R.I.P. J. Geils

Wednesday, April 12, 2017
R.I.P. J. Geils

Word reached us here at Rhino HQ on Tuesday afternoon that guitarist John Warren Geils, Jr., a.k.a. J. Geils, founder of The J. Geils Band, died at the age of 71.

Although he was born in New York City on February 20, 1946 and grew up in Morris Plains, New Jersey, if there’s a city with which Geils was most associated, it was Boston. He attended Northeastern University, where he played trumpet in the marching band, but he soon transferred to Worcester Polytechnic to study mechanical engineering. It was while he was in Worcester that Geils formed the musical collective known then as the J. Geils Blues Band with Stephen Jo Bladd, Danny Klein, Magic Dick Salwitz, and Peter Wolf, with Seth Justman joining up just before the band – now without the word “Blues” in their name – released their self-titled debut album in 1970.

Watching the evolution of the J. Geils Band was fascinating: for those who’d never seen them live, they might’ve seemed to be just another bar band, but their live shows proved that they were a force to be reckoned with, thanks in no small part to Wolf rarely spending even so much as a moment at a standstill. In time, the band’s record sales began to climb, as did their exposure on the radio, earning top-40 hits with singles like “Looking for a Love,” “Give It To Me,” and “Must of Got Lost” and climbing into the top 10 of the Billboard 200 with their 1973 album BLOODSHOT.

Although the ‘70s saw them doing pretty well for themselves, the J. Geils Band’s biggest success came in the ‘80s after they jumped from Atlantic to EMI, embraced the world of music video, and scored a bona fide #1 pop hit with “Centerfold,” from their 1981 album FREEZE-FRAME. (The title track of the album provided them with a #4 hit, too.) The band’s fortunes shifted, however, after Wolf departed the band, and while Geils kept things afloat for a bit longer, releasing one more studio album in 1984, YOU’RE GETTIN’ EVEN WHILE I’M GETTIN’ ODD proved to be the J. Geils Band’s swan song.

But that’s not to say that Geils went away, although he did set aside his guitar for a few years to pursue his love of motorsports, even opening an automobile restoration shop in Carlisle, Massachusetts. In the mid-1990s, he was part of the band Bluestime, and in the mid- to late 2000s, he released a trio of solo albums. Between those things, though, he reunited with the rest of the J. Geils Band to do an east coast and upper Midwest reunion tour, and although it wasn’t a permanent reunion, they continued to get back together and play here and there in the 2000s.

Although they’re still arguably a going concern, Geils hadn’t been part of the band that bears his name for the past several years, but while his absence certainly merits mention, it’s not something that we’re going to get into at the moment. We’d much rather just offer our condolences to Geils’ friends and family and then turn on his music and remember him fondly.

R.I.P., Mr. Geils.