America and have a whole other agenda of things to do that we aren’t doing. It’s really cool when the stars align and you get together and you can make something work. We were really thrilled that right now, we are looking towards 2018 and trying to find another artist who we can have a good vibe with and a good synergy with and go out and have a different type of show. We are already looking towards 2018.
Taylor: kind of like the solar eclipse we just had.
Last question for you, what is next for the band? What do you guys have planned for after the tour?
Oates: We have a short run we are going to do at the end of September in South East part of the United States and this is not with Tears For Fears. We will be playing with another great band called St. Paul and The Broken Bones, we are playing with them and they are great. We do those two dates then we go on to London and Dublin at the end of October and that pretty much raps up our year. I have a new project called Arkansas, which is an album that I made and plan to release in 2018. Its a really unique record that I recorded in Nashville with a lot of my friends and some of the greatest players in Roots music. It’s kind of rag time, delta blues, old time music thats all meshed up with a modern sensibility. I don’t know how to describe it, maybe Americana is the best way to describe it. I’m going to put it out in 2018 and tour with it.
What a fantastic interview with a living legend! You’ll be able to see the band on tour with Tears for Fears for a few more shows, and across the world the next few months.
Get a copy of Change of Seasons: A Memoir on Amazon here, and watch John’s interview on Steve Harvey where he explains the hidden meanings of some of his greatest hits.
Hall & Oates 2017 Tour Dates:
09/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ STAPLES Center ^
09/15 – Los Angeles, CA @ STAPLES Center ^
09/17 – San Jose, CA @ SAP Center ^
09/22 – Cedar Park, TX @ H-E-B Center at Cedar Park $
09/24 – Sugarland, TX @ Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land $
09/26 – Tuscaloosa, AL @ Tuscaloosa Amphitheater $
09/30 – Charleston, SC @ North Charleston Coliseum $
10/28 – London, UK @ The O2
10/29 – Dublin, IE @ 3Arena
^ = w/ Tears For Fears and Allen Stone
$ = w/ St. Paul & The Broken Bones