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

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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

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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