Catching up with John Oates during his recent visit to Philly. Ardmore Music Hall (Ardmore, PA) 1/20/19
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Tuesday, January 22, 2019
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John Oates Returns to his Roots with the Release of Arkansas
By Rob Nagy
Returning to his 1960s folk roots, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Oates latest album release, Arkansas, showcases the diverse talents and passion that ignited his decades of award winning success.
Offering elements of country, blues, rock, folk and Appalachia influences, Oates credits his earliest musical influences as the catalyst that ultimately brought him unforeseen success as half of the all time selling pop duo Hall and Oates.
“This music is very deep in my musical DNA,” reflects John Oates, from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “I’ve played some of these songs since the early 60s. If you do that you can feel pretty comfortable with the material in its old form, in a real traditional way. The musicians and the studio techniques we brought it gave life in a new way. If you strip away all the instruments on the album and you hear just what I’m playing on the guitar and singing, it’s really very similar to the original stuff that Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake or Kenny Rogers did. It’s really basic.
“Honestly, if you took all the instruments away,” adds Oates. “If you have this incredible instrumentation, and the skill of the players that are surrounding me, it’s something completely fresh and new, but at the same time it’s got the reverence of the old.”
“What you’re hearing are the influences that I got from Philadelphia prior to meeting and working with Daryl,” says Oates. “This album, Arkansas, is closer to the music, I think, of who I was and who I still am, as a young kid growing up. It’s really the influences that made me who I am as a musician.”
John Oates and Daryl Hall embarked on their historic career in the early 1970s. Following the release of their debut album, “Whole Oates” (1972), following up albums “Abandon Luncheonette” (1973), “War Babies” (1974), “Daryl Hall and John Oates” (1975), “Bigger Than The Both of Us” (1976), “Beauty on a Back Street” (1977), “Along the Red Ledge” (1978), “X-Static” (1979), “Voices” (1980), “Private Eyes” (1981), “H2O” (1982) and “Big Bam Boom” (1984) catapulted the band to historic heights of success. Their hit singles, “She’s Gone”, “Kiss on My List”, “One on One”, “Out of Touch”, “Rich Girl”, “Sarah Smile”, “Maneater”, “”I Can’t Go For That”, “Private Eyes”, remain timeless classics.
“When you write a song your ultimate goal, first of all, is to express yourself the way you want to,” says Oates. “The goal is really to write something that will stand the test of time, something that will transcend generations and pop culture. Daryl and I had a way of writing songs that somehow stand the test of time. They seem to sound as good today as when they were written.”
“The songs we wrote in the 70s don’t sound like 70s songs,” adds Oates. “The songs we wrote in the 80s sound like 80s song but only ‘cause of the production. It sounds like 80s production. If you strip away the 80s production and you get to the bare bones of the song itself, you’ll find it’s timeless.”
“I never ever forget that my success with Hall and Oates allows me to do my projects,” says Oates. “I’m very aware that what I get to do is a very rare circumstance. Many artists would love to be in my position where they have this incredible legacy, and the success of the Hall and Oates career and catalog, and be able to jump off and do anything you want to do. That’s always very close in my mind. I think about it all the time when Daryl and I play together. It has provided a platform for me to have creative freedom. Creative freedom is what everyone really wants.”
Decades since John Oates and Daryl Hall were a constant presence on the hit record charts and touring the world, they remain as popular as ever.
“If someone were to tell me in 1972 when Daryl and I first started, how many years later, that we would be playing larger venues than we’ve ever played in our lives at the age we are at, it would have been totally incomprehensible and imagined,” says Oates. “The music has stood the test of time. It seems to communicate and resonate with younger generations in a way that we could have never imagined. And that’s why we’re still around.”
“We’re bigger now live than we were in the 80s, when we were at our peak,” adds Oates.
“I think if you look across the board you’ll see a lot of artists in the classic rock category, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, they’re the ones that are packing these larger arenas. People are coming to see these artists because they want to hear the songs as long as the songs sound good, and the band represents them properly. People care more about hearing the music then they really pay attention to the actual personalities. It’s these songs that live forever, and that are driving the success. It’s really an amazing phenomenon, I think.”
Oates has found a great creative comfort in the time he spends performing with Daryl and his work as a thriving songwriter, producer, and solo artist.
“It’s really amazing that after al these years Daryl and I always seem to be on the same page, in the way we want to go with our career,” says Oates. “It would be really bad and awful if one of us said, ‘the only shows I want to play are Hall and Oates shows, I don’t want to play any other shows. I don’t think you and I should ever do anything separately.’ It’s the exact opposite. We both love when we play together. We have this amazing thing and we love the music, and it sounds great. But, we also look forward to going our separate ways. Doing our separate things. Daryl’s really passionate about his TV show, that’s where he puts his new creative energy. And I’m really passionate about the stuff I am doing in Nashville. Whether it’s songwriting, producing, or making my own records. I think that’s really healthy. It keeps us fresh and alive. And then when we come back to playing together, we don’t feel like we’re cheating.”
“What I’m bringing to bear, is a lifetime of experience and a dedication to being as good as I can be every night that I play, if not better,” adds Oates. Give people something that they can remember. Something memorable and important, and have fun.”
“I’m in a very good place,” says Oates. “I’ve got a great family. I’ve had a great career that is still going on. I surround myself with good positive people, and that’s what a life is all about.”
Oates released his critically acclaimed autobiography, Change of Seasons in 2017.
John Oates, with special guest Jeffrey Gaines, performs at the Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Avenue Ardmore, PA 19003, on Saturday January 19, 2019 at 8:00 P.M. For tickets, go to www.ardmoremusichall.com.
To stay up to date with John Oates visit www.johnoates.com
Crack The Sky Finding Success After Decades of Obscurity
By Rob Nagy
Arguably one of progressive rocks greatest bands to emerge out of the 70s, Crack The Sky, whose current line up features original members John Palumbo (lead vocals/ guitar), Rock Witkowski (lead guitar) Joey D’Amico, (drums) and later additions Glenn Workman (keyboards), Dave DeMarco (bass) and Bobby Hird (lead guitar), was on the doorstep of national prominence. A victim of unforeseen circumstances that relegated them to the ranks of obscurity, their latest album release, appropriately titled, Living in Reverse, is giving the band a welcome shot of adrenaline, and could very well be their finest studio album.
“We signed a record deal with Tom Lipsky at Loud and Proud Records,” says Crack The Sky guitarist Rick Witkowski, from his home in West Virginia. “Tom always loved our band, and he has his own label now. We had our Living In Reverse album pretty much done. We sent it off to him, and he liked what he heard and they signed us exclusively.”
“Their goal is to get us to a bigger market,” adds Witkowski. “They are trying to introduce everybody to what Baltimore, our biggest fan base, already knew for years about Crack The Sky. They seem to be on board with us and we’re very excited to be on the label.”
Merging elements of hard driving straight ahead rock and roll, with their signature progressive rock sound, Crack the Sky shines individually and collectively on this flawless effort. Featuring a dozen freshly penned John Palumbo compositions, standout tracks include, “Talk, Talk”, “Living in Reverse”, “Raining Rain”, “I’m On The Radio, Mom”, “Bang” and “I’m A Good Man”.
“Rolling Stone recently did an interview and a story about us,” says Witkowski. “The writer, Ryan Reed, is a big fan of ours. He loves our band. He reached out to our record label about our new release, and we ended up being a feature story on Rollingstone.com.”
“I can’t believe how many people got a hold of me, and the buzz that that got Wow! I got congratulations from people I hadn’t heard from in years. It was a big deal!”
“A few years ago, Rolling Stone came out with the Top 50 Progressive Rock albums of all time,” recalls Witkowski. “We were 47 on that list, and that listed included all the heavy hitters, Pink Floyd, King Crimson…”
Wiikowski vividly recalls his days working in a West Virginia music store and a chance meeting in the early 70s between he and John Palumbo.
“He walked into the music store picked up a bass guitar, plugged it in and started playing,” recalls Witkowski. “I started talking to him, and he looked like nobody from our area. He had on a long army trench coat and his hair was in a fro. He had just got back from hitchhiking across the country. He dropped out of college, his Jack Karouac adventure, you know, on the road. And he had a composition book and he showed it to me. I was in bands, but I had never met a songwriter. He was a bona-fide writer. And he was looking to put a band together. I’m in! So it all started there.”
“We had a cover band for a couple of years to try to get work,” adds Witkowski. “We worked on original songs. John and I made a trip up to New York City to try to get a recording deal. We ended up getting in front of Terry Minogue, who was Terry Cashman’s nephew. He had his own production company. We tried making a demo we weren’t very good at it. If we could get in front of someone and play live they’ll want to sign us. We had such a unique style. John’s songs were killer and we had this guitar back and forth prog rock sensibility to it. At first they were like, ‘What the hell is this stuff?’ We put a band together, and we finally got to Cashman and West, and signed on with their production company.”
Crack The Sky released their self-titled debut album in 1975. Praised by the critics, most notably Rolling Stone Magazine gave a glowing review and “Debut Album of the Year” honors.
Touring throughout the U.S., as well as opening for such high profile acts as Rush, Frank Zappa, Boston, Foreigner, ELO, YES, Styx, Supertramp, Kansas and ZZ Top, saw Crack The Sky failed to generate a following nationally. However, in Baltimore, Maryland, they became stars.
“Radio stations started playing our record in heavy rotation there,” recalls Witkowski. “Each time we came back to town to perform we played bigger and bigger venues. It was really great. It just didn’t happen everywhere else. We had some taste of success, but we never had it Nationally.”
“To a degree it was very frustrating,” adds Witkowski. “It was bittersweet because we were getting over with people. We got to open for a lot of incredible bands. We’d go over with the fans, but it just didn’t happen at a higher level. I wish I could explain it but it just didn’t happen.”
Follow-up album releases failed to generate the traction the band so desperately needed. Law suits, lack of promotion, and personnel problems in the band all contributed to what should have been their demise. Decades later they remain committed to their art, continuing to move forward writing, recording and performing.
“In the band, we all know our roles,” says Witkowski. “We all work together, and support John’s songs, and that is what is the key to Crack The Sky. Everything is based on John Palumbo’s songs and unique writing style, and we have our own little thing that supports that. That is the essence of Crack The Sky.”
“I’m just thankful to be in the game making music, and being able to create,” adds Witkowski. “The joy is in the journey. I am so thankful for the fans, and loving what we do!”
Crack The Sky will perform at the Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Avenue Ardmore, PA 19003, on Sunday January 20, 2019 at 7:00 P.M. For tickets, go to www.ardmoremusichall.com.
To stay up to date with Crack The Sky visit www.crackthesky.com