April , 1982
By David Huff
The J. Geils Band
On Top at Last
Musically, 1981 may very well go down simply as 'the year' in the world of rock and roll.
'The Year' in the world of rock and roll?
That's right because 1981 was the year that saw bands that had pounded the concert trail for years and released album after album finally gain the respect and notoriety not only from the fans, but their peers alike. Groups like REO Speedwagon, Journey, and Rush were finally labelled legitimate superstars.
And ah yes, let's don't forget the J. Geils Band.
Fifteen years is a long time for any group to stay together without changing personnel. More often than not, it's the bad times that can outweigh the good. Currently, the band is watching its 12th LP, Freeze Frame become the first platinum album this group has ever had in it’s rather up and down musical career.
Yes, fifteen years is a long time. J. Geils started out in Boston, Mass. as an acoustic trio called the J. Geils Blues Band featuring J. Geils on guitar, Magic Dick on harp, and Danny Klein on bass. It didn't last long.
In 1967, J. Geils decided to go electric and began looking around for a singer and a drummer. Enter Peter Wolf and Stephen Bladd, whose band the Hallucinations, were on the verge of breaking up. Keyboardist Seth Justman would join the band a little over a year later after the group had signed on with Atlantic Records and were ready to record their first album, entitled simply,
The J. Geils Band.
The music of the J. Geils Band immediately sent ripples through critics around the country with their raw, tough, R&B sound. They called the band 'America's answer to the Rolling Stones.'
Succeeding albums, The Morning After and Full House, helped solidify J. Geils foothold on America. The first four years of the groups music saw its main strength lie in its rendition of semi-obscure blues and R&B classics. It was not until 1973 with the release of Bloodshot that a legitimate group hit, "Give It To Me," was penned. The joy of watching that album go gold would soon be followed by a tailspin downward that would almost destroy the band.
If any one person hit hardest by the unnerving downward slide J. Geils suddenly took, it was probably Peter Wolf. As lead singer and also co-writer of most of the groups material, the events J. Geils would experience the next five years, both personally and professionally, would literally exasperate him.
In 1974, Wolf married actress Faye Dunaway. Around this time the band released their fifth LP, Ladies Invited, that promptly bombed on the charts. Suddenly, Atlantic records started losing interest in the band and they were forced to tour on the road constantly just to keep their heads above water. To leave the road and record an album almost proved financially disastrous for the band when it took them off the concert trail. Things were that bad.
During this period, the relationship between Dunaway and Wolf was slowly eroding, away. While Peter was away touring with the band or recording an album, Faye was equally as busy pursuing her own acting career that often saw her away on location. The two careers would eventually clash, and someone was about to lose. It was Wolf and his marriage.
"It was a real thing with Faye and me," remarked Wolf in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. "There was great love involved. But the problem was that she was so dedicated, and we (J. Geils) were so dedicated, and it was just so hard when that shit went down."
And as Wolf was hitting rock bottom, so was the band. One thing led to another and suddenly the bend at one point found themselves a half million dollars in debt. It would have been easy to quit for any other band, but this was not just any other band.
J. Geils left Atlantic records for EMI America in 1978 and dramatically found their fortunes changing. Their first release on EMI Sanctuary became the first gold album for the group in five years. This glimpse of success the band was beginning to experience wouldn't abide. In 1980, Love Stinks was released and nearly surpassed the platinum level in sales. The stage was being set for something big, and that something big would take nearly a year to complete.
The surprise became Freeze Frame which most assuredly will go down as a classic J. Geils album. The reviews have been superb and the album has already spawned two huge hit singles, "Centerfold," and the title cut, "Freeze Frame."
"I think this album hints more at what the future possibilities are for us than anything we've done before," said Magic Dick. "At the same time it is fulfilling many of the things that were hinted at earlier."
Perhaps the rejuvenated attitude the band is experiencing is best summed by Justman, who also produced the last album.
"We're really excited about where we are at now. As a band, as musicians, and as people, I think we have developed a totally unique sound. Any band that sounds this way now is either the J. Geils Band or somebody who sounds like the J. Geils Band."
So as the wheel of fortune now spins, it's J. Geils doing the turning instead of the ones being turned.