J. Geils Band
J. Geils Band
Wedding a wealth of classic rock influences—including blues, doo-wop, pop, and R&B—to a lively stage show, the J. Geils Band were attention-getters when they burst onto the New England music scene in the late-1960s. While it took them more than a decade to get widespread commercial success, when the band peaked, it did so as it did everything else—in a big, splashy way. As Gary Graff noted in MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, “[d]uring its 18 years together, the Geils gang was always painfully inconsistent … [which] was always frustrating for fans, because Geils had a loaded arsenal of talent…. When it clicked, few could beat Geils, and its concerts were usually ‘tilwe-all-drop marathons.”
The band formed in Boston in 1967 after the Hallucinations—a group that included singer, painter, and disc jockey Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd—broke up, and the pair joined another local act, the J. Geils Band (named for founder and guitarist Jerome Geils). The J. Geils Band, founded as a trio, consisted of its namesake, harmonica player Magic Dick (Dick
Members include Peter Wolf (born Peter Blank-field, March 1946, Bronx, NY, left group, 1983), vocals; Stephen Jo Bladd (born July 13, 1942, Boston, MA), drums; Magic Dick (born Dick Salwitz, May 13, 1945, New London, CT), harmonica; J. Geils (born Jerome, February 20, 1946, New York, NY), guitar; Seth Justman (born January 27, 1951, Washington, D.C., joined band, 1968), keyboards (and vocals, 1983-1985); Danny Klein (born May 13, 1946, New York, NY), bass.
Group formed in Boston, 1967; released self-titled debut on Atlantic, 1971; signed with EMI America and released Sanctuary (first gold record), 1978; earned first number one single (“Centerfold”) with Freeze-Frame, 1981; replaced Wolf with Justman on vocals, 1983; disbanded, 1985.
Addresses: Record company —Mercury (for Wolf), World Wide Plz., 825 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019; Rounder (for Buestime), One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140.
Salwitz), and bass player Danny Klein. With the addition of composer and producer Seth Justman (an organist who became the band’s keyboardist) in 1968, the outfit was complete.
By 1971, the band had landed a recording contract with Atlantic and released a self-titled debut that produced a minor Top 40 hit in the single “Looking for a Love.” The album won positive notices for its mix of blues and R&B, and prompted Rolling Stone to name the J. Geils Band the most promising new act. During the same period, Wolf was enjoying recognition of a different variety, having caught the interest of film star Faye Dunaway. The pair dated for two years before marrying in 1974, a union that lasted four years.
For the J. Geils Band, stardom seemed elusive. In spite of regular touring and recording, the band failed to become pop chart staples, having to settle instead for the occasional small hit. Given the loyal following the band’s reportedly energetic stage shows garnered, its third album, 1972’s Full House, was, appropriately, a live album recorded during a concert in Detroit. A string of albums followed, with the band even renaming itself “Geils” for 1977’s Monkey Island, which the band produced by itself.
That was all to change in the early 1980s, though. Following the success of 1978’s Sanctuary (which went gold), the band embarked on a massive 1980 tour in support of the album Love Stinks, which also went gold and included minor hits in the title track and “Come Back.” Benefiting from heavy MTV airplay and catchy singles, the band’s next record, 1981’s Freeze-Frame, was its biggest ever, and made top ten hits out of the title track and “Centerfold,” which spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard pop chart (making it one of the biggest hits of the year). The album earned the band some positive critical notices as well. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine observed in the All Music Guide to Rock, on Freeze-Frame, “[g]ood-time rock ‘n’ roll remains at the core of the group’s music, but the sound of the record is glossier, shining with synthesizers and big pop hooks.”
The sudden commercial success, however, could not heal tensions brewing within the band—particularly those between songwriters Wolf and Justman. After the success of Freeze-Frame, the band only recorded one more record, 1982’s live album Showtime!. When the band allegedly refused material Wolf had written with R&B vocalist Don Covay and Michael Jonzun of the hip-hop act the Jonzun Crew, Wolf left the band for a solo career. The split was a bitter one. As Wolf recalled to Marc Bernardin for a 1997 Entertainment Weekly article, “Basically, they threw me out [of the band].”
Justman took Wolf’s place as lead singer, and the band released You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd in 1984. Without the colorful, rapping Wolf as the band’s focal point, however, the new version of the J. Geils Band failed to stir up the excitement of the former unit. Unable to recapture its commercial glory, the band dissolved the following year.
Wolf, on the other hand, initially benefited from the separation, scoring several Top 40 hits from his danceable first solo outings (1984’s Lights Out and 1987’s Come as You Are). But Wolf’s stardom as a solo artist proved to be nearly as short-lived as the heyday of his former band. After the lackluster reception to 1990’s Up to No Good, Wolf largely retreated from the rock ‘n’ roll limelight and found solace in painting, which he had enjoyed dating back to his teens (and which he studied for a time at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts). It was years before he would attempt another album—and when he did, it was a different Wolf who emerged. His 1996 release, Long Line, was a more personal and thoughtful effort than his previous works had been. A collection of soulful rock songs and ballads, it also included two collaborations with singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, formerly of the band ‘Til Tuesday.
The late 1990s found an older, more introspective Wolf recording songs that reflected that maturity. As he told David Sprague for a 1996 article in Billboard, “I’m not one to slip on the glasses and wax pseudo-intellectual, but I needed to redefine myself and do something that’s relevant to who I am now. There’s a part of rock ‘n’ roll that’s pure adolescence, but it’s not only that. I’ve gotten rid of that albatross: I don’t feel like I’m a gerbil in a cage anymore.” As of 1997, Wolf was reported to be working on a memoir, slated to be titled Further Tales from the Vinyl Jungle.
Wolf’s next album, 1998’s Fool’s Parade, was hailed by Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis as “easily the best work of his solo career—a moving, impassioned statement of rock and roll commitment.” For Wolf, the album offered an opportunity to delve deeper into himself and his musical roots. As he told DeCurtis in 1998, “Fool’s Parade was the first time I felt the composure to take myself more seriously. I really, truly feel that I’m a late bloomer, and this is the most focused effort I’ve made to express the journey I’ve been on.”
Meanwhile, some of his former bandmates were pursuing a different musical path. Around the time of the dissolution of the J. Geils Band, Geils (billing himself as “Jay”) and Magic Dick assembled a roots-oriented blues band called Bluestime, which released a self-titled debut on Rounder in 1994 with Michael “Mudcaf” Ward on bass, Steve Ramsay on drums, and Jerry Miller on guitar. A follow-up, Little Care of the Blues, appeared in 1996.
J. Geils Band, Atlantic, 1971.
The Morning After, Atlantic, 1972.
Full House, Atlantic, 1972.
Bloodshot, Atlantic, 1973.
Ladies Invited, Atlantic, 1973.
Nightmares (And Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle), Atlantic, 1974.
Hot Line, Atlantic, 1975.
Blow Your Face Out, Atlantic, 1976.
(As Geils)Monkey Island, Atlantic, 1977.
Sanctuary, EMI America, 1978.
Love Stinks, EMI, 1980.
Freeze-Frame, EMI, 1981.
Showtime!, EMI, 1982, reissued, BGO, 1995.
You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd, EMI, 1984.
Flashback: Best of the J. Geils Band, EMI, 1985.
The J. Geils Band Anthology: Houseparty, Rhino, 1993.
Peter Wolf solo
Lights Out, EMI, 1984.
Come as You Are, EMI, 1987.
Up to No Good, MCA, 1990.
Long Line, Reprise, 1996.
Fool’s Parade, Mercury, 1998.
Bluestime, Rounder, 1994.
Little Care of the Blues, Rounder, 1996.
DeCurtis, Anthony and James Henke, editors, Rolling Stone Album Guide, Random House, 1992.
DeCurtis, Anthony, and James Henke, editors, Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, 1992.
Erlewine, Michael, executive editor, All Music Guide to Rock, 2nd Edition, Miller Freeman Books, 1997.
Graff, Gary and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink, 1999.
Jakubowski, Maxim, executive editor, Music Television (MTV) Who’s Who in Rock Video, Zomba Books, 1983.
Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George-Warren, editors, New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 1995.
Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, 1996.
Billboard, April 13, 1996; September 12, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, May 17, 1996; August 1, 1997; August 7, 1997.
Musician, December 1998.
Rolling Stone, July 12, 1990; October 29, 1998; November 12, 1998.
—K. Michelle Moran