J. Geils, lead guitarist and co-founder of the J. Geils Band, was found dead in his home in Groton, Massachusetts on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. He was 71. According to Groton Police, “a preliminary investigation indicates that Geils died of natural causes.”
Geils was the consummate tasteful guitarist, equally adept at knowing exactly when to season the band’s can’t-stand-still grooves with just the right flavor of rock, R&B, blues, and/or jazz licks. The band’s most popular album, 1981’s chart-topping Freeze Frame, is available in hi-res at 192/24 and 96/24 on HDtracks.
In addition to the ubiquitous charms of the title track and the #1 single “Centerfold,” the patented Geils Band magic also shined bright with muscle and grit on “Rage in the Cage,” “Insane, Insane Again,” “Flamethrower,” and the album’s winking/sneering final cut, “Piss on the Wall.”
When I interviewed Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf here on HRAC in May 2016, he told me the best representation of the band’s legendary prowess as a live act was captured perfectly on 1972’s Full House. “I would say for someone who didn’t know anything about the J. Geils Band, Full House is the one,” Wolf observed. “It might not have the greatest sound, but it captures a certain energy. It’s representative of what we did. That might be my favorite.”
During the time I was the editor-in-chief of Car Stereo Review magazine, I had the distinct privilege of spending a great listening afternoon with J. Geils just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan on July 14, 1999. (Incidentally, the man insisted to us that “J.” didn’t stand for anything, but he could very have been pulling our collective leg at the time. Most of the ensuing obituaries have cited his first name as being John, and he also spelled it out as “Jay” on some of his latter-career solo blues albums.)
CSR senior editor Chuck Tannert and I were in Ann Arbor for 4 days to participate in a car stereo article as facilitated by the great John Phillips for Car and Driver‘s March 2000 issue. We met Geils in the parking lot of the hotel he and the band were staying at to discuss cars and tunes. Coleman Hawkins was a top choice of his in the Cadillac STS we sat in together, and we listened to that CD and more on the Caddy’s stock Bose 4.0 system. “Flashy, brassy, and bright,” assessed Geils, “but I like it. An accomplished pop-music machine.”
Later that night, I went to see The J. Geils Band do the Reunion Tour thing as only they could at the Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan, and I’m forever grateful I made the trip to see five of the original six bandmembers strut their stuff. (Sim Cain took over for Stephen Jo Bladd in the drum chair on that tour.) Rest in peace, o Hard Drivin’ Man.