As a student at Temple University in the 1960s, John Oates had a goal for life after college.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” says Oates, who majored in journalism. “I ended up a songwriter.”
The latter choice paid off for Oates, as his partnership with Daryl Hall produced such classic songs as “She’s Gone” and “Out of Touch.” Those were among their 29 Top 40 singles and six No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts from 1974 to 1991. The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Oates, who grew up in North Wales, gets back to prose with Change of Seasons (St. Martin’s Press; $29.99), a memoir cowritten with Chris Epting. It’s a deeply personal and anecdote-laden account of a musical journey that began in Philadelphia and took Oates around the world.
The book grew out of a series of interviews he had given to Epting over the years, but Oates, 69, also drew on his own writings as a young adult.
“I had kept journals from 1970 to 1980, a total of 13 volumes,” he says, and he included excerpts in the book. “I wanted to capture what was happening. I knew what would happen would set the course for the rest of my life,” says Oates, who divides his time between homes in Colorado and Tennessee.
Looking back gave Oates, a New York native, a perspective on how his life was shaped by events that took on a bigger meaning. He pointed to his father's accepting a job in 1952 in the Philadelphia suburbs that uprooted his family.
“None of my family members ever moved away from New York except for mine,” he says. “If we hadn’t moved to North Wales, I never would have gone to Temple or met Daryl. Who knows what would have happened if I stayed in New York?”
He describes the rich musical scene in the Philadelphia area, including the thrill of his first rock-and-roll show: Bill Haley and His Comets at Willow Grove Amusement Park in 1955. “My clock was rocked,” he writes.
In the 1960s, Oates felt equally at home attending rhythm and blues and soul shows at the Uptown Theater, where he was wowed by 13-year-old Stevie Wonder’s version of “Fingertips,” and seeing top folk and blues acts at the Second Fret and Main Point.
“I had a unique experience in getting to see Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt and hang out with them,” he says.
Oates brought all those influences to Hall and Oates when they began working together in 1970 and signed with Atlantic Records a year later. After releasing Whole Oats, their debut album, in 1972, they hit the road and served as an opening act for performers across the musical spectrum, including the Bee Gees, Cheech and Chong, Harry Chapin, and David Bowie.
“We learned from every experience as an opening act,” says Oates, who cites Bowie’s showmanship and stage presentation at a September 1972 show as a key influence. “We knew from that night that our days as a laid-back acoustic act were numbered,” he writes.
Commercial success in the 1980s with such Top 10 albums as Voices and Big Bam Boom also had its down side. Oates learned he was rich in possessions but cash broke during a meeting with his financial adviser in 1988.
The news led him to sell his classic cars and his homes in Greenwich Village and Connecticut and move to Colorado. That’s where he met Aimee Pommier, who became his second wife and gave birth to their son, Tanner, in 1996.
“It was my darkest hour, but also the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says in retrospect. “It ended the protracted adolescence of pop stardom and was a wake-up call.”
Oates still tours with Hall while pursuing a solo career and is working with Hall to promote their one-day music festival, HoagieNation, May 27 at the Festival Pier (Tears for Fears is the co-headliner). He is also working on an acoustic roots album with a release planned for 2018 and is considering other writing projects. Change of Seasons, a best seller in the pop music category on Amazon, has received positive reviews and earned praise from Hall.
“He told me, ‘I’m glad you wrote a book so I don’t have to,’ ” Oates says with a laugh.