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John Oates Draws ‘Deep’ Inspiration From Tragic Floods

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When John Oates released ‘Mississippi Mile,’ an album of Americana cover tunes and odes to the Hall and Oates member’s musical roots, he included a personal take on the disastrous flooding that took place in Nashville last May.

“I feel so bad for that area, which has just been hammered, year after year,” Oates told Spinner. “Last year, Daryl and I were playing the Memphis Blues Festival. We got two songs into our set and the tornado warnings started. So the park, which is on the edge of the river, gets evacuated. The next day, my family and I were driving to Nashville. I was starting pre-production on this very album. That’s when the flood hit and we got caught on Interstate 40 for hours and hours. We couldn’t get through, so we headed back to Memphis. That’s where the song ‘Deep River’ came from, that tragic Nashville flood.”

Oates, who co-wrote several of Hall and Oates’ more poignant songs, including ‘Sara Smile’ and ‘She’s Gone,’ had intended to round out his Delta blues homage with a Doc Watson cover, but found himself inspired to write an original song about his experience on I-40 instead.

“It happened by accident, because I wanted to record ‘Deep River Blues‘ by Doc Watson,” Oates told The Boot. “We started playing it in the studio, and it felt like a really mediocre version of the song. I figured why bother, and it bummed me out because I wanted to do that song. Then, somebody started playing this swampy, New Orleans groove. We started using the chords of ‘Deep River Blues,’ but stretching them out to the new groove. As we did that, I started to scat nonsense words with a different melody, but with the same feel. We ended up cutting this track that was real vibey and real cool, but there was no song because I was just singing nonsense words. [My co-producer] Mike Henderson told me I should go write some actual words for the song. This was in May, so the flood was still on people’s minds. I just thought ‘Deep River Blues’ and ‘Deep River’ and the flood. I went back [home] to Colorado and wrote some lyrics and formulated the melody a little better in my head based on the scats that I was doing. It was all kind of a happy accident.”

‘Mississippi Mile’ is Oates’ second album in as many years, and was released on April 12, 2011.

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