‘I try to be myself’: John Oates enjoys living and working in Nashville, but he’s not going country

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Though John Oates has been a Nashville resident for some time now, you shouldn’t look for him in a ten-gallon hat on the cover of his next all-original solo release.

That as-yet-untitled project follows a pair of blues-focused efforts, 2011’s Mississippi Mile and the 2012 live set The Bluesville Sessions. No word on how much the Delta will figure into this new album, but we do know this: Whereas both of those projects featured a series of cover songs, including a cool roots-rocking redo of “You Make My Dreams” from his days in Hall and Oates, he’ll be focusing on developing Oates songs this time around.

It shouldn’t be hard: Oates shares, in a talk with Chris Rutledge at American Songwriter, that he’s been on a writing tear this summer. Already, Oates has collaborated with up-and-comers like Daphne Willis and Yarn. The results from writing sessions with Jim Lauderdale are expected to appear on Lauderdale’s upcoming new album, as well.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: John Oates explores the deep-blues inspirations for ‘Mississippi Mile,’ touching on key moments with Daryl Hall, Todd Rundgren and the Temptations along the way.]

Oates has also taken to sitting in for impromptu jams with the likes of Umphrey’s McGee, Donavon Frankenreiter, moe and others.

If anything these varied musical experiences have directed Oates deeper into the music that first sparked him creatively, long before he started a writing and singing partnership with Hall that would make them the best-selling duo that pop has ever seen: Though rooted in the blues, Mississippi Mile also brought in tinges of early rock, folk, R&B, even Appalachian music — all areas Oates hopes to continue to explore.

“I have some really cool songs that I’m getting ready for a project down the road. I’m not rushing into it,” Oates tells Rutledge. “This next one I’m going to do, I’m really going to take my time with, because it’s going to be all originals. It’s something I really want to craft in a certain way.”

As for living in the capital of country music, Oates quips: “I didn’t come to Nashville to put on a cowboy hat and pretend to be a country singer. My attraction to Nashville as Music City is the variety and flexibility: the fact that there’s so many musicians at your disposal, so many amazing studios and talented people that you can draw from. … I try to be myself, but at the same time I’m learning a lot, and I’m pulling from not only from the well of inspiration that I’m getting from Nashville, but I’m pulling from my roots.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on John Oates. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JOHN OATES: John Oates has always been more than the Other Guy in Hall and Oates. In fact, the mustachioed one co-wrote half of H&O’s six Billboard No. 1 songs, including “Out of Touch,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Maneater.” That’s to say nothing of his writing contributions to memorable sides like “Sara Smile,” “Adult Education,” “How Does It Feel To Be Back,” “You Make My Dreams” and “She’s Gone.” Oates even co-wrote and sang backup on Icehouse’s 1987 Top 10 hit “Electric Blue,” before starting a low-key parallel career on his own. While personal efforts like 2002’s Phunk Shui and 2008’s 1000 Miles of Life were well received, neither garnered the critical praise and broad attention afforded his newest project, the gritty, cool-rocking Mississippi Mile. He stopped by for an SER Sitdown to talk about the new album, as well as key moments from his career with Daryl Hall, the Temptations, Todd Rundgren and, yeah, the blues.

GIMME FIVE: HALL AND OATES: Hall and Oates are, of course, the poster boys for what happens when hair gel meets R&B. Funny thing is, they were originally anything but polished. Hall had reportedly been in an early Philly band with Thom Bell, later a central figure in that city’s R&B legacy. Along the way, H&O tried out an acoustic bent, art rock, guitar-oriented sounds, then new wave, mainstream pop, retro-Motown, keyboard-dominated dance music and moldy oldies. Of course, nobody bought any of it until those last few permutations, most presented through the gauzy sheen of MTV. H&O, even now, are best known for affixing synthesizers to an already established blue-eyed soul sound. That means I have to hate them? OK, I tried. (“One on One,” a tepid basketball metaphor taken to teeth-splintering extremes, certainly tried the patience.) But, in the end, well, no can do.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: HALL AND OATES – ABANDONED LUNCHEONETTE (1973): Hall and Oates began their career with so much promise. After the listenable, folky debut LP Whole Oats, they achieved greatness with one of the best albums of the classic rock era, Abandoned Luncheonette, released in 1973. The best way to describe this record is to use the term “acoustic soul” because so much of it sounds like folk music with Philly soul harmonies.

ONE TRACK MIND: JOHN OATES ON ‘SHE’S GONE,’ AN ALL-NEW ‘YOU MAKE MY DREAMS,’ “BACK TOGETHER AGAIN’: On this special edition of Something Else! Reviews’ One Track Mind, we handed the reins over to John Oates, one half of the pop-soul hitmaking duo Hall and Oates. Hear more about the love-gone-wrong beginnings of “She’s Gone,” and how the birth of Oates’ son sparked a standout solo track. He also laments that doo wop never gets its due, and how he remade a signature Hall and Oates hit into a boot-scootin’ swing tune on his new record, “Mississippi Mile.”

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