Mentorship is important to John Oates, so when the legendary singer-songwriter was asked to perform at the Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA), he didn’t hesitate.
He is, after all, a North Wales native and his parents still live in town. And the LCPA is a nonprofit organization providing local residents access to performing and visual arts and arts education.
It was a good match.
“I love songs and I love songwriting,” said Oates in a recent telephone interview. “I like the art and craft of it. Anytime there are musicians — especially young musicians — that are interested in songwriting, I’m interested in talking about it. And if I can be an inspiration, that’s good enough.”
That’s exactly the opportunity that some 30 to 40 young musicians from North Penn School District will have when Oates — who along with Daryl Hall as Hall & Oates have been one of the most successful duos in rock music history for more than four decades — will conduct a private afternoon songwriting seminar for students prior to his public performance that evening at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, as part of the monthly “One (Wo)Man Show” series, which showcases the art of solo performers, at the Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts.
“Knowing that John grew up here and went to North Penn and he’s a big name in the area, we were interested in getting him,” said Marja Kaisla, executive director of the LCPA. “What I’m very happy about is that he’s going to be doing this songwriting workshop for North Penn students. A very big part of our operation here at the center is to include educational activities with our performances. I’m a performer myself and we have a responsibility also to be educators. John was in total agreement with that.”
Oates, a graduate of North Penn High School, wanted the afternoon seminar to be an intimate gathering.
“He wanted to get one-on-one time with the students and answer their questions,” said Kaisla. “He didn’t want it to turn into another concert.”
Kaisla added that the North Penn teachers were just as excited to offer this type of opportunity to their students, as the students were to be included in an intimate setting with a music legend.
“And also for the teachers to be able to bring the students to the center and introduce them to our venue and to start all kinds of collaboration between the school district and us,” she said.
Oates will be coming off an all-Philly Hall & Oates performance — which also will feature the Hooters and Todd Rundgren — the previous evening on Oct. 23 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The duo, which has played six previous times at the Spectrum, has the distinction of performing one of the last concerts before the historic venue is demolished.
But at the LCPA show, not only will Oates be returning to his personal roots, he’ll be returning to his musical roots as well.
“It’s going to be a different kind of show; I’m not bringing a full band,” said Oates, who will be accompanied by only one other guitar player. “I was a boy in North Wales and Lansdale when I started playing folk music and the folk revival was starting in the early to mid-’60s. A good friend of mine whose brother was at college would bring back these amazing folk records and I started listening to them.
“Being a beginning guitar player, I started to learn how to finger-pick and that led to an appreciation for traditional American folk music, which I did way before I met Daryl and way before I became part of Hall & Oates,” he said.
Returning to that folk music approach is something that Oates has been heading toward for the past few years.
“It’s something that I was nurturing with my last solo album (“1,000 Miles of Life”),” he said. “And now I’m starting to go in that direction and trying to really delve into that side of my roots, which I really haven’t had a chance to do much of.”
That’s because Hall & Oates have had a pretty long run of success. The duo’s most recent project is “Do What You Want, Be Who You Are,” a four-CD box set, released Oct. 13, that includes 74 tracks — all the hits from 1966 to 2009 and 16 previously unreleased tracks.
“I don’t go back and listen to my old recordings. I’m so far removed from those early recordings, especially some of the unreleased tracks,” said Oates.
“But one of the things that surprised me was how good our band was back in those days, how interesting our arrangements were and how adventurous our stuff was,” he said. “This box set is a chance to show people the depth and the breadth of the type of music and writing that we accomplished over the years.”
Oates, who lives in Colorado now, still comes home quite a bit, he said. He spent a whole day in town in September 2008, doing an assembly at North Penn High School and later that same evening, a show at the Sellersville Theater 1894.
“I visit my parents often. The whole North Penn area is important to me,” he said. “It’s where I grew up as a kid, where I went to school. I had a really nice show when I did the Sellersville Theater and I really enjoyed that.”
As for how he and Hall have lasted so long and enjoyed so much success in the tough music business, Oates said it was a fairly simple approach from the beginning.
“We’re passionate musicians who were musicians from the time we were little kids,” he said. “We didn’t set out to become commercially successful. We didn’t set out to have No. 1 records. Money was not our motivation. Our motivation was to make the best music we could.
“On the personal side, I think Daryl and I have a lot in common musically, but we’re very different as people. We don’t get in each other’s way.”
For more information on the Lansdale Center for Performing Arts, go to www.lansdalecpa.org or call 215-361-1296.
at the Lansdale Center
for the Performing Arts,
311 W. Main St.,
Lansdale, PA 19446,
Saturday, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Concert tickets: $75.
Info: 215-361-1296 or