Richard Thompson at 2018 Folk Alliance
Richard Thompson and John Oates separately discussed what’s kept their careers sustainable.
Thompson said his guitar-playing technique also evolved with the times. By using alternate tunings and bending the strings and the neck, he used the electric six-stringed instrument to create a sound “closer to the human voice” or to a bagpipe, especially when interpreting or extending Scottish folk traditions on songs like “A Sailor’s Life, “Matty Groves” and “Meet on the Ledge.”
Regarding his practice in recent decades of alternating solo acoustic performances and recordings with those of an electric band, Thompson said he likes the intimate solo concert because it’s “sort of like being in church. It’s heart to heart.”
John Oates similarly shed light on a long career split between the iconic rock and soul group Hall & Oates (with Darryl Hall) and his experience recording and touring with a band of his own. He said he prefers playing the smaller venues where the relationship between artist and audience is more intimate and listeners don’t have to watch a video screen to see the band. Of course, the occasional arena tours with Hall & Oates make it financially feasible for him to thoroughly enjoy his solo ventures. His seventh solo recording, the bluesy Arkansas, was released Feb. 2.
Modest and self-deprecating, Oates said he has a “split personality” when it comes to switching hats between the popular duo and his more personal solo work. But he dispelled the notion that Hall & Oates were just casual hit-makers, describing their style as a “street-corner doo-wop” that blended Hall’s higher voice with Oates’ lower one in octaves. After so many years together, they no longer have to rehearse before a tour. “We know how to play ‘Maneater’,” he joked.
Oates wrapped up the interview with a solo rendition of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Creole Belle,” exhibiting a fluent finger-picking technique. He proudly told the story of recently acquiring a guitar once owned by Hurt. He later signed copies of his new memoir “Change of Seasons.”