J. Geils Band

J. Geils Band

“Does she walk, does she talk, does she come complete?
My home-brew, home-room angel just pulled me to my feet…”

In the late 60’s, there was a whole lot of that crazy hippie music wafting through the East Coast air. But if you found yourself in the decidedly un-wimpy Boston, in front of the decidedly un-wimpy J. Geils Band, you might just forget about that hippie music. These guys were known for their tough, sweaty rock and roll, and their pumping-fist fans ate it up.

Guitarist J. Geils, bassist Danny Klein and harpist Magic Dick played in a jug band, if you can believe it, in the late 60’s, at their Worcester, Massachusetts trade college. But a move to Boston also prompted a move away from the good old jug and towards the blues. Peter Wolf, meanwhile, had moved to Bean Town to attend art school (and was roommates with David Lynch for a time), but packed the brushes away when he landed a gig as a local DJ, renowned for the encyclopedic r&b knowledge that swam around in his head. When he met the fledgling trio, he joined up straightaway, and these four made up the core of the band for sixteen years. Drummer Stephen Jo Bladd came aboard, and the boys played their hearts out, in and around Boston, billed as the J. Geils Blues Band.

Keyboardist Seth Justman filled the band out, and they won a record contract with Atlantic in 1970, releasing a self-titled, r&b-heavy debut the next year, with covers of John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins and Otis Rush. For their second record, 1971’s The Morning After, producer/engineer Bill Szymczyk, he of that absolutely no-proper-vowel last name, came aboard and stayed there for the better part of the band’s Atlantic releases. Their record sales through the 70’s ranged from decent to disappointing, but thanks to their blow-you-away shows, they enjoyed a loyal following. For his club and arena minions, Wolf vamped and swaggered, doling out the impromptu raps that were a vestige of his DJ days, and the band was nothing if not lively and muscular.

In 1977, the band released Monkey Island under the abbreviated name “Geils.” The record, their Atlantic swan song, was a departure for the band, from its nine-minute title track to its soulful “Surrender” with vocals from Cissy Houston and Luther Vandross. They signed with EMI, began to grow apart from their blues roots, and in 1981, their twelfth album Freeze-Frame gave them the huge sales they’d always hoped for. The rousing title track and hit single “Centerfold,” with no small boost from their respective and heavily-played MTV videos, threw them into a mainstream spotlight and brought attention from a younger crowd. The live album release that followed, Showtime, also went gold.

These commercial heights, unfortunately, found the band at their interpersonal pits. Wolf and Justman had evolved into a prolific and talented songwriting team, but their relationship was becoming more and more volatile. Wolf left, mid-recording session, in 1983 to pursue a solo career, and Justman took over his vocalist duties. The band released You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Old to not-so-stellar sales, and officially broke up in 1985.

If you didn’t see them live, you saw them on MTV, rolling around in paint (“Freeze-Frame”) or gawking at sexy schoolgirls (“Centerfold”). Hopefully the paint wasn’t indelible, but the J. Geils memory is.

If you were a fan of the J. Geils Band back in the day, especially if you go way back to their Boston days, we’d love to hear all of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section below.

One Response to “J. Geils Band”

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  1. Timothy Todd says:

    Don’t forget their hit “Love Stinks”!!!

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