John Oates had just come off the road from a series of smaller shows behind his new solo album, “Arkansas,” but he’d be ready to go, Oates said from his home in Nashville, Tennessee, when it was time for Hall and Oates to head out for a summer tour with Train that got underway at the beginning of May.
“Touring now is a way of life,” Oates says of the busy schedule he’s kept more or less since the early ‘70s, when he and Daryl Hall caught a wave of success that kept them on the charts through most of the ‘80s. “It’s just part of our lives; it’s what we do.
“I look at it as, ‘I play music for free, you’ve got to pay me to leave my house, fly in a plane, stay in a hotel,’ “ he says. “That’s what I get paid for, because the music is the payoff.”
Hall and Oates come to Philadelphia on May 26, part of a three-month run of dates with Train, whose members are friends and sometime collaborators for years with Oates and Hall.
“Train has an annual cruise that they do through the Caribbean and I’ve gone on their boat for a week with them, and played with them at some big rock festivals,” Oates says. “(Train’s singer) Pat Monahan has gone on Daryl’s TV show. So we’ve got a relationship with them.”
On tour, both bands will do their own sets, but unlike in 2017, when Hall and Oates toured with Tears for Fears, this time out the bands plan to collaborate onstage in some way during each show, he says. A new single, “Philly Forget Me Not,” was recorded by both acts and that will be at least part of a nightly collaboration.
The summer co-headlining tour of classic rock bands has become an increasingly popular venture for musicians and fans alike, and in this case, it made a lot of sense for Hall and Oates, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act, to team up with a slightly younger band.
“Daryl and I had a lot of hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but Train had a lot of hits in the ‘90s and early 2000s,” Oates says. “So they’re kind of carrying on that same tradition in a way. There’s a lot of synergy when it comes to that.
“The main thing is you want to give people a great show, give them their money’s worth and have them feel good,” he says.
When we spoke, Oates had recently played the Troubadour in West Hollywood, a venue that holds a few hundred, far fewer than the typical locations Hall and Oates will command on tour. Both kinds of gigs have their own pleasures, he says.
“The big arenas, there’s an excitement and energy level with 12,000 or 15,000 people that you just can’t replicate in any other way,” Oates says. “But then at the same time you become part of this big show that has video screens and lights and production. It’s more of a spectacle in a way.
“Whereas what I do with ‘Arkansas’ and my band playing the Troubadour, it’s really a musical connection on the purest level,” he says. “There’s no artifice, no production involved, it’s just guys with their instruments and you just play.”
Playing the big tours with Hall and Oates allows him the freedom and support to do his solo work, which on “Arkansas” continues in the Americana vein he tapped into in Nashville years ago, this particular album inspired by his boyhood hero, country blues icon Mississippi John Hurt. His guitar teacher in Philadelphia in the ‘60s ended up with Hurt’s guitar when he died in 1966 — they’d been colleagues on the folk circuit — and years later Oates acquired that himself, playing it on the first two Hall and Oates albums and owning it still to this day.
“This (solo album) was a chance for me to really get back to that music, which was really part of my musical DNA as a kid,” he says. “It’s kind of a rediscovery of my true musical self in a lot of ways.”
But don’t expect to hear any of it on the Hall and Oates tour, he says. While in years past he and Hall would drop in a solo song or two, in time, as they moved away from making new albums together, they decided to focus on the older hits that fans wanted to hear the most.
“We realized a long time ago the fans and people who are coming to see us, they want to hear the songs they’re expecting to hear,” Oates says. “In a way we have this incredibly good problem in that we have all these hits.”
And what a run of hits it is, from “Sara Smile,” their first Top 10 single from 1976, to “Rich Girl,” their first No. 1 a year later, to other chart-toppers such as “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes” and “Maneater,” to name just a few you’ll likely hear on tour this summer.
“It’s mind-blowing,” Oates says when asked what it feels like to look back over more than four decades of making music with Hall. “Sometimes when I look back at what we did from 1972 until 1986, it was just kind of crazy. We wrote, recorded an album and toured every year from ‘72 to ‘86, without stopping, which I can’t actually believe that we did.”
And people truly love these songs, as much now if not more than ever before, he says.
“The crazy part is that we’re bigger now than we were in the ‘80s,” Oates says. “In the ‘80s, at our absolute peak, we only played one night at Madison Square Garden. Now we’re doing two nights. Think about that. It’s insane.
“So I don’t know what to even say about that other than it’s great. I’m happy.”
Contact Peter Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PeterLarsenBSF on Twitter.