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J Geils Band Is Prepped For A Detroit Breakdown With The Seger Crew

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By Scott Mervis

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

(TNS)

The J Geils Band was on some strange bills in its early days, partnering with British prog bands Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1971) and Yes (1972) and then Manfred Mann (1975).

The Boston rockers also shared a stage with Bob Seger in Detroit, at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in May 1971 with the Allman Brothers Band, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Boz Scaggs, among others.

“I remember his ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’ 45 had come out,” says J Geils singer Peter Wolf, “so I was always a fan, and he had such a distinctive voice, and as the years went on we also became labelmates, so we had a nice social rapport between the two of us.”

Wolf planned to spend 2015 focused on the follow-up to his 2010 solo album, “Midnight Souvenirs,” and then tour with the Geils Band in the fall, but he says, “The Seger tour was coming about, and there was an invitation if we’d like to join them on some dates. I figured it would be a good package because we both have the same roots.”

That would be the old time rock ‘n’ roll.

Wolf, originally from the Bronx, went to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the mid ‘60s as an art major and was briefly roommates with David Lynch.

“He dropped out to go to Philly to make films and I dropped out to start a band, and the reason was because I was a fan. As a kid, I just bought records. The first time I heard a Little Richard record, I ran out and got it. And Elvis and Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. So, there was this band of artists at this art school, and I just started hanging out with them because the best way to make friends with musicians was to start a band. I didn’t have any training or anything.”

After a stint as a DJ known as the Wolfa Goofa, he hooked up with the J Geils Band, and a year before that Detroit show, in 1970, the band released a self-titled Atlantic debut highlighted by an amped-up cover of the Contours R&B tune “First I Look at the Purse.” The Geils Band made a name for itself with the raucous 1972 live album “Full House,” recorded in the band’s second home of Detroit.

It spent the ‘70s as one of the coolest of the bluesy rock ‘n’ roll bands, churning out such great songs as “Make Up Your Mind,” “Detroit Breakdown” and “Must of Got Lost” before hitting superstar status in the early ‘80s via MTV and undergoing a sonic makeover on “Love Stinks,” the chart-topping “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.”

If you based it on current classic rock radio, those more cartoonish songs from the latter days are the sound of the J Geils Band.

“I prefer a lot of the grittier, earlier roots of the Geils Band,” Wolf says, “which was blues and R&B. That’s the period I find the most enjoyable to revisit. The other songs had become popular, but a lot of that had to do with the MTV era that became so powerful that the idea of the video almost transcended the importance of the song. The focus from radio went to MTV.

“I understand people growing up with ‘Freeze Frame’ and ‘Love Stinks’ and stuff like that. I well understand that those are the songs many people recognize. The good thing about being on the Seger tour is that a lot of Seger’s fans are the same fans of the Geils Band from that era (of the ‘70s), so we don’t have any problem going into the deeper stuff at a Bob Seger show.”

The J Geils Band discography ends in 1984 with the singer moving on to a solo career with the well-received “Lights Out” and the Wolf-less JGB flopping with “You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd.”

“They felt it would be best if I went my way and they went theirs and they did an album without me,” he says. “It wasn’t that I left by choice. It was just a lot of artistic incompatibility — that’s what started me off as a solo artist. A lot of songs I wrote for ‘Lights Out’ were meant for J Geils Band. When the Geils Band went separate ways, it enabled me to work with people like Aretha Franklin and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and Little Milton and Merle Haggard and Steve Earle.”

The Geils Band split in ‘85, and the reunions started 14 years later in 1999. The current lineup has Wolf fronting core members Seth Justman (keyboards), Danny Klein (bass) and Magic Dick (harmonica) with Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (guitar) and Tom Arey (drums).

No J Geils.

“His attitude towards the band became more negative than positive,” Wolf says. “As we moved on, the issue was resolved in a positive way.”

Truth be told, the name never made that much sense to begin with.

“It was always very awkward for a lot of people that it was called the J Geils Band because J (the guitarist) didn’t really do any of the songwriting or arranging,” the singer says. “And to be honest, a lot of people assumed I was the J Geils Band. (Promoter) Bill Graham, when we first played the Fillmore, he came up to me and said, ‘J, you guys are fantastic!’ He was kind of stunned when he found out I wasn’t J.

“It’s like the Dave Clark Five. People think Dave Clark was the singer and the frontman when he wasn’t. Or even Kool and the Gang — Kool was the bass player. With J it was his manager at the time, he wanted it to be called the J Geils Band, and we were just wanting to play, we weren’t thinking about names. At that time, we shared the same passion, and I think J’s passion changed.”

———

©2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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J Geils Band Is Prepped For A Detroit Breakdown With The Seger Crew