Remembering a musician whose name is a household one, even if his music isn’t as much. John Geils Jr., or “J. Geils” died on this day in 2017 from natural causes at his home in Massachusetts. He was 71.
Geils is of course best known for the J. Geils Band, one of the States’ hardest-working rock bands of the ’70s who hit paydirt in the early-80s with the multi-million selling Freeze Frame and its #1 single, “Centerfold.” It pretty much put the icing on a sonic cake that included six gold or platinum albums and 10 top 40 singles at home between 1970 and ’84. By the time the band called it quits, it had become a radio-friendly pop rock outfit, quite different than its early roots as a bluesy rock’n’roll group more akin to early ZZ Top or Rolling Stones. We can hear the difference listening to their first hit single, “Lookin’ for a Love” In fact, when Geils started the group at college in 1967, it was called the J. Geils Blues Band. As the years went by, the group seemed to be more and more the work of the core duo of keyboardist Seth Justman and singer Peter Wolf, who wrote most of the original material. Geils however, was always an essential part of the band’s sound, being its only guitarist through the years, until he quit a re-formed version of them in 2012, suing the rest for what he felt was improper use of the band’s name.
After Peter Wolf’s initial departure from the band and its quick descent, commercially, Geils kept busy with other musical projects and cars. As a kid he was a fan of old jazz, blues and soul artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman and after the rock success of “Centerfold” he put out a number of jazz albums as “Jay Geils” with a jazz trio in the 1990s. He was also passionate about car racing, especially European versions and drove regularly in a number of races, fixing vintage sports cars in his own shop in his downtime.