By Chris Epting
For the last 20+ years, when he’s not been traversing the globe, dazzling millions performing soundtrack-of-your-life sets with Daryl Hall, John Oates has carved out a crafty little solo career that has allowed him to not just stay close to his musical roots, but also celebrate, embrace and even help reinvent them.
Starting with 2002’s Phunk Shui, through the more recent and much-acclaimed albums Good Road To Followand Arkansas, Oates has simultaneously summoned the spirits of everyone from Curtis Mayfield to Doc Watson to Mississippi John Hurt, with many other seminal artists in between. Lending his musical archaeology sensibilities with a trademark passionate craftsmanship, the Oates solo canon always provides an interesting glimpse into not just what shaped him when he was starting out in the early 1960s, but also what still influences him today.
The latest entry in this line of carefully cultivated creations announces itself from the very first cord as something both sweet and sorrowful; simple and soulful. “Disconnected” is built around a lush, haunting groove that’s framed by a trademark Oates vocal that’s lilting, introspective yet simultaneously full of hope.
In a recent conversation, Oates described the origin of the song to me. “I originally started writing ‘Disconnected’ years ago as more of a folky kind of thing. In the middle of the pandemic, I was going through my digital stockpile of ideas and I rediscovered it. It seems to resonate on certain levels with what’s going on in the world. But then I developed the theme of the song a little bit more. There are always times in our lives when we all feel ‘Disconnected’ from something or someone …emotionally, physically, spiritually, or any of the above…but the important thing is to never give up hope and strive to find a way to pull it all back together.”
For the new video, Oates tapped Nashville visual artist Jason Lee Denton. “He is a very creative guy who I have worked with on several other video projects and he always manages to deliver on the concept,” Oates shared. “As far as the idea, I played a lot of the instruments on the song and so then I was visually inspired by Taylor Swift using multiple versions of herself in a video.”
He laughed about the video shoot in East Nashville. “It’s kind of a low-rent version of what she did, me playing everything. Using digital overlays and a blue screen, I wanted to show myself from two sides — the behind-the-scenes writer and the on-stage performer. It was important for me to visually nod to an important part of my musical past and create some throwback moments in the production. That’s why I’m wearing that great 1960s sparkly jacket and why I do some ‘Temptations walk’ dance steps. That’s my history coming back to life.”
The video is a poignant, evocative “one-man-show” tour de force that includes a host of thematic metaphors, some more subtle than others.
The music of Daryl Hall and John Oates will no doubt remain ubiquitous; forever flowing forth from where popular music is played. Gems like “Disconnected” may require a bit more mining, but as always, the discovery is worth the effort. After all, it’s in these intimate musical moments where Oates has always revealed the most innate and intuitive components of his musical heart, still beating strong as ever.
“Disconnected” is the second single from a series of tracks Oates will release each month. Last year, he released the first song of the series “Pushin’ A Rock,” co-written with Grammy-winning producer and writer Nathan Paul Chapman.
Chris Epting is the author of 40 travel and history books, as well as a memoirist who co-wrote John Oates’ Change of Seasons. Other memoirs co-written by Epting include Phil Collen of Def Leppard’s Adrenalized and Long Train Runnin’ with the Doobie Brothers.