SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — John Oates will bring his seven-piece Good Road Band to the South Orange Performing Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 4, one of the last dates on the tour he started in 2018 to promote his fifth solo album “Arkansas.” Oates is half of the pop-rock duo Hall & Oates; his latest album began as a tribute to blues singer Mississippi John Hurt and features folk standards as well as his own original songs.
“It’s a great band and we wanted to do one last run with this tour,” Oates said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Dec. 27. “We do some reimagining of older songs, and it’s a storyteller show. We’re able to have the band do their thing.”
The small theater is a far cry from the venues that he plays with Daryl Hall as Hall & Oates, but the size is perfect for the band he is currently touring with, Oates said.
“The smaller more intimate venues are a sweet spot for this type of show because really it’s about relating to the audience and seeing them and having them feel like they’re getting a real personal experience,” he said. “It’s a great contrast to what I do with Daryl. We’re doing big arena shows that are 10,000 to 15,000 people with a huge production and lights and video screens and all that. But this is a completely different animal.”
The band consists of Sam Bush on mandolin, Russ Pahl on pedal steel, Guthrie Trapp on electric guitar, Steve Mackey on bass, Nathaniel Smith on cello, and Josh Day on drums and percussion. The smaller setup allows Oates and the other musicians more time to show off what they can do.
“This is kind of as raw as it gets,” Oates said. “Just the basic rhythm section of two guitars, bass and drums. And then me singing, and that’s what it’s about.”
Oates moved to Nashville, Tenn., approximately 18 years ago to become more involved in the Americana music scene there. He met the other members of the Good Road Band over the years and when he returned to the studio to start recording “Arkansas,” he put together the best group of musicians he could find for what he wanted to do.
“Over my time in Nashville I’ve just kind of gathered this group of friends and great musicians together who I just feel very comfortable with, and they seem to understand my music and they take my music to another level,” Oates said.
Though they are all based in Nashville, the band members come from various southern states, such as North Carolina, Louisiana and Alabama, adding their own folk flavor to the Good Road Band.
“I think I’m the only Yankee,” the Philadelphia-raised Oates joked.
He said Nashville has influenced his solo records because it allowed him to hear new music and introduce new influences into the songs that he was writing. Oates has now released five solo albums, all produced during his time in Music City.
“I just had a gut feeling that Nashville would be a place where I could find a new group of musicians to work with and people who could really kind of bring my songs to life, and fortunately I was right,” he said. “It’s been a rebirth for me musically and instrumentally. I realized that the relationship level and the songwriting level in Nashville was set at a very high bar and I wanted to be part of that. And so little by little I’ve become part of the Nashville music community and it’s been a great thing for me.”
The tour is more intimate than a Hall & Oates show full of radio hits, and Oates said that audience members are often surprised at the flexibility of the show. Sometimes the set list will change while the band is playing, and audience requests are welcomed.
“It used to be that people would come and really not know what to expect. They weren’t sure whether they were going to hear half of a Hall & Oates show, and I think a lot of people are pleasantly surprised when they realize it’s completely different,” he said. “It’s really just about music. It’s about just the passion and a love for music. I do some reimagined versions of some Hall & Oates hits, but at the same time I think I take people on a musical journey.”
Alongside his own music, Oates plays standards from the 1920s and ’30s to give people historical context and knowledge the origins of current popular music.
“It’s not a lecture, but it’s definitely a way that people can see different points,” Oates said. “They come away and they go, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that American music started so far back.’ Especially for the younger generation to know that there was really interesting and cool music being played way before the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Tickets to see John Oates and the Good Road Band at SOPAC can be purchased at www.sopacnow.org/john-oates/ or by calling the box office at 973-313-2787.
Photos Courtesy of Lane Latimer