The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the J. Geils Band

Written by Music, Popdose Guides

[Jefito’s Note: I was all set to write this myself, honest I was — and then Jeff Ash, proprietor of the frequently wonderful AM, Then FM, made the mistake of mentioning in an e-mail that he was jealous I’d gotten to the Geils Band first. Knowing that Jeff’s years of experience dwarf my own (and never being one to avoid shirking a duty if it can safely be shirked), I quickly let him know he was more than welcome to write this Idiot’s Guide.

He warned me that he wasn’t a true Geils “scholar,” and I offered to collaborate:but when I read what you see below, I knew there really wasn’t much to add. Who wants a scholar when you’re talking about this kind of music, anyway? It’s rude, greasy, and it just feels right. That’s all you need to know. Jeff’s done right by the Geils Band here — the highest compliment I can pay any of these guides is that it made me excited to go back and listen to the music again, and his did.

Enjoy this, visit AM, Then FM regularly, and with any luck, in this spot next week you actually will see a collaborative Idiot’s Guide, written by myself and John from Lost in the ’80s, and focusing on a band I know a lot of you love dearly. See you then. —J]


The J. Geils Band (1970)
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The J. Geils Band - The J. Geils Band

Since when do bar bands get major-label deals? Not today, maybe, but certainly in 1970, when Atlantic — the home of rhythm and blues — signed what originally was the J. Geils Blues Band, one of the hottest bands on the Boston club scene.

Their debut album is a scorcher, mostly blues, with more originals honed on local stages than covers. The best cuts are three quickies, all clocking in at barely more than 2 minutes each and all showcasing J. Geils’ guitar work — “Ice Breaker” (download) and “Hard Drivin’ Man,” both written by Geils (and the latter co-written by lead singer Peter Wolf) and a chugging cover of “Pack Fair and Square” (download) by Big Walter Price and His Thunderbirds.


The Morning After (1971)
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I’ll take the first three cuts — “I Don’t Need You No More” (download), with Seth Justman pounding away on the piano; the debut of “Whammer Jammer,” Magic Dick Salwitz’s harmonica tour de force; and Geils’ guitar work anchoring a cover of “So Sharp” (download) by Dyke and the Blazers.

Wolf’s chatter and patter starts to emerge on this album, which beyond those first three cuts is unremarkable except for “Looking for a Love,” which everyone has heard. I was 14 and had no clue it was a cover, first done by the Valentinos in 1962, so it will forever be a J. Geils Band song to me.

(About the album cover: That really was the morning after. It was taken after they partied with members of the band War, the cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and skaters from the Bay Area Bombers roller derby team. Man, that must have been some bash.)


“Live” Full House (1972)
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The J. Geils Band - Full House "Live"

Who does a live album after just two studio albums? The J. Geils Band did, reportedly at the urging of fans who’d seen their scorching stage shows. It lives up to that billing, drawing heavily from the first album and ripping through eight cuts — five of them covers — in barely 33 minutes. This album is a party starter, then and now.

This version of “Whammer Jammer” (download) is miked in such a way that you hear Magic Dick grunt and wheeze as he blows his face out. Outstanding. “Serves You Right to Suffer” (download) a John Lee Hooker cover:well:at nine and a half minutes, just sit back, crack open a beer or fire up a joint and let each of the solos roll off you.


Bloodshot (1973)
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The J. Geils Band - Bloodshot

Not much going on here, and what is going on is going on below the belt. No different than, say, KISS, which was starting out at the same time.

Between verses on “Back to Get Ya” (download), one of the better cuts, Wolf riffs “Scramble my eggs, honey, come on.” On “Southside Shuffle” (download), he pleads “Give it to me, baby,” then “Ah, you’re makin’ me hard, gettin’ all wet.” I can see KISS doing “Southside Shuffle” and J. Geils Band doing “Strutter.” It’s not that much of a leap. And the big hit? “Give It To Me.” I rest my case.

(Of course, I was a sophomore in high school when Bloodshot came out, so it was more fun, more exciting, more sensational then. A guilty pleasure. Now that I am older than dirt, all the lewd talk is, well, a little sophomoric. Beavis would dig it, though.)

[I know it’s as dumb as they come, but I’ve always gotten a kick out of “Don’t Try to Hide It” (download). —J]


Ladies Invited (1973)
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The J. Geils Band - Ladies Invited

Even less going on here. Who wants to hear a sensitive J. Geils Band? This isn’t what the party hounds were expecting.

This is the first album with no covers, and it isn’t anywhere near as salacious as Bloodshot. It may be the worst J. Geils Band album. That said, it’s still worth listening to, because the band knew its strengths and set up the arrangements accordingly. Every guy was a solid musician: Wolf on vocals, Geils on guitar, Justman on keyboards, Stephen Bladd on drums, Magic Dick on harmonica, and none more solid than Danny Klein on bass, anchoring the whole thing. Try “Did You No Wrong” (download) and “The Lady Makes Demands” (download).


Nightmares : And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle (1974)
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The J. Geils Band - Nightmares...And Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle

Wow, this is more like it. They got the funk back. I hadn’t listened to this in a long time, and it’s great.

Another party starter, and all originals except for one cover. Take your pick: “Givin’ It All Up,” complete with horns; “Stoop Down #39,” with Magic Dick’s harp intro and a horn outro; “Gettin’ Out” (download), with no less than four solos; or the cover of Bull and the Matadors’ “Funky Judge,” full of Wolf’s jive and featuring old-time actor George Jessel as the judge. My favorite, though: “I’ll Be Coming Home” (download) a slow groover with sort of a Latin beat, featuring Geils on mandolin and Justman on piano and organ.

(This album also has “Must of Got Lost,” which everyone knows. Hearing the line, “How can I be so blind, baby?” I’m reminded that it inspired the nickname for our clueless basketball coach. Blind Baby. Hey, what can I say? It was high school.)


Hotline (1975)
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The J. Geils Band - Hotline

There’s a small notch on the lower right corner of my copy of this album. No wonder this was a cutout.

It starts promisingly enough, with Bladd pounding the cowbell on an OK cover of “Love-Itis,” done first by Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds in 1967, but things fade pretty quickly after that. Two straight blues covers are the best things on this album: Chicago bluesman John Brim’s “Be Careful (What You Do)” (download), on which Magic Dick has a long harp solo and Justman pounds a roadhouse piano, and Detroit bluesman Eddie Burns’ “Orange Driver” (download), which features solos by Magic Dick, Geils on guitar and Klein on bass.


Blow Your Face Out (1976)
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The J. Geils Band - Blow Your Face Out

Clean your house. Put the valuables away. Buy a half-barrel. Tap it. Get the cups. Turn on the stereo. Put this album on. Your party has started. Recorded live in Boston and Detroit in the same week of November 1975, this is the J. Geils Band, the great American show band of the day, as it should be heard. There’s some debate, and legitimately so, about whether Blow Your Face Out or Full House is the better live album.

But for my money (and for my party), all I need is Side Two of this two-record set, barely five songs. Playing to the Detroit crowd, the band covers “Where Did Our Love Go,” the Diana Ross and the Supremes classic, then, supposedly by request, covers “Truck Drivin’ Man” (download) — the old country tune! It gets better, with a revved-up cover of “Love-Itis,” then a laid-back, quiet rendering of just one verse of “Looking for a Love.” Justman’s organ brings things down, almost as if we are in church, and then Wolf shouts, “We are going to blow:your:face:out!” and they tear into an incendiary cover of “(Ain’t Nothing But A) House Party” (download). The Show Stoppers did the original in 1968. This one is a showstopper, too.


Monkey Island (1977)
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The J. Geils Band - Monkey Island

When you’re a junior in college, you like to think you’re becoming more sophisticated. I vividly remember hearing this album and thinking the J. Geils Band was, too. Well, one of us had matured, but it wasn’t the kid from Wisconsin.

The first voice you hear on the first cut, “Surrender,” is that of Cissy Houston, the great gospel singer. Luther Vandross, on the verge of his fame, is among the backup singers. The Brecker Brothers are among the horns. It’s the J. Geils Band with guests! Always keenly aware of its strengths, the band picks its guests with care, and each perfectly complements its sound, thanks to Justman’s arrangements. It was the band’s last album on Atlantic Records, and given the chance to produce themselves, they go out in style.

The originals are breathtaking. “I’m Falling” (download) sung by Wolf, reflects an aging performer’s insecurities. It’s a slow R&B tune given a big horn finish, with Michael Brecker’s solo on tenor sax. “Monkey Island” has a long, moody instrumental intro, then only Klein on bass and Bladd on drums as Wolf speaks the verses, then a loud, crunchy outro. “So Good” is classic Stax-inspired R&B, featuring the horns and the backup singers. “Wreckage” (download) sounds like the Stones sent it over. It has an acoustic guitar intro, keyboard and harp solos and then a false ending that gives way to Geils’ big, plugged-in solo.

If you were one of the J. Geils Band faithful, a party hound baffled by this new, richer, deeper sound, there were a couple of reassuring covers. “I Do,” the old Marvelows tune from 1965, comes complete with handclaps, horns and backing doo-wop vocals.


Sanctuary (1978)
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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Ah, but someone had to go fix it.

This is the last album not produced by the band, and it’s nothing special. Some folks rave about it, saying it’s serious and introspective. Perhaps so, but it’s also dull. “One Last Kiss” (download) has a little bit of an edge, but I can see Fleetwood Mac doing it, with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on vocals instead of Wolf and Justman. “Teresa” (download) is a remarkable post-breakup song, a man lost in the wake of a broken relationship. It’s far from the J. Geils Band sound you know, with elegant piano work by Justman and subdued vocals by Wolf. “Wild Man” gets a little closer to the classic J. Geils sound, with a rare solo by Klein. The only upbeat tune on the album is the last cut, “Jus’ Can’t Stop Me.”

I think the party hounds have defected to AC/DC by now.


Love Stinks (1980)
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The J. Geils Band - Love Stinks

Just as the J. Geils Band bounced back with Nightmares, it bounces back here, busting out with handclaps and recapturing its classic sound on the first cut, “Just Can’t Wait.” Despite that promising start, the band is clearly starting to distance itself from its ’70s image and sound. “Come Back” (download) has a great bass line and a solid guitar solo by Geils. But listen closely, and:hey, is that a synth in there? If so, Justman picks his spots, and it works. “Tryin’ Not to Think About It” (download) opens with a huge Geils guitar solo that sounds like:Billy Squier? Sure, but the Magic Dick harp solo that follows is vintage J. Geils Band. “Till The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down” swings, a little like:”Stray Cat Strut”?

Everyone knows the title track, and it’s fun, but something else stinks. Urine tests are in order for anyone responsible for “No Anchovies Please,” on which Wolf channels Frank Zappa and raps: “Oh, my God! That bowling ball! It’s my wife!” The band even manages to turn in an uninspired cover, its last on a studio album. They give it a go on Nappy Brown’s “Night Time (Is The Right Time),” but Creedence Clearwater Revival did it better on Green River in 1969.


Freeze Frame (1981)
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The J. Geils Band - Freeze Frame

Fueled by MTV exposure for the title track and “Centerfold,” lots of people were digging the J. Geils Band because of Wolf’s charisma and the band’s quirky videos. My lingering memory of this album is playing it at a tailgate party before a Packers game in the Lambeau Field parking lot and seeing my friends’ enthusiasm for the hits turn quickly to disdain for the rest of the album. Can’t blame ’em, really.

This is the J. Geils Band’s last hurrah, an attempt to get back to the rich sound of Monkey Island. It doesn’t get there, even with Houston and Vandross again among the backup singers and the horn section featuring Lou Marini, Alan Rubin and Tom Malone from the Blues Brothers band. The maturity shown on Monkey Island is missing. The best cut is “Angel in Blue” (download) a nice slice of Jersey Shore soul and perhaps the only cut that puts the horns and backup singers to good use. Some other nice moments are pieces of songs. The bridge of “Flamethrower” (download) anticipates the sound of Prince, and I’d much rather hear “River Blindness” as an instrumental, given several great solos and dreadful lyrics that try to replicate Monkey Island and fall far, far short.


Showtime! (1982)
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I drove two hours to see the J. Geils Band live in Milwaukee on Jan. 30, 1982, as they opened the second leg of a long tour to support Freeze Frame. It was ridiculously cold outside and impossibly steamy inside the Riverside Theater as we waited:and waited:and waited :and waited for the band to take the stage. The show was everything I expected. This live album, recorded in September 1982 in Detroit, was not. The third time was not the charm.

All but one of the originals is from Monkey Island or later, and only “Sanctuary” is better for the live performance. This is the only one of the three live albums on which the crowd is a big part of the sound mix, and it helps, especially on Side Two’s call-and-response and sing-along numbers.

So you want to burn a mix of the best of the J. Geils Band live? Take all of Full House, add Side Two of Blow Your Face Out, and add the back-to-back punch of “Stoop Down #39” (download) and “I Do” (download) from this one. Crank up the volume. Add bevvies. Shake vigorously.


You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd (1984)
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Wolf left the band for a solo career, so the five remaining members put this out. It was the end.

Compared to this, Ladies Invited and Bloodshot are classics. This is dreadful, nothing more than ’80s bar band material, overwritten and overproduced by Justman. The lyrics are terrible, the worst offense a rhyme of “wettish” with “fetish” on the title cut. The chorus on “Eenie Meenie Minie Moe” (download), a call to men and women to get some action, is exactly what you fear it might be — the children’s rhyme, for no apparent reason. Nothing has the familiar J. Geils Band sound.

There’s only one cut worth mentioning. “I Will Carry You Home” (download), the last cut, is a quiet affirmation for a troubled lover sung by Bladd and backed by Justman’s elegant piano, the horn section and the Institutional Radio Choir, a New York gospel group.

Still, I can’t believe I spent money on this. I can’t believe the folks at B Side Records in Madison, Wisconsin, could in good conscience let anyone walk out the door with it.

[Jefito’s Postscript: And that was the end:almost. I’m not talking about the reunion tour toward the end of the century — the one almost no one bought tickets for — or Peter Wolf’s sporadically interesting solo career. Nope, I’m talking about something else entirely. The J. Geils Band actually soldiered on for one more project, and John at Lost in the ’80s has kindly written it up for us right here. You know me — my favorite part of a musician’s career is the downslope — and this is about as weak as limps to the finish line get. I love it! Thanks, John! —J]