Arkansas is an album written and recorded by John Oates, a New York–born inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who was half of the duo Hall and Oates. He was accompanied by a group of legendary Americana musicians collectively known as the Good Road Band. Oates called the album the “sum total” of his many musical influences, including rock, folk, blues, and country. Released in 2018, the ten-song album began as a tribute to blues musician Mississippi John Hurt but soon grew to “represent the dawn of American popular music,” as Oates said. The title track “Arkansas” was inspired by Oates’s experiences visiting the former company town of Wilson (Mississippi County).
John Oates was born in New York City on April 7, 1948, and subsequently raised near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is more widely known for performing in Hall and Oates, a pop duo formed shortly after Oates met fellow musician Daryl Hall at Temple University in Philadelphia in the early 1970s. The two went on to record twenty-one albums, which sold a total of more than 80 million copies. Since 1999, Oates has recorded five solo albums. Hall and Oates were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Reportedly, Oates was inspired to write the songs on the album after seeing the cotton fields of Wilson while visiting the Arkansas Delta. Oates returned to his home in Nashville, Tennessee, where he penned the album’s title track. Per Billboard critic Chuck Dauphin, Oates felt that the album should be called Arkansas because he felt that the state “doesn’t get the cred that a lot of places like New Orleans and Memphis do. But Arkansas has an interesting, a great music tradition with Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and Levon Helm and many others.”
Oates wanted to produce a tribute to Mississippi John Hurt, who had been a large influence on John from childhood. (Oates has a guitar he claims was owned by Hurt.) Hurt was known as a solo player, but Oates wanted to try new arrangements of Hurt’s songs with a full band rather than record the Arkansas album on solo guitar. Oates assembled a group of Nashville musicians known as the Good Road Band to play with him on the album. Per Billboard, the band consisted of Sam Bush on mandolin, Russ Pahl on pedal steel, Max Smith on cello, Guthrie Trapp on electric guitar, Josh Day on drums, and Steve Mackey on bass, along with John Oates on vocals and guitar.
Several tracks on the album are re-arrangements of Mississippi John Hurt songs. Those are: “Lord Send Me,” “Spike Driver Blues,” “My Creole Belle,” “Stack O’ Lee,” and “Pallet Soft and Low.” Other tracks include covers of Emmett Miller’s “Anytime,” Jimmie Rodgers’s “Miss the Mississippi and You,” and Blind Blake’s “That’ll Never Happen No More.” Original compositions by Oates include the title track “Arkansas” and “Dig Back Deep.” There are ten songs in all.
Arkansas is the first of Oates’s albums to be recorded on the Thirty Tigers record label in Nashville. It was released on February 2, 2018. The music video for the album’s title track was shot on location in the former company-owned town of Wilson. The video features Oates playing a guitar in the cotton fields while a small plane flies overhead as well as a montage of Wilson’s farm land, grain silos, front porches, road signs, and river barges.
For additional information:
Crawford, Robert. “See John Oates Nod to Arkansas’ Musical Heritage in Rustic New Video.” Rolling Stone, January 3, 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/country/news/see-john-oates-rustic-new-video-for-arkansas-w514877 (accessed July 12, 2018).
Dauphin, Chuck. “John Oates Pays Tribute to American Music’s Roots with Solo Album ‘Arkansas.’” Billboard, February 1, 2018. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop/8097501/john-oates-arkansas-album-premiere (accessed July 12, 2018).
John Oates. http://johnoates.com/ (accessed July 12, 2018)
Cody Lynn Berry
Last Updated: 07/12/2018