"Are you gonna get it
"I'll get down to
- An exchange between
Peter Wolf and Magic Dick, from the J. Geils Band album Full
The J. Geils Band got it crazy
every night. They got down to it. Did they ever.
History tells us that the year 1967
was all incense and peppermints, paisley and Pepper, and
other things groovy. But those lazy, hazy daze also produced
one of the world's all time great, hard driving white rhythm
and blues show bands.
For the next 15 years-14 albums and
what must've been a million gigs - The J. Geils Band, in the
words of former lead vocalist Peter Wolf, "felt obligated to
give 100 percent of ourselves to our audience. We were a
bunch of guys who had the passion and wanted to share
"There was a love affair between
this band and its audience. We wanted people to know that we
were gonna give it all that night", adds Seth Justman, the
band's keyboardist, arranger, and later producer, who, with
Wolf, co-wrote most of the J. Geils Band original songs.
"Whatever we had in the tank, that tank was gonna be empty
at the end of the show."
Although they will forever be
favorite sons of the city of Boston, most of the J. Geils
Band's six members were born and raised in other East Coast
cities. By the mid-60's they had each found themselves in
Boston with the intent of going to school, but enrolled
instead in what Wolf liked to call the College of Musical
Knowledge, earning their master's degrees in rock n'
Before there was The J. Geils Band
there was the J. Geils Blues Band, an acoustic trio. Geils
himself was a Southside-style slide guitarist who counted
not only the Chicago blues masters bust also Steve Cropper,
Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown's guitarists among his many
influences. Stand-up bassist Danny "D.K." Klein was also a
major soul fan, and harmonica wizard Magic Dick drew heavily
from a wide array of blues and jazz musicians, ranging from
Little Walter to Roy Eldridge, King Curtis to John Coltrane.
They had found a comfortable niche within the booming folk
music scene in Cambridge when they were overheard by a
transplanted Bronx native named Peter Wolf.
Wolf had spent much of his
adolescence at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater, checking
out his R&B idols - among them James Brown and Jackie
Wilson - and absorbing the street sounds of doo-wop and the
era's great disc jockeys: Alan Freed, Jocko Henderson,
Symphony Sid. A Jazz fan as well, Wolf immersed himself in
Manhattan's bustling jazz scene, catching Thelonious Monk,
Coltrane, and the like.
Wolf had every intention of
pursuing his love of painting when he packed up for the
Boston Museum Of Fine Arts in the mid-60's (where his
roommate would be future film maker David Lynch), but once
there he landed a gig as a jive-talking DJ on Boston station
WBCN and met up with other art students who shared his then
outré fervor for black music. Wolf soon formed The
Hallucinations, a flashy soul group that also included
fellow doo-wop aficionado Stephen Bladd on drums. When Wolf
caught the nascent Geils trio in action, though, he saw a
merger in his near future.
"They were a great band, really
smooth", Wolf says. "They knew everything there was to know
about Chicago blues." Wolf and Bladd joined forces with
Geils, Klein, and Dick and "began jamming all night",
recalls Wolf. At the insistence of J. Geils' first manager,
and with none of the other band members seeming to mind,
they kept the J. Geils Blues Band name (soon thereafter
dropping the word Blues), and began building a reputation in
the Boston clubs. That they were no mortal white boys
playin' da blues was confirmed by the cats they called their
friends: When Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf or John Lee Hooker
came through town, The J. Geils Band served as their
In 1969 keyboardist Seth Justman
completed the lineup that would remain intact through early
1983. A Washington, DC, native raised in Atlantic City,
Justman shared the band's obsession with R&B and blues.
A musician by age five, Justman was influenced by Ray
Charles, Jimmy Smith, and Otis Spann and had gone to see
every act that came through town to play the Steel Pier,
including Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Rolling
Stones, Louis Armstrong, and Stevie Wonder, before leaving
for school in Boston at age 18.
Justman had already worked with
several bands in Atlantic City. "In one band, when I was
14", he remembers, "we unknowingly booked a gig that turned
out to be a nudist colony. It was weird; they had a stripper
for entertainment between sets! Anyway, I hadn't been
without a band for even a day since I was 12 or 13, so on my
first day in Boston I check out the J. Geils Band because my
roommate said they were good. I couldn't believe they were
into the same songs I was."
The J. Geils Band became a fixture
at the happening Boston Tea Party club, where they were
heard by an Atlantic Records talent scout, Mario "The Big M"
Medious. At that point the band, particularly the
Wolf-Justman team, had only recently begun working on
original material, having concentrated previously on
mastering semi-obscure soul and blues covers by the likes of
Dyke & The Blazers, Don Covay, and Rodger
The eponymous debut album by
J. Geils Band, released
in 1970 and produced by Atlantic staff producers Dave
Crawford and Brad Shapiro, consisted of a number of
originals, including the lead track of the Anthology album,
"Cruisin' For A Love" (credited to the
every-mysterious Juke Joint Jimmy, reportedly a six-headed
Boston blues legend), alongside such staples of the live
show as "Homework", an Otis Rush showstopper. The
album barely squeaked onto the charts, its sales performance
hardly matching the band's quickly burgeoning reputation as
a live act second to none.
"Like a lot of bands cutting their
first albums, we were ready", says Justman. "We'd been
playing these songs for a long time. We were so excited to
get into the studio, we just played the tunes, and they just
pressed the record button. A lot of the versions you hear on
the record were first takes and the whole thing took just
For the second album, 1971's
Morning After, Atlantic
flew the band out to Los Angeles and teamed them with
producer / engineer Bill Szymczyk, who'd recently worked on
B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone", and with whom they would
remain for most of their Atlantic tenure.
The Morning After was another union
of well-chosen covers - including Valentino's "Looking
For A Love" and Don Covay's "The Usual Place" -
and homegrown tunes. Of the originals, Wolf-Justman's
"Cry One More Time" - later covered by Gram Parsons -
and the Juke Joint Jimmy instrumental funk fest "It Ain't
What You Do (It's How You Do It!)".
The album's cover, incidentally,
was literally photographed the morning after a blowout hotel
party attended by not only The J. Geils Band but members of
War, the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, and the Bay Area
Bombers roller derby team!
In February 1972 the Geils band
recorded a Willie Dixon song, "Dead Presidents".
Originally released as a single B-side, it appears on
Anthology for the first time on an album.
By album number three, "Everyone
kept saying, 'You guys knock 'em dead live, why don't you
try a live album?'", says Wolf. Live
- Full House, the first
of three live J. Geils Band albums, harnessed the band's
manic charisma as well as any record could. Recorded at
Detroit's Cinderella Ballroom in April 1972, "It was like a
great photograph", says Wolf.
"Yeah, Pete's right", adds Justman.
"It really captured what we were onstage at the
Four of Full House's tracks,
including Magic Dick's harp piece-de-resistance, "Whammer
Jammer". The Contour's "First I Look At The
Purse", which had become one of the band's showpieces,
is another Full House highlight encoring on Houseparty, as
is Wolf and Geil's "Hard Drivin' Man".
The J. Geils Band had played
literally thousands of gigs by the time they recorded
in 1973, and the hard work paid off in the band's first Top
10 album. "We were branching out musically", says
One of the Bloodshot
songs that also appears on Anthology,
"Give It To Me", was indeed a departure. Based on a
reggae rhythm at a time when Bob Marley was barely known
outside of Kingston, the record was deemed "suggestive" by
the FCC, according to Wolf. It was denied a shot at the Top
10 when sheepish radio stations pulled the comparatively
mild, yet definitely sexy, tune from their
If the next three Geils albums -
And Other Tales From The Vinyl
Jungle (1974), and
(1975) - represented something of a commercial falling off
(although each placed well inside the Top 100), they each
still contained moments of undeniable get-down-to-it-ness.
Wolf and Justman had by then developed into an outstanding
song writing team, while the musicians transcended their
roots to become the kind of unpredictable, intuitive music
machine that leaves listeners breathless every
"The key to the band was chemistry
and loyalty", says Justman. "We wanted the solidity that
Booker T. & The MG's or the Funk Brothers of Motown had.
You play together until it becomes second nature, like
"Detroit Breakdown" and
"Must Of Got Lost" (the latter the band's highest
charting single up to that point, reaching #12), two
Wolf-Justman originals from Nightmares, and Hotline's
"Love-Itis" (written by Memphis soulster Harvey
Scales with Albert Vance) and "Believe In Me"
(written by soul legend Curtis Mayfield) illustrate
Justman's point and stand out among studio recordings done
A studio recording of the band
covering The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go",
produced by Atlantic cofounder Ahmet Eretgun and available
only as a single on its release in 1976, did not make its
first album appearance until Anthology,
though a live version was on Live-Blow
The spring of 1976 saw the release
of the second live J. Geils album, appropriately titled
Your Face Out. A two
record set record in late 1975, it doubled as something of a
greatest hits collection, featuring killer in-concert
reprises of material recorded and performed by the band
throughout its history, in addition to a handful of newly
uprooted covers. Scattered throughout Blow
Your Face Out are
Wolf's manic, spontaneous, never-the-same-twice raps,
something he perfected during his radio days.
"We were getting something like
seven encores a night during that period", notes Justman.
"We were so together it was like an explosion once we hit
Shortly after cutting the live
album, the band stopped in at the Record Plant studio in New
York in November 1976 to put down a cover of The Marathon's
1961 R&B novelty hit "Peanut Butter". This song
appears for the first time on Anthology.
It was clear to both the band and
Atlantic Records by 1977 that it was time for a change.
Island, The J. Geils
Band's final album for the label, was that change. From the
jazzy nine minute suite that served as the title track to
the temporary shortening of their name simply to Geils,
Island was like nothing
they'd ever before attempted.
"It was a turning point for us",
says Justman. "We were at the end of our contract with
Atlantic, and we didn't know what was going to happen next,
so we said, if we're going out, we're going out breaking
some new ground." Like the few albums preceding it,
Island charted in the
mid-reaches of the Top 100.
"Surrender" is notable for
soul great Cissy Houston's co-lead vocal, while Luther
VanDross is among the track's backup singers.
Island, the group was
courted by, and signed with, the new EMI America label,
which released Sanctuary
at the tail end of 1978. Their first gold album since
it was undeniably a great leap forward
Produced by Joe Wissert, who had
worked with Boz Scaggs and Earth, Wind & Fire, Sanctuary
was another musically diverse affair. "One Last Kiss"
was a slice of pop perfection deserving of a higher position
in the Top 40 than it achieved. The album's title track
could have been a Rolling Stone's cut, with its slicing lead
guitar by Geils and precision drumming and bass work by
Bladd and Klein. "Teresa" was arguably the band's
most gorgeous ballad ever, a powerful lament that featured
Justman's mournful piano buildup and an impassioned Wolf
vocal that left the listener numb.
The J. Geils Band had moved far
from its party-hardy boogie-band roots - but not so far that
they were no longer the J. Geils Band.
Justman himself took over the
production reins for Love
Stinks, released at the
beginning of 1980. The next step in the band's
transformation, the album reflected the superior
compositional strengths of Wolf and Justman, as well as the
group's ability to update its trademark sound for the new
The title track couldn't help but
receive critical notice and substantial airplay, while the
stomping "Night Time" was a grand celebration on the
age-old theme of the best time to be with the one you
Whatever was suggested by
came to fruition on Freeze
Frame, the band's
twelfth album. Released in November 1981, Freeze
Frame ascended to #1 on
the Billboard album charts, spent four weeks there, and
remained on the chart for a total of 70 weeks. Also produced
and arranged by Seth Justman, Freeze
Frame was, he says,
"like looking at freeze frames of life, watching where
you've been while you're moving forward. We felt it really
Encapsulated what we were doing, and I know we were feeling
like we could do anything."
Freeze Frame's release happened to
coincide roughly with the launch of the video channel MTV,
which aided the album's success in no small part. The
album's first single, "Centerfold", and its video
became instant hits (the song spent six weeks at #1 in
Billboard), introducing The J. Geils Band to a generation
that might've been too young to have heard of the blues
heroes that initially sparked the group.
Whatever it was that got them
there, The J. Geils Band, with the help of singles and music
videos, had finally become an overnight success - after 14
hard years grinding it out on the road. "A lot of young kids
saw us for the first time", says Justman, "and they could
see we were having a ball".
Adds Wolf, "There was a
rediscovery, people were hungry for rock and roll bands.
People wanted new, funky, sweaty rock 'n roll. The clubs
that had been discos started getting back into rock and
roll. Between the emergence of MTV, the song
"Centerfold" itself, and EMI being at an aggressive
stage, that all came together for us."
Freeze Frame's title track followed
"Centerfold" to the upper reaches of the charts,
peaking at #4. The group followed its most successful album
with another live one, Showtime !, once again capturing
their potency and proving that The J. Geils Band was truly
electrifying both onstage and on record.
"I think to see it was to believe
it", says Peter Wolf, summing up the band he fronted for a
decade and a half. "The J. Geils Band was a real American
band - six guys with a love of music, really feeling blessed
that we were able to prevail and keep going. We were no
fills, no tricks, just hard, sweaty rock 'n roll. And when
we hit the stage it was showtime !
Text of the J. Geils
History page was originally written for the Anthology album
by Jeff Tamarkin of Goldmine Magazine.