John Oates takes the ‘Good Road’ home to the Wheeler Opera House
Two years ago, John Oates began releasing a series of songs online, under the auspices of his “A Good Road to Follow” project. It saw him traveling to record with artists like Ryan Tedder, Vince Gill and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, exploring a spectacular array of genres and digging into his musical roots in the blues and R&B traditions.
What at first seemed like a freewheeling series of one-offs eventually became a series of EPs, then an album, released last year, shortly after Oates was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as half of Hall and Oates, and now is starting to look more like a long-term musical mission.
The “Good Road” project hasn’t stopped, or slowed down much, as Oates has flourished in a creatively fertile – if late-blooming – solo career. The latest landmark it is the film “Another Good Road,” which was released debuted on the high-definition music channel Palladia last month and is out now on DVD and digital download. The next stop on it is a performance Friday at the Wheeler Opera House.
“The road doesn’t really have an end,” Oates said from Nashville, where he was preparing for his tour. “It has detours and potholes here and there, and every once in a while you get a good nice stretch where you can put the pedal to the metal. That’s how I’m looking at it. I think I’ve found a little theme that I can live with musically for a long time.”
The 84-minute movie effectively extends the life of many of the songs from Oates’ 2014 album. Many of the songs have evolved over the last few years of performances, while some new ones have emerged in the meantime. It shows Oates playing nine songs with a backing band from Nashville, ranging from “Lose it in Louisiana,” a folky acoustic song about a rough night in New Orleans, to the bluesy “Let’s Drive,” the R&B track “Pushing a Rock Uphill” and a cover of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Stack O’ Lee.”
“When you start playing songs live, they take on a different life and they evolve,” she said. “So I felt like I had come up with different evolutions and I wanted to capture that with some of the people who played on the album and some friends I’m playing with in Nashville.”
If Oates has a co-star in the movie, it’s Woody Creek itself. Between songs, the film shows him walking around the grounds of his home there, feeding his alpacas, driving down Woody Creek road, and getting margaritas at the Woody Creek Tavern as he discusses his life and career.
For most of the 25 years he’s lived here, Oates has mostly blended in with the Aspen and Woody Creek community, telemark skiing on the local slopes, raising his son with his wife, Aimee, playing occasionally at community events, and hopping on stage once in awhile at Belly Up or the Wheeler. His life here has largely remained separate from his life as a rock star (though, in 2009, when he got called for jury duty and was asked his profession by the prosecutor while sitting among the Pitkin County jury pool, he did reply, however truthfully, “Rock star”).
In the new movie, he offers fans a rare glimpse at his life here.
“It’s something I don’t do very often – in fact, I’ve never done it,” he said. “But this music is so personal. And my lifestyle is an insight into where my music is coming from. So I felt it was appropriate on this one to go there.”
Over the last six years, Oates has split his time between Woody Creek and Nashville. He came to the mountains of Colorado to escape the music industry and embrace a quiet, outdoorsy lifestyle. He was then drawn to Tennessee’s Music City, USA as he settled into a songwriting renaissance.
“Colorado saved my life and, in a way, Nashville saved my musical life,” Oates said. “They’re both super important in different ways. … I think I’ve found a sweet spot in the music I’m doing right now.”
This weekend’s Aspen show is his first at the Wheeler since 2011, which came during the last outing of his 7908 Songwriters Festival.
“I can’t wait,” he said of returning to the Wheeler, his favored local venue, where he also recoded a 2004 concert film.
The 7908 festival, which ran for three years, he said, was a key turning point that sent him into his current, creatively fertile period as a musician.
“7908, for me, was a very important part of my life,” he said. “What it did was allow me to express myself as a songwriter and meet a lot of the people who have become my best friends.”
For the Wheeler show, he said, he’ll be showcasing his new songs alongside some of the classic Hall and Oates material and covers that were formative for him as a musician. Among those songs is the old-time Broadway classic “For Me and My Gal.” Oates, now 65, learned it from his mother, at age four, and he’s revisited it as he looks back on his life and career in music.
“I’m going back to my earliest roots in Philadelphia, when I was hanging out with Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt and doing blues,” he said. “It’s kind of a loosely chronological musical trip. I don’t necessarily follow a timeline, but it’s like time travel.”
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