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Fame still calls J. Geils

Hall of Fame pulls 'regular guy' back into rock spotlight

The former members of the J. Geils Band all live in the Boston area, and most are still involved in music.

Stephen Jo Bladd, 64, percussion/vocals. Lives in Lexington and has retired. Did not go on reunion tour in 1999.

Jay Geils, 58, guitar. Lives in Groton, performs with the group Blues Time with former J. Geils band member Magic Dick, and with the New Guitar Summit. Just released solo record ''Jay Geils Plays Jazz!"

Seth Justman, 53, keyboards/vocals/producer/songwriter. Lives in Weston. Worked with Blondie's Deborah Harry and on solo material.

Danny Klein, 58, bass. Lives in Boston and performs with the band Stone Crazy. Geils produced their latest record this year.

Magic Dick, 59, harmonica/vocals. Lives in Lincoln; patented a harmonica in the 1980s.

Peter Wolf, 58, vocals/songwriter. Lives in Boston and performs as a solo artist. His latest record is ''Sleepless."

SUSAN WARE

The year was 1981 and the J. Geils Band was at the top of the Billboard charts with a No. 1 hit, ''Centerfold." Jay Geils and his wife at the time, Kris, were riding high and moved from a modest home in Carlisle to a horse farm in Groton. The new arrivals did not escape the notice of the local police.

''I was told that when we moved from Carlisle to Groton, the then-Groton police chief called the Carlisle chief and said that he has these 'damn rock and roll people' moving in, and what kind of problems are they going to bring," said Kris Geils.

''The Carlisle chief apparently responded that if all of the constituents were like the Geilses, he would not have a job," she said.

Jay Geils still lives quietly in Groton, playing jazz and blues on his collection of vintage guitars and producing tracks in a studio in Acton. And though the J. Geils Band broke up in 1983, he and the band members have been thrust in the spotlight again by their nomination last month to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

''The nomination feels great. It is a nice honor," said Geils, 58. ''It is a little weird, though. Music is so subjective, not like sports, where there can be a top athlete who breaks records. They belong in a hall of fame."

Still, Geils isn't worried that he will lose his coveted privacy, or that daily life will change for him if the band is elected.

''Everyone in town knows me, at the post office, the hardware store, the liquor store," he said. ''Groton is a nice small town. Nobody bugs me. I am just a regular guy, no big deal."

Regular guy or not, Geils carries one of the most recognized names in rock music. A reunion tour of the J Geils Band in 1999 packed venues and renewed interest in one of Boston's original party bands. Geils said that while it was good to be back with the band, he enjoys what he is doing now, making jazz and blues records and producing for other artists.

''Being part of the J. Geils Band was a lot of fun. We made 14 records, and eventually made some money. But it got to be a grind. In some respects it was like any other job; it starts to wear on you a little bit," he said.

To illustrate his point, Geils estimates that between 1971 and 1984, he was on a plane every third day.

During those years, Kris surrounded herself with friends and the families of the other band members, and focused on her horses and dogs on the farm. But at times, the fame became intrusive.

''I used to say to Jay that I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have been someone really famous, like Elizabeth Taylor, because at times, I felt that I couldn't even walk around my own house in my nightgown," she said.

Despite the band's reputation as a party-all-night group, the couple said they led quiet lives in the suburbs and tried to remain out of the spotlight. Occasionally, however, overzealous fans would show up at the front door.

''It was the fans that made him a success that also made it difficult at times," said Kris Geils, 57, who now is a real estate agent. ''Overall, though, we led a very normal life in Groton. We still do."

Although the couple split in 1999 after 28 years of marriage, they both still live in town and remain friends, even sharing a post office box.

In assessing the J. Geils legacy, Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor at Rolling Stone, called the group ''a hard-working band."

''Did a single J. Geils record alter the course of popular music? No," said DeCurtis, a member of the nominating committee for the hall of fame. ''But they proved that you can go out night after night, set after set, win over audiences, and finally become successful."

For DeCurtis, theirs is a classic rock and roll story. ''After all of those years of hard work, slogging it out and earning their stripes on the road to make it to the point where success comes, and then as a collective group they can't handle it," he said. ''There is strange bad blood. They should have been cruising along, but it all fell apart."

No one in the band will comment on what happened, and when asked about the breakup, Geils said simply: ''Irreconcilable differences. Let's leave it at that."

John ''Jay" Geils was born in 1946 in New York City. His parents were jazz fans, and for his 10th birthday, his father took him to see Louis Armstrong. For his 13th birthday, he went with his father to see Miles Davis. Drawn to jazz early, he said he did not have the ''chops," or jazz virtuosity, but discovered that he could play the blues. The chops are something he developed later in life, after the whirlwind years of touring with the J. Geils Band.

In the mid-1960s, he was an engineering major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he met fellow students and future band members Danny Klein and Magic Dick, who has managed to keep his last name secret through the years. ''Engineering just didn't work out for us," said Geils.

After 11 albums, the band's 12th album, ''Freeze Frame," went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks in 1981 and remained on the chart for 70 weeks. MTV was just gaining momentum, and the video shot to accompany the single ''Centerfold" exposed the band to a whole new generation of fans. ''Centerfold" spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard. The title track ''Freeze Frame" made it to No. 4.

''It didn't happen overnight for us," said Geils. ''It was lots of hard work. Like the saying goes -- success is 10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.

''Like with any band, a lot of positive forces got aligned at the same time, and it just happened for us."

During those years, the opening acts for the band included the Eagles, Billy Joel, ZZ Top, Yes, the Allman Brothers, and U2. U2 was also nominated to the hall of fame this year.

The question now is if the Geils band will be one of the eight bands elected into the Cleveland-based hall of fame in December. Musicians become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record and are nominated by a committee of rock and roll historians. Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of approximately 1,000 rock experts.

DeCurtis said that election to the hall may not be an entirely pleasant experience for the band, given its breakup.

''We would like to see getting into the hall of fame as having some impact, by either being a help, a positive or healing experience -- a celebration," said DeCurtis. ''In this case, maybe not. In a funny way, the nomination may stir the pot for them and bring back things that they aren't comfortable with."

Geils said he is happy where he is, living with his ''girls" -- 50 vintage guitars -- and shunning such features of modern life as e-mail and cell phones. ''I feel content. I am having the best time of my life," he said. ''You know, they say that 58 is the new 40."

Susan Ware can be reached at ware@globe.com.

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