Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
A high-energy act from Boston, The J. Geils Band entertained fans through eleven riotous studio and live albums.
The band was comprised of guitarist John "J" Geils, bassist Daniel Klein, harp player Richard Salwitz (known as "Magic Dick"), drummer Stephen Jo Bladd, former D.J. turned vocalist Peter Blakenfield (who used the last name Wolf) and teenaged keyboard player Seth Justman.
Geils, Klein and Salwitz had formed an acoustic trio, Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, in the early 60s playing in the Worcester area. In 1967 they recruited Blankenfeld and Bladd, formerly of the Hallucinations, forming the J. Geils Blues Band. Justman, a fan, joined a year later.
Wolf wasn't a great singer, but he was a hyperactive front man who rattled off jive gibberish faster than the roadrunner getting away from Wile E. Coyote ("We gonna mooga googa get it all down get it outta sight get it down baby!") and could spin around his mic like a pole dancer.
The band recorded many of the songs that became staples in their live act for their self-titled 1970 debut (3 ½ out of 5 stars), including "Homework," "First I Look at the Purse," "Cruisin' For Love" and "Serves You Right to Suffer." The diddy-bopping funk of "Wait" and "Sno-Cone," propelled by Bladd's Gene Krupa-like drumming, were other prime cuts.
The group's second album, 1971's The Morning After (3 out of 5 stars), was buoyed by the Top Forty success of their rowdy single "Looking For Love."
On Stage Electricity
The band became a popular live act, particularly at Detroit's Cinderella Ballroom where they recorded their third album, Full House (4 out of 5 stars), on April 21 and 22, 1972.
The crowd's enthusiastic reception to Wolf's rapid fire commentary, Magic Dick's lung-busting harp solos, Bladd's wall-crumbling drums, Justman's jaunty keyboards, Klein's steady foundation and Geils' gritty guitar makes it sound as if the band is performing in your living room.
Full House begins with the full-tilt workout frat house madness of "First I Look at the Purse." Their cover of Otis Rush's "Homework" mines the same bluesy arrangement utilized by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac except with an added dash of bravado from Wolf. Magic Dick blows away the audience with the instrumental "Whammer Jammer," showing off his proficiency on the harp.
"Hard Drivin' Man" is propelled by Bladd's piston-like beat and Klein's bumping bass. Justman injects a honky tonk piano solo, Magic Dick honks his harp like an out of control rig blasting down an interstate and Geils' adds some "chickin' pickin'" on guitar.
"Serves You Right To Suffer" is a showcase for the soloists. Supported by Bladd's muscular manhandling of his kit, Wolf pulls out the stops, barking out his vocal like a Basin Street bogeyman gone bananas. Justman plays a plush organ solo and Geils tears at his guitar. Introduced by Wolf ("On the lickin' stick, Mister Magic Dick") the harpist plays a hearty Chicago-style blues solo.
Full House was certified gold, as was the follow up studio album, 1973's Bloodshot (3 ½ out of 5 stars --their second highest charting album reaching #10). Bloodshot yielded the pop to reggae single "Give it To Me" (#) and the riotous "(Ain't Nothin' But A) Houseparty."
Ladies Invited (3 ½ out of 5 stars, also from 1973), was the first album to feature tracks written exclusively by the team of Wolf/Justman, including the stomping "Did You No Wrong," R & B laced "I Can't Go On," crunching "No Doubt About It" and the galloping "Take A Chance On Romance."
The band's party sound took on darker undertones with 1974's Nightmares...And Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle (3 out of 5 stars), which contained the throat-tearing "Look Me In The Eye," "I'll Be Comin' Home" (embellished with restaurant chatter and wedding-style accordion) and the Bladd focused closer "Gettin' Out." Yet it was the simplistic rocker "Must Have Got Lost" that provided the group with its biggest single to date (#12). An appearance by Borscht Belt comedian George Jessel (as the judge in a remake of "Funky Judge") kept the band's playful spirit alive.
Hotline (1975, 2 out of 5 stars) and the live Blow Your Face Out (1976, 3 out of 5 stars) followed. The band attempted to underplay its party boy persona with 1977's mature Monkey Island (3 ½ out of 5 stars), which featured the slick R & B of "So Good." Other stand out tracks included "Somebody," a tale of infidelity with a Geils solo so sharp it that sounded as if it was being run through a cheese grater, the sweet ballad "You're the Only One" sung by Wolf and Bladd, and a catchy doo wop remake of "I Do," which was supported by a legion of horns. ("I Do" recently reappeared as part of the "Little Fockers" soundtrack.)
The band temporarily changed its name to just Geils for Monkey Island and allowed guest musicians including Cissy Houston, Luther Vandross and the Brecker Brother to infiltrate their insular sound. Despite good reviews, Monkey Island only reached #51 and its dark follow up, Sanctuary (2 out of 5 stars), charted just two spots higher.
Returning to their horny adolescent image with 1980's Love Stinks (3 out of 5 stars), the band received generous airplay for the poppy "Just Couldn't Wait," the cynical title track ("I been through diamonds, I been through minks, but one thing's for sure...love stinks!") and a ear-catching remake of "Night Time" highlighted by Bladd's relentless pounding.
Eschewing blues and R & B altogether for a poppier sound, J. Geils finally reached #1 in 1981 with Freeze Frame (2 out of 5 stars). The single "Centerfold" also topped the charts; the title track hit #4 and Bladd's drum fireworks lit up "Flamethrower." But their success was short-lived. Wolf quit in 1983 following the release of their third live album, Showtime (3 out of 5 stars), citing artistic differences.
J. Geils recorded You're Getting Even While I'm Getting Odd (1 out of 5 stars) in 1984 with Justman taking over the writing and lead vocal duties. The album tanked at #80 and the band broke up.
The J. Geils Band reunited in 1999 (without Bladd) and played several one-off concerts in 2009. J. Geils formed the band Bluestime in 1992, releasing a pair of albums. Geils has also recorded several instrumental jazz albums, Jay Geils Plays Jazz (2003) and Jay Geils Toe Tappin' Jazz (2009).
Magic Dick has toured as part of the Legendary Rhythm and Revue. Klein fronts Danny Klein's Full House, a J. Geils tribute band. Wolf married actress Faye Dunaway in 1974 (they divorced five years later) and went on to record seven solo albums including Lights Out (1984) and Midnight Souvenirs (2010).