The J. Geils Band was an American rock band formed in 1968, in Worcester, Massachusetts, under the leadership of guitarist John “J.” Geils. The original band members included vocalist Peter Wolf, harmonica and saxophone player Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz, drummer Stephen Bladd, vocalist/keyboardist Seth Justman, and bassist Danny Klein. Wolf and Justman served as principal songwriters. The band played R&B-influenced blues rock during the 1970s and soon achieved commercial success before moving towards a more mainstream radio-friendly sound in the early 1980s, which brought the band to its commercial peak. After Wolf left the band in 1983 to pursue a solo career, the band released one more album in 1984 with Justman on lead vocals, before breaking up in 1985. Beginning in 1999, the band had several reunions prior to the death of its namesake, J. Geils, on April 11, 2017.
The band first released several Top 40 singles in the early 1970s, including a cover of the song “Lookin’ for a Love” by The Valentinos (which reached #39 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972), as well as the single “Give It to Me” (#30 in 1973). Their biggest hits included “Must of Got Lost” (#12 in 1975), “Come Back” (#32 in 1980), “Love Stinks” (which reached #38 in 1980 and was featured in several films), “Freeze-Frame” (#4 in 1981), and “Centerfold” (#1 in 1982).
The band started in the mid-1960s while John Geils was attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a couple of semesters. Named Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, the group was an acoustic blues trio with Geils on guitar, bassist Danny Klein (“Dr. Funk”), and harmonica player Richard Salwitz (“Magic Dick”).
Jay Geils with The J. Geils Blues Band, 1967 – The Unicorn Coffee House, 815 Boylston Street, Boston, MA:
In 1968, the band switched focus, going electric and recruiting two fellow musicians from Boston band The Hallucinations, drummer Stephen Bladd and vocalist Peter Blankenfeld, a fast-talking former WBCN disc jockey) with the air name Peter Wolf. Initial influences included James Cotton and Little Walter — in 2008 interview, harmonica star Magic Dick said they were all “harp freaks”.
They became The J. Geils Blues Band, later dropping the word “Blues” from the band name. Soon, fan Seth Justman joined on keyboards and the band started to earn a sizable following in the Boston area.
The band took its time carefully considering various offers of contracts. Unofficial live recordings circulated: as noted in Creem, “WBCN had the infamous J. Geils ‘bathroom tapes’ (that were almost exactly what the name implies) and a tape of their performance at Alternate Media Conference at Goddard College, but these hardly sufficed” to fans who wanted a proper album. The group ultimately signed to Atlantic Records in 1970.
Those of us who know of the J Geils Band only through the early ’80s singles such as Freeze Frame and Centerfold will be in for a surprise. Before they were seen as a pop band, probably adult rock might be a better term, they were such a hardcore blues band that in 1971, The Allman Brothers named the J Geils Band as their favourite local band.
As noted on jgeils.com, Geils himself was a Southside-style slide guitarist who counted not only the Chicago blues masters but also Steve Cropper, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown’s guitarists among his many influences. Stand-up bassist Danny “D.K.” Klein was also a major soul fan, and harmonica wizard Magic Dick drew heavily from a wide array of blues and jazz musicians, ranging from Little Walter to Roy Eldridge, King Curtis to John Coltrane.
Before joining the band, DJ and singer Peter Wolf recalled: “They were a great band, really smooth. They knew everything there was to know about Chicago blues.” Formed in 1967, the band began to build a reputation in the Boston clubs and when Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf or John Lee Hooker came through town, The J. Geils Blues Band served as their hosts. Along the way, the “Blues” was dropped but there was no shortchanging the music.
As Wolf said, The J. Geils Band “felt obligated to give 100 per cent of ourselves to our audience. We were a bunch of guys who had the passion and wanted to share it.” Keyboardist Seth Justman, who joined the band in 1969, said: “There was a love affair between this band and its audience. We wanted people to know that we were gonna give it all that night… Whatever we had in the tank, that tank was gonna be empty at the end of the show.”
Early J Geils Blues Band recordings are not that common so fans should be thankful to tedders who unearthed this stellar set and shared it on the internet.
While the rhythm section of bassist Danny Klein and drummer Steven Bladd is rock solid, it is harp player Magic Dick Salwitz who takes the spotlight. But then fans of the band will have no problem finding their own favourite moments.
Recorded live at the New Penelope Club, Montreal, Canada, September 1968.
Very good soundboard.
Steven Bladd (drums)
J. Geils (guitar)
Danny Klein (bass)
Pittsfield Slim aka Magic Dick (Dick Salwitz) (harmonica)
Peter Wolf (vocals)
01. Dust My Broom (James) 5.31
02. Look Over Yonder (Clark) 5.02
03. Slow Blues Jam (Bladd/Geils/Klein/Salwitz/Wolf) 9.12
04. You Don’t Love Me (Cobb) 6.05
05. Orange Driver (Burns) 6.46
06. Something You Got (Kenner)
07. Smokestack Lightin’ (w/ band into in middle) (Burnett) 13.51
08. Rock Me Baby (King/Josea) 5.33
01. Blues Instrumental (Bladd/Geils/Klein/Salwitz/Wolf) 5.01
02. Somebody’s Gotta Go (Williams) 3.31
03. Help Me (Williamson)
04. Peter Wolf Intro 0.22
05. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Jacobs) 2.58
06. It Hurts Me Too (Whittaker)
07. Black Night (unknown) 5.32
08. Do The Funky Broadway? (w/ band into at end) (Christian) 9.39
Another alternate backcover:
John Warren Geils Jr. (February 20, 1946 – April 11, 2017)