Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A white R&B band formed by folk guitarist John Warren Geils Jr. (b 20 February 1946, NYC; d 10 April 2017, Groton MA), who met harmonica player Magic Dick (b Richard Salwitz, 13 May 1945, New London CT), bassist Danny Klein (b 13 May 1946, Worcester MA) while studying engineering. In '67 they added vocalist Peter Wolf (b Peter Blankfield, 7 March 1946, NYC), drummer Stephen Jo Bladd (b 13 July 1942, Boston); Wolf, whose taste for doo-wop and '50s rock'n'roll fitted neatly, was a former disc jockey at WBCN Boston and a striking frontman, tall, spindly and dynamic. Keyboardist Seth Justman (b 27 January 1951, Washington DC) completed the lineup '67; by the '80s Justman was composing nearly all the band's material. J. Geils Band '71 was the first of nine albums for Atlantic. R&B covers, e.g. Smokey Robinson's 'First I Look At The Purse', Bobby Womack's 'Looking For A Love' (their first top 40 USA, no. 39 '72) were interspersed with originals like reggae-tinged 'Give It To Me' (no. 30 '73) and 'Must Have Got Lost' (biggest '70s single at no. 12 '74).

The albums lost fire in the '70s but the live show was always recommended; Wolf's marriage to film star Faye Dunaway may have cost credibility with contemporary fans. Other Atlantic LPs were The Morning After, live Full House '72; Bloodshot (no. 10 USA), Ladies Invited '73; Nightmares '74; Hotline '75; Blow Your Face Out '76; Monkey Island '77. Signing to EMI/America '78 rejuvenated them: Sanctuary had no. 35 single 'One Last Kiss', while Love Stinks '80 was a no. 18 album USA, had two more top 40 entries; Freeze-Frame '81 was a no. 1 LP for four weeks, the title track no. 4 USA/27 UK, while swaggering, macho 'Centerfold' was no. 1 USA/3 UK, less typical balladic 'Angel In Blue' no. 40 USA.

Thet toured widely in '80s, Europe with Rolling Stones '82; live Showtime! '82 was a no. 23 LP USA, including recent hits: rousing 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' marred by Wolf's self- indulgent stage rap, which didn't work on a record. He went solo '83, working with writer/producer Michael Jonzun; title track of his Lights Out was a no. 12 USA single '84. Justman found the vocalist's mantle hard to shoulder with his other chores; J. Geils's post-split album You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd '84 no. 80, single 'Concealed Weapons' no. 63. It was their last chart album. It had taken a while to hit the top, ten years to that no. 1 album; 'It was a great sense of accomplishment after all we'd been through,' said Wolf, who rejected accusations of selling out with Justman's commercial material: 'We never said we were a blues band.' All their stuff was reissued on CD.

Wolf  carried on as a sort of Renaissance man of rock; he'd done it all and insisted on doing it the classic way, making an album carefully. Sleepless in 2002 on Artemis included guests Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Steve Earle, and Rolling Stone praised it as 'a superb work of soulfulness and delicacy', but it flopped badly without radio play and was not promoted well enough to make a tour pay off. He pursued various projects, always a painter (in art school he had roomed with director David Lynch), and finally went back to work, rounding up producer Kenny White, songwriter Will Jennings, sideman Larry Campbell, and carefully programmed a new album, Midnight Souvenirs, raising the money privately and taking the almost finished project to Verve. There are duets with Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynne and Neko Case, but the main thing is he did it his way, never mind the changes in the music biz: 'I come from an era where an album is an album.' He carried on with A Cure For Loneliness (2016 on Concord), well liked by Jim Fusilli in the Wall Street Journal.

A Geils band reunited a few times, finally without Geils because of a legal dispute; Geils was said to have trademarked the name in 2009.