Classic Rock Profiles: Introduction to the J. Geils Band


J. Geils Band’s career in a summary

The J. Geils Band is an American rock group best known for their #1 Billboard hit “Centerfold”, in late 1981. The band was formed by vocalist/guitarist John Geils, bassist Danny Klein (Dr. Funk) and Magic Dick (born Richard Salwitz) and began playing acoustic R&B-based and soul tunes. By 1967 the band switched their gears into electric guitars and recruited drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and former DJ Peter Wolf; Seth Justman later joined as their keyboardist and one of the principal songwriters (with Wolf).

J. Geils Band were one of the popular regional/touring bands until their single “Lookin’ For Love” earned much airplay and then broke into the Top 40 charts in 1971, thus expanding their fanbase. As the band’s sound drove more towards rock and pop, things were looking better for them as they chruned out a charting single after another: “Give It To Me”, “Must Of Got Lost”, “One Last Kiss”, “Come Back”, and “Love Stinks”.

In 1981, they finally had a top-charting hit “Centerfold”, and the song’s LP Freeze Frame also went to #1 on the Billboard album charts. Internal strifes eventually led to the band’s commercial downward spiral and breakup in 1985. In 1993, J. Geils Band reunited for a series of tours in the East Coast; since then they’ve been occasionally performing, with new musicians filling in for the original members now and then especially when the group’s on tour.

From blues rock to pop and new wave repertoire

Before The J. Geils Band would arrive at their more distinguishable new wave sound, the band also played R&B-influenced blues rock which they really favored.

The band formed in Worcester, Massachusetts in the mid-1960s and started out as a blues-based acoustic trio Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, consisting of John Geils (guitarist), Magic Dick (harps; born Richard Salwitz) and Danny Klein (bass). Later on The Hallucinations’ Stephen Jo Bladd (drummer) and Peter Wolf (vocals) joined, and the band’s warm organic repertoire was replaced by a more electric sound.

The re-formed group named themselves as The J. Geils Blues Band, since the band members shared their passion for blues, blues-based rock and R&B. They dropped the “Blues” from the name later probably to appeal to a wider audience. Soon The J. Geils Band began to attract a sizable following. One of their fans was Seth Justman, who was a university student as well as a keyboard player. He eventually joined The J. Geils Band in 1968.

The band spent time touring for the next few years before securing their first recording contract with Atlantic label in 1970. They released their eponymous debut album that same year; it barely made it to the Billboard 200 but it earned favorable critical reviews.

Expanding their fan base

The band’s sophomore effort The Morning After was released in 1971 and its single “Lookin’ for a Love” became a Top 40 pop charter. But what made the band to continually expanding their fan base was through their live gigs. Their next album was a live one, “Live” Full House, released in 1972. It was their first record to have gone gold. The follow-up album Bloodshot (1973) also went gold and became their first Top 10 record, thanks to the #30 pop hit “Give It to Me.”

After the relative commercial failure of Ladies Invited in 1973, The J. Geils Band came back strong with 1974’s Nightmares…and Other Tales From the Vinyl Junglewhose single “Must of Got Lost” became their first Top 20 hit (at #12).

The J. Geils Band released subsequent albums, all of them became modest commercial successes: Hotline (1975; peaked at #36 on the Billboard 200), Blow Your Face Out (1976, live album; peaked at #40), Monkey Island (1977; peaked at #51) and Sanctuary (1978; peaked at #49, earning gold certification), which was their first album released on EMI label.

Their next album Love Stinks (1980) put the band on the block once more. It peaked at #18 and went gold again, spurred by the two Top 40 pop singles “Come Back” (at #32) and the title track (at #38).

Biggest hits in their career with “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”

This paved the way for their next album Freeze Frame, released in 1981. It became their most commercially successful album yet, thanks to the uber-popular single “Centerfold.” The catchiness of the song, plus its memorable music video, sent “Centerfold” up to the top of the Hot 100. It also became their only major hit in the UK, peaking at #3, and also went to #1 on the US mainstream rock charts. The follow-up single was Freeze Frames’ title track, which became as successful as well, reaching #4 on the Hot 100. Their live album Showtime was released in 1982, and went gold.

Dissolution and re-formation

Despite the commercial success the band was enjoying, tensions otherwise became apparently volatile among the band members, especially between Justman and Wolf. The rift caused Wolf to leave The J. Geils Band while the band was in the midst of their recording session in 1983. Their last album You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’Odd was a commercial flop, causing the band to split in 1985.

Since the group disbanded, there have been several reunions, mostly for a number of performances — supporting tours, benefit concerts, and several reunion tours of their own. In 2012, the group kicked off their brief US tour in the summer, but without the band’s namesake. J. Geils didn’t join his mates. Geils had also launched his own solo career, and in addition has been busy in his car restoration business in Massachusetts.

The J. Geils Band was deemed eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination in 2010, but was not inducted when they were nominated the following year.

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