For legendary musician John Oates, music and life are one in the same, he said.
“You know, I've been a musician since I was a child, and I just don't know any other way of expressing myself,” Oates said. “So that’s what I do.”
At 74 years old today, the singer, songwriter and guitarist — best known as half of the rock and soul duo, Hall & Oates, with Daryl Hall — continues to create music and perform on stages around the world.
And this Friday, Oates will return to the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen — a performance venue which holds a special spot in the musician’s heart, he said.
“The Wheeler Opera House has been a second musical home for me, I’ve played there many times,” Oates said. “It’s one of the best acoustic venues in the world, and many, many artists will say that — it just sounds so good, it’s warm; there’s not a bad seat in the house from the audience’s point of view, and from being on stage, you really feel a connection with the audience.”
Starting at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oates looks to share an evening of songs and stories with his Aspen audience. For the concert, he’ll be accompanied by special guests Guthrie Trapp, a Nashville-based blues artist and guitarist, and Aspen musician John Michel — who Oates said he’s played with in different bands over the years here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“So John is going to be playing percussion and Guthrie will be on the second guitar, it's going to be an acoustic trio basically,” Oates said. “And when I'm playing this type of show, I can do anything I want, you know, I can take requests from the audience, I can change the set at any moment, and there’s really a sense of freedom to do it acoustically like this.”
Oates, who currently lives part-time between Nashville and Aspen, has been putting on a series of intimate, acoustic live shows at different venues for years. With his annual Wheeler show having been canceled the past few years due to the pandemic, he’s calling this one, “Third Time’s the Charm.”
“And I know it'll be great because, here again, everyone loves to come to the Wheeler for a show exactly like this,” Oates said. “And I’ve been waiting for three years, so we’re gonna let it all hang out, so to speak.”
‘A musical time trip’
Born in New York City, Oates’ family moved to a small suburb outside of Philadelphia in the 1950s. Early on, he was influenced by the nascent folk scene, bluegrass, delta blues and ragtime guitar styles, as well as the R&B legends of the 1960s.
Oates attended college at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he met his longtime music partner, Daryl Hall. The two began collaborating and playing music together in college, marking the beginning of their historic partnership.
Since their formation in the early 1970s, Hall & Oates would go on to record 21 albums — which have sold over 80 million units, making them arguably the most successful duo in rock history. They’ve scored 10 number one records, over 20 Top 40 hits and were involved in the original 1985 “Live Aid” concert and the charity single, “We Are The World.”
Throughout their career as a music duo, Hall & Oates garnered numerous American Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards and multiple Grammy nominations. In 2005, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2008, were presented the prestigious BMI Icon Award for their outstanding career achievement in songwriting. Hall & Oates were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Since embarking on his solo career in 1999, Oates has gone on to record several solo albums, as well as perform and speak alongside musicians worldwide. He’s also spearheaded a handful of music-related projects, including in 2010 his creation of the 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival at the Wheeler.
Oates said that, in a sense, what he’s doing now with his live show series — titled “An Evening of Songs and Stories with John Oates” — is an evolution of his Aspen festival. He described his concerts today as being like “a musical time trip.”
“I try to take people on a little musical journey and tell the stories behind the songs — you know, how they were written, what certain or unusual circumstances were involved and the characters who were part of inspiring some of the songs,” Oates said.
Over the course of his show, Oates explained how he’ll go back and play songs that were popular in the 1920s and ’30s to communicate with his present-day audiences that “hit records didn't start with rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. The musician noted how there were hit records from the time that someone invented a phonograph machine and a radio.
He’ll also mix into the performance some Hall & Oates hits, though reimagined in a different way, Oates said, to match the acoustic setting.
“I’m kind of a self-described musical historian; I like the idea of going back and looking at the history of American popular music,” Oates said. “And, you know, in a sense, I feel like I'm part of it, through the work I've done with Daryl over the years — our songs are part of the fabric of the American popular music culture.”
Third time’s the charm
Oates has been performing his live concerts a lot lately. On his current tour circuit, the musician is playing different venues around Colorado, followed by some shows back in Nashville and then in California later in the spring. He’ll head overseas in the summer to perform solo, as well as with blues artist Beth Hart, for a series of shows coming to Germany, Belgium and London.
Having written and created a handful of new songs during the pandemic, Oates said he’s currently releasing a series of digital singles. The artist expressed how he’s now in the performer mindset, eager to share his new music with audiences.
“Right now, I'm in the in-between stage, you know, I've written the songs, now I want people to hear them,” Oates said. “So my mind is in the performance mode — I'm thinking about the show and how to entertain people.”
Oates is especially looking forward to entertaining his audience in Aspen on Friday night. The musician, who has owned a home in Woody Creek for over 30 years, is deeply rooted in the mountain town community, both musically and personally, he said.
“Aspen and Colorado, they really saved my life in a sense, because at the time when I moved here permanently in the late ’80s, things weren't going very well for me, and it was really the move to the mountains that was a recalibration of my whole life,” Oates said. “I was living a completely different life than I had lived during my crazy rocketship ride of the ’80s pop-star thing … and so I have a very warm place in my heart and soul for Aspen because of the opportunity it gave me to find myself.”
Oates joked that he’ll probably know more than half the people in the audience at the Wheeler on Friday evening — it marks a long-awaited return for the performer and his Aspen community.
“I'm just so glad to come back,” Oates said. “It’ll just be coming full circle, we’ll finally get this long-awaited return to Aspen back in.”
“An Evening of Songs and Stories with John Oates and Special Guests” will commence on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Wheeler. Tickets range from $35 to $65 depending on seat selection. Limited availability remains; visit aspenshowtix.com.