|(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/file 2010)|
He’s still the host of the house party
Peter Wolf leads the J. Geils Band back to Boston
Now a seeming trend, the J. Geils Band is again blasting out its vintage R&B and digging back to its ’80s Top 10 hits (“Centerfold’’ and “Freeze Frame’’). The fabled but once-feuding Boston band, which headlines the
Q. You guys have been known for long absences, but the band has come back to play a bunch of shows the last few years. What makes it work now?
A. First of all, what pulls us together has usually been some kind of benefit or special occasion, and it’s usually a phone call. We did a benefit for the firemen in Worcester after the terrible tragedy there. Then we did Cam Neely’s cancer foundation. Then we did the opening of the House of Blues. . . . And now we’re helping a cause that
Q. How do you prepare after all these years?
A. How it works is that Seth [Justman, the keyboardist who cowrote Geils’ biggest hits with Wolf) and I get together and we discuss the parameters of the shows. Do we want to use horns or keep it primal like we did at the House of Blues? Or do we want to add more to it like we did at Fenway Park? [The band is again adding the Uptown Horns this time.] And Seth and I will usually get together over a piano, or me with a guitar, and decide which songs to do.
Q. Many people have been stunned by the band’s energy. A lot of folks thought you had the upper hand over Aerosmith when you opened for them at Fenway last year.
A. The Geils Band does a very demanding show. It’s like a heavyweight 12-rounder. There’s still that ragged, rock ’n’ roll aspect. We don’t use big production stages. We try to present the show the same way we did when we played Boston Garden [in the ’80s]. A lot of the equipment is the same and there are no pyrotechnics or weird effects. And there are no videos. It’s just straight-ahead, rock ’n’ roll nuts and bolts.
Q. How do you and Seth Justman get along now? You guys wrote the hits, but the breakup of the band was blamed on the inability of you two to write together anymore.
A. With Seth there were some artistic differences, shall we say, but I think what makes it work is that we were the artistic nucleus of the J. Geils Band, so when we get together to do these shows, we really have a common bond because we both have the same thought on how it should be done.
Q. Is there any thought of further songwriting with Seth? Or is it a case of you’ll just get together and do periodic reunion shows and leave it at that?
A. Well, that’s a good question. When we finished Fenway Park, we kind of all said, “You know, that was really great.’’ And we probably all felt that could have been the last time. And so, when we get together now, like everything in life, it could be the last time. Our energies right now are really going toward making this presentation as good as we can make it.
Q. I want to ask you about the Fenway show with Aerosmith. What happened with Steven Tyler? You and he got in that tiff about using the catwalk on stage. He didn’t want you using it?
A. The credo of the Geils Band has always been if we were the headliner, the needs of the opening act were as important as ours. And history proves that point because we had as our opening acts the Eagles, who we always remained friends with; and Tom Petty, who had nothing but praise for us. But I was disappointed at Fenway. We were told there were restrictions to areas of the stage, and I found that to be insulting. Let me put it this way: I’m no dentist, but I was ready to take out some teeth for free. And you can quote me on that. The good news is, the person in question has since apologized.
Q. Do you feel the J. Geils Band’s long time away blew its chance of getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
A. Well, we were nominated three times, and that in itself is quite an honor. As far as a long gap, there have been a lot of bands - the Rascals, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and others that have stopped playing for one reason or another for many years. There are groups that had gaps longer than the J. Geils Band.
Q. What has the addition of guitarist Duke Levine meant to the band? Everyone knows how respected he is around here, but how does [guitarist] Jay Geils feel about it?
A. If Jay wasn’t cool with it, Duke wouldn’t be here. Duke has played with me and been on many of my solo records, so we have a great camaraderie. He and Jay have a ball together.
Q. How is it different to play with Geils versus your solo band? [Wolf’s Midnight Travelers perform at the Somerville Theatre on Oct. 20.]
A. I feel very fortunate. I’m a guy who has two great lovers. I’m very dedicated to my solo career, and it’s extremely different from the Geils shows because they tend to be more intimate and introspective, so it gives me the opportunity to explore those areas. And the Geils Band gives me the opportunity to explore the roots material that is such a large part of us.
Steve Morse is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.