Oates taps back into Delta Blues

Once the new guy in music, talented, seasoned artist John Oates now mentors newcomers.

  • Aug. 13, 2015 6:00 a.m.

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week


John Oates is quite content being “the old guy.”

“It’s a great place to be,” he said. “It’s the place where a lot of creative people and musicians would like to be, where I can indulge myself, still being respectful to the music. But it’s fun.”

With a ranch full of rescued animals — a passion fuelled by his wife’s farming roots — a pilot for a new television series in the can and plenty of music still to be sung, Oates said his life is full.

There’s still time, though, to head out alongside the other musician who soared to the top of the charts with Oates — Daryl Hall — and bring back memories of the days when the two of them were first singing Sara Smile, Rich Girl, Private Eyes and Kiss On My List.

It’s still fun, several decades later, performing those songs with Hall, Oates said, and some of those hits will find their way to the set list when Oates performs at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, which runs from Aug. 14 to Aug. 16.

He’s got an acoustic version of the song he said remains special to him to this day – She’s Gone, a song released 42 years ago – “because that’s the one that put us on the map. It defined us and it has such an enduring quality.”

It’s part of a body of work that saw the pair inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.

These days, Oates is more likely to be found belting out the blues, rhythm and blues, the Delta blues.

“Now I’ve got an opportunity to tap back into that,” he said. “It’s fun for me. There are so many sides in that genre, real Americana. It’s open for everything.”

His love of the blues started early, he said, “because it felt like a good home for me.”

It’s the inspiration for the pilot he’s made for Good Road to Follow, a series he hopes will find a home.

It’s all about hopping into his old red Ford pickup and heading out on the roads less-travelled, looking for unique characters, interesting stops and music that needs to be heard.

Unlike Sonic Highways, the television series the Foo Fighters made — which he said was filmed with the sole goal of creating an album — Oates developed his concept “with a historian point of view.”

Much like music historian Alan Lomax, he’s looking for the real roots music, songs and singers who do it for the love and have never been recorded.

The plan is to make that music available for download after each episode.

Oates said he’s looking forward to the Salmon Arm event, one he’s never been at before, because it brings him back to B.C., a province he loves to visit — albeit usually in the winter when he hits the slopes.

One of the reasons he agreed to the festival was because he saw his friend Marty Stuart is heading here as well, and he’s looking forward to making some music with Elephant Revival, a Colorado band known for its Americana/folk sound.

Once the new guy on the musical block, Oates finds himself mentoring young musicians. One band he’s particularly keen on is Paper Bird, a folk/pop band in Denver.

While he loves being able to work with up-and-coming musicians, Oates said he’s also frustrated because the business has changed so much since Hall and Oates released their debut album in 1972.

“[Music] companies are just looking at the bottom line,” he said. “They’re not welcoming for young musicians. I love being inspired by these young artists but I feel bad at the same time.”

He doesn’t dwell on it. Life’s pretty good for him right now, he said. There are all the animals back on the ranch — alpacas, llamas, emus, puppies — he’s working on new projects and still making music with his friend Hall.

“I get to travel, I’ve got a great band,” he said. “This is the perfect time now.”


Oates shares his talent and love of the blues at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on the Shade Stage and again on the Main Stage Sunday at 10 p.m.



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