Formed in Boston, Mass. in the late 60’s from two rival local bands (The J Geils Blues Band and The Hallucinations), The J Geils Band were one of the few American white bands to play authentic soul, blues and rhythm & blues. Influenced by the bluesmen who played small clubs in Boston, and by English bands like The Yardbirds and John Mayall, the band were a punchy live act.
Atlantic Records signed them in 1968, and their self-titled debut album (1970) and its follow-up, The Morning After (1972) took off like a rocket, receiving critical acclaim (“America’s answer to The Rolling Stones“) and leading to a live set entitled Full House (1972).
At first, the group’s primary strength lay in its full-throttle covers of various semi-obscure blues and R&B classics – everything from John Lee Hooker‘s Serve You Right To Suffer, to The Contours‘ frantic First I Look At The Purse.
But singer Peter Wolf (pictured at right) and keyboardist Seth Justman had also discovered a mutual affinity for songwriting and their fourth album, Bloodshot (1973), yielded a hit single, the reggaefied Give It To Me.
The more adventurous Ladies Invited (1974) album was greeted with dismay by hard-core fans and the album bombed. The band was forced to tour constantly just to keep their heads above water, and The J Geils Band slowly tumbled back down to the bottom of the hill.
Meanwhile, Wolf (who had been a late-night DJ on a Boston FM station in the 60s) and actress Faye Dunaway, who he met backstage at a gig in 1972, were quietly married in Los Angeles.
After nine albums with Atlantic, the band switched to EMI America in 1978 and immediately scored with Sanctuary (1978), their first gold album in five years.
The title track of Love Stinks (1980) was a huge stomp-along hit and boosted sales of the album to near-platinum status. The J Geils band was building up to a major move. Freeze Frame (1981) was it.
Painstakingly recorded over the better part of a year, Freeze Frame consolidated all of the band’s musical strengths in a manic meditation on lost love, American madness and the possibility of Rock & Roll redemption. Meticulously produced by Seth Justman, the album was distinguished by a big, radio-ready sound.
The album took The J Geils Band to a new level. They began headlining venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden and the 15,000-seat Boston Garden, where they became the first rock act to completely sell-out three nights in the hall’s history.
Their hit single, Centerfold (1981), elevated the band from workaday blues rockers to New Wave pop stars. The video was on heavy-heavy-heavy rotation on MTV and cast lanky frontman Wolf as a skinny-trousered model of post-punk cool.
Following 16 years of uninterrupted music-making with the same line-up, Wolf was kicked out of the band in November 1983.
71-year-old J (John Warren) Geils was found dead in his Groton, Massachusetts, home in April 2017.
Peter Wolf (Peter Blankfield)
Piano, organ, vocals
Richard ‘Magic Dick’ Salwitz
J (John Warren) Geils
Danny (DK) Klein