By Brian Ives
Earlier tonight, we reported on the tragic passing of John Geils, guitarist and founder of Boston’s legendary J. Geils Band. The group had an extraordinary career from 1967 to 1985, starting out as one of America’s best R&B bands in the style of groups like the Rolling Stones, later adapted to the Album Oriented Rock format in the ’70s and then, improbably, to MTV and new wave in the ’80s.
Frontman Peter Wolf quit the band in 1983, and after one album without him, they split up. They reunited in 1999 for a tour, and have done occasional concerts and short tours in the years since. Sadly, J. Geils (the band) and the J. Geils Band were estranged in the last years of his life, with the band playing gigs without their namesake. Also, sadly, while the band has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they have yet to be inducted.
For now, though, fans can go back and dive into their catalog of classics. If you’re new to the group, though, here’s a primer.
“First I Look at the Purse” (from The J. Geils Band, 1970) – Like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, and generations of garage rock bands who cut their teeth in bars, the J. Geils Band’s repertoire included Motown songs, including this one, written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers of the Miracles for their labelmates, the Contours.
“Whammer Jammer” (from The Morning After, 1971) – Written by “Juke Joint Jimmy,” a pseudonym for songs co-composed by the entire J. Geils Band. This instrumental jammer was led by Magic Dick’s harmonica.
“Looking for a Love” (from The Morning After, 1971) – A 1962 hit for R&B group the Valentinos, this gave the J. Geils Band their first hit, climbing to #39 on the pop charts.
“Serves You Right to Suffer” (from “Live” Full House, 1972) – The J. Geils Band made some great studio records, but they were first and foremost a live band. Here, they stretch a John Lee Hooker classic out to nearly ten minutes.
“Give It To Me” (from Bloodshot, 1973) – Like the Beatles, the Stones and the Who, the J. Geils Band eventually transitioned from being an amazing cover band to writing their own song; this was an early hit penned by the band’s songwriting team of singer Peter Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman; the song hit #30 on the pop charts.
“Must of Got Lost” (from Nightmares…and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, 1974) – This Wolf/Justman song was their biggest hit yet, hitting #12 on the pop charts.
“Raise Your Hand” (from Blow Your Face Out, 1976) – From their second live album, this Eddie Floyd classic has also been covered by Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It should be required for any self-respecting barband, although few would be able to do it nearly as well as the J. Geils Band.
“I Do” (from Monkey Island, 1977) – The band temporarily changed their name to “Geils” for Monkey Island, which wasn’t their finest moment. But it did yield this funky cover of a 1965 song by R&B group the Marvelows.
“Come Back” (from Love Stinks, 1980) – Their ’80s reinvention starts with their first album of the decade, Love Stinks. This song, written by Wolf and Justman, had a slicker guitar sound, keyboard synths and a disco beat. For some bands, that may have spelled “sellout,” but the J. Geils Band made it work.
“Love Stinks” (from Love Stinks, 1980) – Another Wolf/Justman co-write, this one seemed designed for arena singalongs.
“Freeze-Frame” (from Freeze-Frame, 1981) – Wolf and Justman brought the band into the top ten with this song, which reached #4, and helped bring the band to a larger audience.
“Centerfold” (from Freeze-Frame, 1981) – It’s rare that a band with nearly two decades under its belt is able to get a new, younger audience, but this song — a number one hit, also written by Wolf and Justman — brought the J. Geils Band to the MTV audience in a big way; the band now had fans who knew little about their history as a hot R&B/blues cover band.
“Land of a Thousand Dances” (from Showtime!, 1982) – As popular as the J. Geils Band got with Freeze-Frame, they didn’t forget their roots; on their third live album, they covered this classic, which was a hit for Cannibal and the Headhunters and Wilson Pickett in the ’60s. But this was the end of the J. Geils Band that the fans loved; Wolf quit soon after.