Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Godspeed J. Geils

J. Geils, lead guitarist and leader of the J. Geils Band, died yesterday at the age of 71, apparently of natural causes.

J. Geils was born John Warren Geils Jr. in New York City on February 20 1946. He grew up  in Morris Plains, New Jersey. His father was a devoted jazz fan and from an early age J. Geils was exposed to the works of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. While he was still a boy, J. Geils's father took him to a Louis Armstrong concert. J. Geils learned the trumpet, learning to play many of Miles Davis's tunes. He was also a fan of such blues guitarists as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

After graduating high school he attended Northeastern University in Boston, where he played the trumpet in the marching band. He later transferred to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he studied mechanical engineering. It was at Worcester that J Geils formed an acoustic blues trio consisting of himself as guitarist,  bassist Danny Klein, and  harmonica player Richard Salwitz (who later adopted the stage name Magic Dick). Initially called Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, the band would eventually switch to electric guitar and bass. They also recruited two new members, drummer Stephen Bladd and vocalist Peter Wolf. Later that same year they would be joined by keyboardist Seth Justman. Initially they called themselves the J. Geils Blues Band, eventually dropping "Blues" from their name.

It was in 1970 that the J. Geils Band was signed to Atlantic Records. Their self-titled debut album was released in November of that year. Their first single, a cover of The Contours' "First I Look at the Purse", received some FM radio airplay. Their second album, The Morning After, was released in 1971. It contained the song "Cry One More Time", which was later covered by Gram Parsons. Their cover of The Valentinos' ""Looking for a Love" proved to be their first top forty hit in the United States, peaking at no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The J. Geils Band's third album, Bloodshot, would prove to be their breakthrough record. It peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard album chart. It also produced the hit single "Give It to Me", which peaked at no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next two albums, Ladies Invited and Nightmares...and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, peaked at no. 51 and no. 23 respectively, although the latter produced one of the J. Geils Band's greatest hits, "Must of Got Lost", which peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The J. Geils Band's next three albums (Hotline, Monkey Island, and Sanctuary) each did respectively well with Hotline peaking at no. 36 and Sanctuary peaking at no. 49. Their following album would prove to be one of their most memorable, if not absolutely their most memorable album. While Love Stinks was not their highest charting album (it peaked at no. 18), it produced what might be their most memorable song. "Love Stinks" only peaked at no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, but has since been used in so many films, TV shows, and commercials that it is probably the J. Geils Band's best known song. The album also produced two other singles that entered the Billboard Hot 100: "Come Back" (which peaked at no. 32) and "Just Can't Wait" (which peaked at no. 78).

The J. Geils Band would reach the peak of their success with the album Freeze Frame. The album went all the way to no. 1 on the Billboard album chart. The single "Centrefold" from the album also went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single "Freeze-Frame" peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. A third single, "Angel in Blue", peaked at no. 40. A live album, Showtime, followed Freeze Frame and went to no. 23 on the Billboard album chart. Unfortunately, success was not to last.

Peter Wolf left the band in 1983 over disagreements about the direction the band was taking. Seth Justman then took over lead vocals. The J. Geils Band released one last album, You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd, which peaked at only no. 80 on the Billboard album chart, making it the lowest charting J. Geils Band album since their debut album. The band recorded the song "Fright Night" for the 1985 movie of the same name before breaking up.

Following the break-up of the J. Geils Band, J. Geils devoted himself to auto racing and automobile restoration. He founded KTR Motorsports, a shop for vintage Ferraris, Maseratis, and various other Italian cars. He returned to music in 1992 when he formed Bluestime with Magic Dick. He later released a solo album in 2005. J. Geils also joined various reunions of the J. Geils Band in later years.

I have often thought that J. Geils was one of the most underrated guitarists in rock music. He brought to his playing a variety of influences, including jazz, blues, R&B, reggae, and old time rock 'n' roll. Mr. Geils was comfortable with a number of different musical styles and often incorporated them into his guitar work. What is more, he was incredibly precise in his guitar playing, all the while making it look effortless. J. Geils was something of an introvert, so he never shared the spotlight with Peter Wolf or Seth Justman, but he was as necessary to the band that bore his name as they were. Quite simply, it was J. Geils's guitar work that held the J. Geils Band's music together.

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