‘Guitar-based music wasn’t that popular': Even in the 1980s, Hall and Oates stayed true to their roots

Think Hall and Oates’ music in the 1980s was all about synthesizers and MTV sheen? Think again. “How Does It Feel To Be Back,” the Byrdsy opening cut on Voices — an album that admittedly featured its share of keyboards — found Oates returning to his earliest folk influences.

“It was so guitar based, and it you think back, guitar-based music wasn’t that popular in the early 1980s,” Oates tells me, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “Instead, there was a lot of synthesizers, so that song was kind of throwback to my folk-rock roots. I played in a lot of folk-rock bands in the late 1960s. I used a 12-string, and with that tuning, it was very much of that time.”

“How Does It Feel To Be Back” still provides a rootsy counterpoint during today’s Hall and Oates concerts, even as their sets have focused more on guitar interplay over the last few years. Oates has also reworked the tune into a slower, more acoustic rumination for his own shows.

“It has a poignancy that doesn’t come across in the hard version of it,” Oates says of his solo take. “It’s an actual reinterpretation of the song, with two acoustic guitars. What I did was I basically rewrote the song with the same words, in a folky kind of way. By the same token, the Hall and Oates band right now is just so good — and I’m not saying that from an egotistical point of view. It’s just the truth. Everybody loves that song, and I love playing it. It’s a great feature for myself. It’s a little bit outside the box, a little more country rock. We never have really stopped playing live, and I think it shows. I had some musicians friends who came to the show, guys who play in different bands, and they said: ‘You guys really bring it. You aren’t going through the motions.’ I think, for me, that’s the biggest compliment of all.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.