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The J. Geils & Detroit Romance


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Love at first sight

Peter Wolf reflects on the Detroit-J. Geils Band romance


Nobody got the J. Geils Band like Detroit did.

And few got Detroit like J. Geils.

The Boston group's reunion at the Fillmore Detroit this weekend isn't being billed as a 40th anniversary affair. But it might as well be. When vocalist Peter Wolf and company first set out across the country in 1969 -- in a station wagon crammed with gear and greasy rockers -- they had no way to know they were about to kick off a unique four-decade relationship.

"When we hit Detroit, there was just an instantaneous affection," says Wolf. "There was just something about it that fell into place. It's a love affair that started from day one. What this is about is continuing that love affair."

As with any good romance, there's a splash of serendipity behind these latest Detroit dates. When the funk-rockers played the Palace of Auburn Hills on New Year's Eve '99 -- capping a reunion year that had included a string of confetti-strewn shows at Pine Knob -- band members sincerely thought that was it. The Geils Band was officially headed into history.

Except ... not just yet. In the ensuing decade, even as the band resisted promoters' pleas for bookings, a couple of impromptu gigs sprang up, including a performance at bassist Danny Klein's 60th birthday party in 2006. When the group was asked to play for charity at February's opening of Boston's House of Blues club, Wolf and crew finally bit.

Rave reviews followed from hometown fans and critics, who said the Geils band hadn't lost a step. The group's house-party gumbo was as hot and spicy as ever in a set that included such familiar classics as "Give It to Me," "Musta Got Lost" and "Whammer Jammer."

"So when the phone calls came about playing Detroit," says Wolf, "it was a natural."

But this is just for the Motor City, a one-shot deal for the band's second hometown, says the perpetually slinky 63-year-old. He insists the group won't undertake a full-scale tour in this or any other year.

"It's not like coming to Detroit is one small part of a bigger picture," says Wolf. "Coming to Detroit is just this idea of -- look, every time can be the last time. We know that. And it would be a sin, in my opinion, if we didn't get to Detroit and kick it up."

For the members of the band -- which also includes guitarist Geils and harmonica player Magic Dick -- reuniting meant putting aside creative tensions that had led to the group's 1983 demise in the first place.

"I'm glad we're able to come together unified, without allowing any of the problems to surface. Everybody has accepted that there's something to accomplish here," says Wolf. "Everybody is participating in a way that makes it possible to smoothly get together."

The band declined the opportunity to play an arena such as Cobo. Instead, the Fillmore harkens back to the group's glory days at Detroit venues such as the Cinderella Ballroom and Eastown Theatre, where its high-energy shows became the stuff of local legend -- and prompted the recording of several live albums here.

"Doing it in an intimate setting, where we have a little more connection with the audience, a closer dialogue, is just a way of saying thank you for all the support and encouragement you've given us as a town," says Wolf.

Detroiters got a glimpse of Wolf last year, when the singer was enlisted as part of Kid Rock's Rock N Roll Revival tour, which played a pair of dates at Joe Louis Arena. Wolf has been busy with a solo career that includes an upcoming album with guests such as Merle Haggard and Neko Case, the follow-up to his four-star album "Sleepless" in 2002. The Kid Rock dates, which put him at center stage to perform J. Geils fare, were a big reminder that his band's history mattered, that "it's very profound and still very important."

Detroit's rock passion is something many have toiled over the years to explain -- or even to merely identify: "It's like love or film noir," says Wolf. "You can't really define it, but you know it when you see it."

Wolf figures his band always excelled here because it sweated for a crowd that demanded just that.

"In Detroit, if you didn't perform -- if you didn't get down and grab that audience -- they'd throw you off the stage," he says. "I think that's the Detroit credo: 'Don't do it half-assed. We want it all, or nothing at all.'

"There's a real Detroit soul. The first thing most people go to is Motown, which is obviously so important. But there's a rock 'n' roll force too -- a soulfulness that we as musicians responded to immediately. And it's in the audience. Either you get it or you don't. We fortunately got it. We got it from the audience, and over the years we've tried to return it."

Contact BRIAN McCOLLUM: 313-223-4450 or


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Posted by Susan Whitall (The Detroit News) on Sun, Apr 26, 2009 at 12:09 PM

J. Geils Band, night II

On Saturday night the sound issues at the Fillmore were resolved and the J. Geils Band's music was propelled with the force necessary for one of the great party bands of the world.

These two shows were meant to be, in Peter Wolf's words, "What we used to roll into Cobo with," sort of a throwback to their early '70s sound, so they didn't bring a horn section.

Instead, just as in those early days, Magic Dick used his harp to do the horn stabs that punctuate so many Geils songs. On Friday we could see Magic trying to turn up his amp to get more juice. On Saturday, you could hear him loud and clear.

The back and forth between Magic's harp and Seth Justman on organ during, for example, "Give it To Me" is vital to the song and has to jump out at you. It did.

J. Geils scorched on guitar too, and it barely seems possible but Peter Wolf's loose-limbed dancing was even more frantic than the night before.

At several points he pulled several full-bodied women up to dance with him, adding to the joy quotient out in the crowd.

Indeed, after the show Magic Dick's wife Susan remarked that the audience was evenlouder than the band.

The band appeared to be having fun both nights; when Wolf flops on the floor beseeching his love to come back, Geils aims his guitar at his lead singer playfully, like a gun.

This time the band played for two hours and 15 minutes, there was no Kid Rock appearance and the band was even tighter.

"They're greasy once again" a friend of the band said approvingly. The band had only reunited briefly in February, to play a House of Blues gig, so it had been two months since they'd last played.

Back in the day, when they played four nights at Pine Knob, by the fourth night the band was white-hot in intensity.

One can only imagine what they'll have in store for Boston on Tuesday.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


J. Geils Band rekindles Detroit love affairSusan Whitall / Detroit News Music Writer

The J. Geils Band and Detroit discovered that the thrill of their love affair isn't gone after an impossibly tight two-hour house party at the Fillmore Friday night.

The band plays the Fillmore again tonight before heading back to its real hometown of Boston for a Tuesday show.

Peter Wolf and the band came out swinging with one of their famed Motown covers, "First I Look at the Purse" (originally by the Contours).

Wolf, prowling the stage in a glam silver jacket, spoke often of the band's affection for Detroit.

"Detroit, you got (bleeping) soul!" he yelled. He worked Kid Rock into an onstage shtick about looking for his elusive text-messaging girlfriend, seeing her in a limo with "KR" on the side and then going knock-knock-knocking on KR's door to find her. Kid Rock came loping out to trade verses with Wolf and in his ongoing role as ambassador de Detroit exhorted the crowd to give the band a "Detroit welcome" -- as if the city hasn't been doing that since the age of Aquarius.

The band also tossed in another Motown cover as an encore, their take on the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go?"

Ona balmy day at the end of a hard winter, it was clear from the smiles on faces throughout the crowd that the band was giving this Detroit audience a much-needed, one-night-only vacation from the woes of life. It's something that music does during good times and bad, and you must give in to the Geils Band insistence on a party or just leave the hall.

Wolf is as always, one of rock's most effective frontmen, an age-defying dervish doing his trademark, skittery jive across the stage. An irresistible magpie, here creates moves from R&B kings like the Temptations all the while unleashing a torrent of patter like the disc jockey he once was.

The band was even entertaining when a human mistake occurred, as when perfectionist harmonica whiz Magic Dick made an uncharacteristic false start on his star turn, "Whammer Jammer." That prompted cocked heads from his bandmates, who simultaneously decided, without a word, to "start all over again" and the funky tune was as always, one of the set's highlights.

Wolf lauded Detroit as one of the most fertile music scenes over the years, calling out the names of Detroit musicians including John Lee Hooker, Jackie Wilson, Catfish Hodge, Bob Seger and Hank Ballard. He also gave a shoutout to a disc jockey or two (Arthur Penhallow for one). The singer is a historian of both R&B and the history of great R&B disc jockeys; talking to a reporter, he spoke fondly of the great air talent The Electrifyin' Mojo and wondered if he was on the air anywhere (he isn't, of course).

As with all great show bands, each musician is working at peak torque, ready at any moment to jump into the fray with a solo. To see Seth Justman wailing away on his Hammond B3, Leslie speaker spinning like a bizarre 19th century device; Wolf in frantic high spirits with J. Geils delivering tasty guitar solos amid Magic Dick's precise harmonica licks, was to have time stand still for a night.

The Geils band was born as a live outfit, and in classic show band style, as each musician takes a solo it should be a jolt of sound and energy.

The band did their part, from the first song the intensity never flagged, but they got no help from the underpowered P.A. or the Fillmore's soundman. In a small theater setup, we should have been flinching slightly at the loudness, instead at times we had to concentrate hard to hear the guitar, harmonica and Hammond B3.

We can hope that a Saturday sound check will get the sound system cranked up to match the band's intensity.

"This isn't a tour," Wolf told the audience at one point." This is just for Boston, our hometown, and Detroit, our second hometown."

Let's hope for the sake of other cities that it does turn into a tour; the band seems hungry for it and an infusion of highly danceable, soulful joy into the live music scene is long overdue.

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