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Steve Morse

Musta got lost

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs J. Geils again

Peter Wolf, lead singer of the J. Geils Band, performed at Fenway. Peter Wolf, lead singer of the J. Geils Band, performed at Fenway. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Steve Morse
February 19, 2011

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WHEN TWO of Boston’s most beloved music acts — Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band — headlined Fenway Park last summer, the big surprise was how many fans thought J. Geils outshined Aerosmith. Facebook posts and chat rooms lit up with declarations that Geils had the upper hand. The concert was also a vital reminder of why the J. Geils Band should join Aerosmith in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame has snubbed J. Geils again this year, but its induction should be a no-brainer. The J. Geils Band’s heyday came in the pre-MTV years when rock acts had to prove themselves in the market without the help of cheesy, fabricated videos; and Geils passed the test every time with its turbo-charged house party rock ’n’ roll.

The J. Geils Band started in Mission Hill in the late ’60s. They were fronted by Peter Wolf, who came to Boston to study art but ended up studying blues-rock with the likes of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. The group was completed by guitarist J. Geils, keyboardist Seth Justman, harmonica ace Magic Dick, bassist Danny Klein, and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd.

A Geils concert was free-form madness. Wolf would launch kangaroo leaps and run around and jump into the aisles and on top of people’s seats. He would regularly sport scratches and battle scars from being grabbed by fans. The group’s song titles painted the picture well: “Houseparty,’’ “Give It Up,’’ “Looking for a Love,’’ “Musta Got Lost,’’ “Detroit Breakdown,’’ and, later in their career, “Sanctuary,’’ the hugely ironic “Love Stinks,’’ and the “Freeze-Frame’’ megahits.

At one Boston Garden show, a mayoral representative presented Wolf with a silver bowl commemorating J. Geils Day in the city of Boston. But the ever-feisty Wolf poured champagne into it and rapped about how the mayor should help lower the drinking age. “If you can kill somebody in the Army at 18, then you should be able to drink.’’ The applause was deafening. A true rock moment.

Alas, the J. Geils Band did the unthinkable by leaving at its peak. They broke up in 1983 (citing “irreconcilable differences’’ that were never fully explained), right after scoring a No. 1 album, “Freeze-Frame,’’ and two Top 5 hits in the title track and “Centerfold.’’ Suddenly they were gone and didn’t do a comeback tour until 1999.

J. Geils was the cream of a blues-powered, arena-rock generation and every show was a special, all-out blitz, especially their famed, multiple-night runs at the Boston Garden. A movement for the band’s induction into the Hall of Fame is growing. They were officially nominated this year, but didn’t get enough votes. Many fans are now urging support on a Facebook page titled “The J. Geils Band Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!’’

Let’s hope we also see them perform during their induction one day. Their time is long overdue.

Steve Morse is a former Boston Globe staff critic who also served for seven years on the nominating committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.