Jam Cruisin’ with John Oates
When Hall & Oates were cranking out blue-eyed soul hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s, few would gave guessed that thirty years later guitarist/singer John Oates would have a second life on the jamband circuit. But thanks to a chance collaboration with moe. and a newfound friendship with the members of Umphrey’s McGee, one half of the most successful duo in pop history is now a recognizable face on the jamband festival circuit (his partner Daryl Hall is doing pretty well himself and continues to record with acts like Chromeo, Grace Potter and Guster for his web series). While aboard Jam Cruise alone, Oates sat in with Umphrey’s McGee, The Omega Moos, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and a Sly Stone tribute featuring members of Dumpstaphunk, Soulive and other funk-scene staples. A few days into the cruise, the king of Yacht Rock sat down with Jambands.com to discuss his new friends, his blues group and his first experience on the high seas.
You are two days into Jam Cruise. Have you ever been on a cruise before and what is your initial reaction to the whole Jam Cruise experience?
No, I have never been on a cruise ship. The biggest boat I was on was a three-foot catamaran and I got sick as a dog. So I have been doing the Dramamine and it has been fucking with me [Laughter.] So someone gave me something called Bomana and it is much better!
While it may have surprised people that you were onboard Jam Cruise a few years ago, in the past 12 months you have become something of a staple on the scene. You played with both moe. and Umphrey’s McGee at the Belly Up near your hometown of Aspen, CO. You also joined Umphrey’s McGee at Mountain Jam. What was your initial introduction to the scene?
Well, I played with Drew Emmitt and some of the guys from Leftover Salmon—they are Colorado guys like me. And I have always enjoyed the freedom and spontaneity of that [scene]—especially since I come from more of a structured pop and R& B background. But, when I was a kid, I played a lot of folk music and a lot of folk/blues so I am also used to a much more organic kind of playing. That being said, I met moe. because my guitar tech. in the Hall & Oates band is their guitar tech. and he introduced us.
He asked me if I wanted to play with them or sit in with them [at the Belly Up in Aspen, CO] and I said, “Let’s give it a try” and we had a great time. And then, through the grapevine, the same thing happened with Umphrey’s. They came to Aspen, CO to play, and I happened to be in town. They invited me down to play and we really hit it off—my wife is from the Chicago area and they are from Chicago so we have a lot of people we know in common and a lot of things in common. I really just enjoyed playing with them, and I got to play with them again at Mountain Jam and, of course, last night on Jam Cruise. So it happened very organically.
The jamband scene dips into a several different worlds. Did you run into anyone aboard the ship you remember from another life?
I have played with the Nevilles a couple of times, and I have played with The Meters, just jamming with them. So there are couple of relationships. It’s funny…I played with Ivan [Neville] the other night on his Sly Stone tribute and it was really fun. He is incredible.
For someone like you who is from the more traditional pop world, what is it like to walk onstage and improvise? Is it scary?
I will tell you what, it is not scary but it keeps you on your toes. It makes you really be aware and listen closely. Not only are there usually a lot of people playing together onstage but there are a lot of notes. Everyone is really good and all these good players tend to play a lot of notes. And when you are stepping into their world you don’t want to step on the gas always—it is a little bit more about when are you going to take your foot off the gas and figure out where you really fit in and find a place that makes the groove cool. It is kind of a discipline thing. And playing in a good band my entire life with good players, I am used to listening and pride myself in being able to know my spots. It is an important aspect of it all—I am not a super virtuoso guitar ripper, I am more of a rhythm guitar player who accompanies myself on guitar. So I fit in and find my spots and just try to go for it.
Last night, you played the Umphrey’s McGee original “Booth Love” with them on Jam Cruise. Did you rehearse that song with them or on your own?
Luckily for me, that is the third time I played that song. The first time I played that song I had no clue and the second time I was holding on for dear life. And last night I knew the song. It is a whole different thing when you know the song. That is the foundation and then you can go somewhere else. So last night I really knew the song and could really play with Jake [Cinninger] and the guys. We came up with some cool little things that were totally spontaneous. That’s what happens when you actually learn a song [Laughter.]