In 1967, Boston based guitarist Jerome ‘J’ Geils started up an acoustic blues trio called, imaginatively enough, the J. Geils Blues Band. Alongside J, were bassist Danny Klein, and harpist come harmonica come saxophone player ‘Magic Dick’ Salwitz. A few months into the venture they recruited vocalist Peter ‘Wolf’ Blankfield, and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd, and soon after the quintet plugged in and went electric. Both Wolf and Bladd had played together previously in the doo-wop and rock revivalist band the Hallucinations. Their addition to the J. Geils Blues Band added the extra dimension of doo-wop and rock & roll ambience to proceedings. Wolf in particular had a larger than life persona, a kind of hyper-kinetic front man in the manner of Jagger and Iggy Pop. Within a year they had dropped the ‘Blues’ from their moniker and added keyboardist, and song writer Seth Justman to the company.
The J. Geils Band played relentlessly in Boston and the East Coast and built up a strong following and reputation for being a dynamic live act, a bar band gone big (and baaaad), churning out a no-nonsense fusion of blues, rock, R&B, and soul. The band had positioned themselves as East Coast ‘greasers’, the antithesis of the prevalent psychedelic-rock movement of the time. Such was their reputation in the region that they were invited to play Woodstock in 1969, an invitation they declined (out of integrity or stupidity? - who knows). They were playing support for Dr. John in 1969, when they were spotted by a talent scout from Atlantic Records, and they were duly signed to a recording contract soon after.
What followed the night before, arrived ‘The Morning After’ (US#64) in the form of the J. Geils Band’s second album. The album, released in late ’71, offered up the same blend of rock infused blues and soul numbers, with once again a mixture of covers and original songs on offer. The track that brought the rock band to the attention of a more mainstream audience, was the top 40 cover of Bobby Womacks’ ‘Looking For Love’ (US#39). The Justman/Wolf original ‘I Don’t Need You No More’ is a dynamic album opener, and to prove the band had a gear other than overdrive, the rock ballad ‘Cry One More Time’ is on offer.
The band then returned to the studio in early ‘73 to record their third studio album. ‘Bloodshot’ was released in April of ‘73, and boasted nine high energy tracks in all, with all but two original Justman and Wolf compositions. The reggae inflected ‘Give It To Me’ closed the album but opened the single releases with a #30 effort. The band performed the song on the U.S. TV show ‘In Concert’ where censors removed the phrase ‘get it up’ from the lyrics (it was still the 70s after all). The doo-wop-ish ‘Make Up Your Mind’ skimmed the very surface of the U.S. Hot 100 (#98), but the album delivered J. Geils Band their first top ten effort (#10) and first gold album.
In late ‘74, the band offered up another album with the quirkily titled ‘Nightmare…And Other Tales From The Vinyl Jungle’ (US#26). The lead out single was ‘Must Of Go Lost’ (US#12/OZ#72), a honky-tonky-ish track that delivered the J. Geils Band their biggest hit under the Atlantic umbrella. The follow up singles, ‘Gettin Out’ and ‘Givin It All Up’ missed the charts but sit comfortably in the album’s grooves which offer up ingredients from funk, serious blues, and tight yet expansive instrumentation.
With double live albums all the rage in the mid 70s, it was understandable that such a powerhouse live drawcard as the J. Geils Band should get in on the act, and so they did with 1976’s ‘Live - Blow Your Face Out’ (US#40). The album(s) once more captured the furious kinetic energy of the band, recorded over two shows in late ‘75 - Boston Garden, and the Cobo Hall, Detroit. The live track ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ (US#68) was released as a single, whilst other highlights included the nine minute epic ‘Chimes’. Produced by Bill Szymczyk, the double disc set doesn’t disappoint.
By the time J. Geils Band arrived at the recording studio in 1977, they were at somewhat of a career crossroads. They had enjoyed fleeting mainstream popularity, and were as big a live attraction as they had ever been, but their last couple of outings seemed to miss the mark, audience numbers wise. They opted to release their next album, ‘Monkey Island’ (US#51/OZ#97), under the name Geils, possibly in an effort to re-brand themselves. The band self-produced the album, and all but two of the nine tracks were original Justman/Wolf compositions. The single released was a mellow, soft rock offering in the form of ‘You’re The Only One’ (US#83). To display their range of stylistic playing, such a low key song was balanced by the high energy funk of ‘Surrender’. It was an album of many modes, confusing on some levels, yet paradoxically cohesive in its diversity.
The J. Geils Band switched labels from Atlantic to EMI America in late ‘78. When work began on their next album, Earth, Wind & Fire producer Joe Wissert was assigned the task of retaining the band’s energy, whilst melding it slightly to hone some of the course edges, introducing a sleeker, more polished sound to proceedings. The resultant collaboration was late ‘78s ‘Sanctuary’ (US#49/OZ#82), the band’s first gold accredited disc since ‘Bloodshot’. All nine tracks were penned by Justman and Wolf, including the radio friendly single ‘One Last Kiss’ (US#35/UK#74). Other highlights included the searing rock of ‘Sanctuary’, the surging ‘Just Can’t Stop Me’, and the second single ‘Take It Back’ (US#67), a glistening cut of pop-soul.