Its the middle of a Friday afternoon when I get the call from Eliot Lewis as he’s driving from his home in Connecticut all the way to Ohio. He’s making the nine- hour trek to play a show at Tommy O’Bryan’s Pub in Westerville which has capacity for maybe 100 people.
Playing at a small bar in a Columbus, Ohio suburb might seem like an odd venue choice for someone who is used to playing packed arenas and stadiums as a band member for the classic rock and soul duo Daryl Hall & John Oates. But, Lewis wouldn’t have it any other way.
“As much as I love Hall & Oates, I kind of consider it my day job –and an amazing day job– but this has always been my dream to get out and play my own music and kind of build my own following.”
Lewis, 52, has been following that dream since he was just ten years old, influenced by his older brothers record collection and a classically trained piano playing mother. This year he released his fourth solo record of the past decade–a five song EP titled Crusade. He’s been touring Ohio and the Midwest regularly in between dates with Hall & Oates and his appearances on Hall’s wildy popular television show Live From Daryl’s House which airs on Palladia.
Fans of Live From Daryl’s House usually recognize Lewis as the keyboard player and backing vocalist who jams with Hall and contemporary and legendary guest musicians from all types of genres. He’s the only band member, besides Hall of course, who has played in all 68 episodes since 2007. (Taping for next season begins later this month).
But Lewis’ main instrument is actually guitar—which was clearly demonstrated at Tommy O’Bryan’s as he blistered through song after song with amazing tone and creative soloing, not to mention his pristine lead vocal. So, not surprisingly, when asked to pick a favorite moment on Live From Daryl’s House, Lewis quickly recalled trading Classic Rock guitar riffs with one of his idols– Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
“I always cite Billy Gibbons and Jeff Beck as two of my all-time favorite guitar heroes. And, on that particular show I was able to play guitar on the whole show and not only that, but do solos alongside with him. It was amazing.”
At Tommy O’Bryan’s, Lewis unleashed a few covers that many other bands have probably attempted at one time or another in this bar: “Hello, Its Me” by Todd Rundgren; “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh; “Gimme All Your Lovin'” by ZZ Top; “Tears Of A Clown’ by Smokey Robinson; and of course , the Hall & Oates classic “Sara Smile”.
The big difference?
Lewis has actually played those songs with all of those artists.
And, for good measure, the former Average White Band member also paid homage to AWB’s classic hit “Pick Up The Pieces”.
Lewis is able to tour as a one-man band these days by recording all of the backing tracks himself. (He uses a drummer for bigger venues). In addition to playing guitar and keyboards, Eliot also plays bass and drums.
“I really wanted to know all of those instruments ” Lewis said. “And, its really helped me with my career. When I was in AWB I actually played some bass and keys and was one of the singers, so the versatility has benefitted me and helped me in my songwriting.”
It was Lewis’ 12 year stint with AWB that got him introduced to Daryl Hall, who regularly attended their shows. When Lewis left the band in the early 2000’s to focus more time on his solo career, Hall called him up and asked him to join the Hall & Oates band–an opportunity Lewis couldn’t resist.
His schedule grew busier a few years later when Hall developed the idea for a television show where musicians just gathered at his place to jam on their favorite tunes.
“I laugh about the first few episodes that we did because we literally gave the production people in our crew the cameras, you know, people who had never filmed before and said ‘Here, film us!” (laughs). You know it was just us and Daryl, no guests at first, and we were just playing some cool songs but I think Daryl always had the vision of building this into what it is now and he really wanted to reach out to some of the people that he had worked with through the years and come on to his show.”
Live From Daryl’s House which was previously recorded in Hall’s upstate New York home will now be taped at Hall’s new restaurant and live music venue. And, according to Lewis, the list of musicians who want to be on the show has grown immensely.
“”The show is at the point where apparently everyone wants to be on. Its gained populariry all over the world. Even people like Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Bob Dylan may be on the show at some point, so its pretty amazing.”
Preparing for a Live From Daryl’s House show can be tricky. Lewis says sometimes the guest is booked quickly and the band only has a few days to learn the music. But, somehow the shows are always finished in one day–typically 12 to 15 hours. The band runs through each song only once before the guest artist arrives so as not to come off too rehearsed.
“We want it to be at the point where some spontatneous things can still happen” added Lewis.
The results of these sessions has produced arguably some of the best recordings of deep cuts in the Hall & Oates catalog as well as creative versions of the guest artist’s songs. Lewis says a type of greatest hits DVD compilation could be in the works once licensing and publishing deals are cleared.
Lewis’ affiliation with Hall & Oates not only built on his already impressive resume’, it landed him–perhaps unexpectedly– at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony earlier this year. The legendary pop and soul duo were finally inducted into the Rock Hall after years of never even being nominated. The induction was met with much cynicism within the Hall & Oates camp, but Lewis said the experience was unforgettable.
“Having seen so many of the previous inductions, it was an honor just being there. Just to be in the presence of the some of the artists who were in the audience looking back at us like Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Gabriel and on and on. It was a pretty amazing moment for me and everyone else in the band. And, I think for Daryl and John they were able to let go of the politics and just enjoy it for what it was.”
Away from the band and life on the road, Lewis enjoys his time in Connecticut –where he’s lived his entire life–with his wife and three cats. He’s an animal lover who will take in just about any stray he comes across. He’s also an avid photographer.
“Daryl saw some of my photography when I joined” Lewis continued “and asked me to shoot stuff for the band and he’s used it for press photos of Hall & Oates. They actually used one of my photos for the album cover of one of their recent records (The Outcome Of Soul). I love it. Its not really a business for me but just something I love.”
Back at Tommy O’Bryan’s, there’s evidence that Lewis’ solo career is gaining momentum. He finished up his performance just after 1:00 am and hardly looked fazed by the fact that he drove nine hours earlier in the day and then sang and played guitar for almost three hours. A few fans gathered afterwards to get pictures taken with him and an autograph.
Tommy, the owner, just shook his head and laughed. “I can’t believe we can get him to play here.”
The Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh–one of Lewis’ next stops– requested a piece of memorabilia from him for their gallery of musical treasures, but they didn’t want a piece from his Hall & Oates fame. They wanted a guitar that HE played on one of HIS solo albums.
And then there’s that quote from Daryl Hall himself about Eliot that’s posted on his website: “I have to say, he is a musician who can do it all. Great singer, guitarist and writer. He rocks and he’s got soul. No one does it quite like him.”
Find tour dates and download music from Eliot Lewis by going to www.eliotlewis.com