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Howl with local legend Peter Wolf in Beverly

The former J. Geils frontman, at The Cabot Oct. 1, talks college-hopping, rooming with David Lynch, and book-swapping with Bob Dylan.

Peter Wolfe, former J. Geils Band frontman and regular book-trader with Bob Dylan, will be in Beverly Oct. 1. Handout/Joe Greene

Before Peter Wolf was an art student in Boston, he was a hitchhiker pretending to be an art student.

“In those years, if you looked like a student, nobody suspected you weren’t. I’d use the art rooms, sleep in the student lounges, eat in the cafeterias,” Wolf, 76, told

He college-hopped throughout Midwest until a buddy drove him to Boston. 

“It was like taking me to Wonderland. Between Tufts, BU, Harvard — I hit ’em all,” he says. “At one point, at Brandeis, I was the only student regularly showing up, so they gave me the keys to the art studios. I never abused the stuff, but I always enjoyed having limitless supplies, shall we say?”


Boston’s former J. Geils Band frontman talked to ahead of his Midnight Travelers show at The Cabot in Beverly Oct. 1. Wolf had me laughing throughout our hour-long interview, whether he was impersonating Howlin’ Wolf, or recalling Bob Dylan’s odd book recommendations. (Yup, he swaps books with Dylan.)

Some responses have been edited for length and clarity. I love this college-hopping story. So then how did you get a scholarship to the Museum School?

Peter Wolf: I dropped off a bunch of paintings; a [friend loaned me the money] for an application. They offered some kind of grant. I left after the second year to dedicate my energies to my first band, The Hallucinations. Boston was a music Mecca. Our first dates were with the Velvet Underground and Sun Ra. That was trippy.

Woah. And your roommate was filmmaker David Lynch.

Yeah, I didn’t have any place to stay. [The Museum School had no dorms.] I stayed at the YMCA; I slept on the Charles River. Somehow I bumped into David, who was looking for a roommate.

What was he like to live with?

David was a very sweet guy. Very polite, neat, very formal. I was the crazy one. I was smoking three packs of French cigarettes a day, drinking, playing music ’til 4 in the morning. I think I played a part in driving David crazy.


Where did The Hallucinations play? 

At the Moon Dial, which became the Boston Tea Party. Andy Warhol showed his early films, and we’d be part of the evening’s entertainment. Mostly we played in the Combat Zone. There was music everywhere, street hustlers, and, let’s say, ladies of leisure. You’d sit at the bar and listen to great bands. I remember taking Van Morrison down there when he was living in Cambridge, because there were just so many great musicians.

How’d you meet Van Morrison?

At the Boston Tea Party, this young guy came up and asked where can you get gigs. I had an all-night radio show on WBCN, and Van was a fan. He would send postcards, call up requesting John Lee Hooker. When we realized he was the guy calling and I was the DJ, we became friends. 

You left BCN to join J. Geils. How did that band come together?

A: Some of The Hallucinations were going back to painting, so Jay and I started jamming and it slowly came together. Our first date was The Catacombs [in Boston]. Word spread and we became pretty popular. It wasn’t overnight, but we built a good following.


 At one point, Tom Petty offered you “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

Yes, it’s true. Tom and I became friends from those early days. He sent me “Don’t Do Me Like That.” I wrote him back and said, “Tom, I don’t think I can do it better than this. I’d just release it as is.” What you hear on [his release] is basically what he sent me. 

Wow. You also met Dylan before he was big. 

Yeah, I heard Bob in the Folklore Center the first week he came to New York. I saw him at the Gaslight, and [a few other spots]. He was talkative, funny, charismatic. Through the years, we maintained a kind of lending library — I bring books, he passes me books.

Wait. That’s incredible. What are a few books you’ve swapped?

Oh, many. A lot of art books. We both were interested in biographies. One he gave, at first I thought it was a joke: the biography of Tiny Tim. It turned out to be a really interesting read. I had to tell Bob: It was well-written and fascinating.

I love this.

I try to think of books that are sort of left-of-center that Bob might not have seen before. Bob’s one of the brightest people I’ve met, and has one of the greatest senses of humor. That’s a side not many people get to see. I feel honored to have the interaction I do have.


Do you talk often?

We don’t chit-chat on the phone, but when he’s in town, I make a point to see him, say hello, spend time.

Wow. So you were born Peter Blankfield — how’d you come up with “Wolf”?

It was a nickname. There’s a funny story: We were playing with Howlin’ Wolf, talking in the dressing room. Somebody came over to take a picture and said, “Wow, two wolves!” And Howling Wolf said [uses low growling voice] “There’s only one wolf in this dressing room.“

We became friendly. I’d take him to Hayes-Bickford [Cafeteria] at 2 a.m. He was in his overalls. He’d sit and chit-chat with Harvard students and people didn’t know who he was. He was a fascinating individual.

Lauren Daley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.

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