J. Geils

J. Geils was born John Geils Jr. in New York City, NY, the guitarist's nickname becoming the handle for one of the most legendary musical groups in the history of Boston rock & roll, the J. Geils Band. During live performances, singer Peter Wolf would say, "Play it Jerome" to his lead guitarist when Geils took a solo. "Occasionally it was Tyrone [that Wolf called him on-stage]," the musician told the All Media Guide. Growing up in New Jersey, Geils was a big jazz fan during his high school years thanks to his father's (John "Jack" Geils) love of the genre. "All the music I heard...probably the first music I heard as a kid in the late '40s...was Benny Goodman," says Geils. Jack Geils Sr. had many 78 rpms in his record collection -- Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman -- and he also took the young musician to concerts, a performance by Louis Armstrong when he was ten or 12 years old being particularly memorable. Geils' own musical playing began when he performed Miles Davis tunes on trumpet and drums. He got turned on to the blues when New York radio station WRVR broadcast recordings by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and others on Sunday afternoons. Geils went off to college in the fall of 1964, enrolling at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, where he played trumpet in the Northeastern marching band. Immediately drawn to the burgeoning folk scene in Boston in 1965, Geils witnessed Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Boston University student Jim Kweskin's the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and other proponents of that movement. So busy absorbing the live music around him, Geils transferred to Worcester Poly-Technic Institute. "I wound up transferring to Worcester Tech...because I wasn't doing too well at Northeastern...going to see all those guys," Geils says. At the Worcester school he met harp player Magic Dick Salwitz and bassist Danny Klein and they formed what Geils termed "this little kinda acoustic folk blues group," which they called the J. Geils Blues Band. At Worcester Tech, Geils was trained as a mechanical engineer, which would serve him well decades later as he opened his own vintage auto restoration shop. From 1985 (the year after the final J. Geils Band release, the You're Getting Even While I Was Getting Odd disc) to 1992, Geils claims he "didn't even touch a guitar" -- and at the height of the rock band's fame, from 1980-1984, Geils probably ran five races a year, driving at Watkins Glen and other venues for that sport. He was doing car restorations in the post-Geils Band days, selling that business in 1996 to one of his clients. The two things his father introduced him to were jazz and sports cars; the guitarist was always a big foreign sports car racing fan, owning several vintage Ferraris. There's a video from the early days of the Boston Blues Allstars with Billy Briggs on piano and Barry Tashian on vocals and drums, both from the Remains, along with Magic Dick, Danny Klein, and Geils, recorded by a friend of Tashian's for a Boston University Communications Department senior project in 1969. Tashian turned Geils on to Billy Butler, a longtime guitar player with Bill Doggett, someone Geils calls "one of the great undersung players." The J. Geils Blues Band merged with two members of the Hallucinations, singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd. After promotion man Mario Medious brought them to the attention of Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, they recorded a bit with rock critic Jon Landau, but the project was abandoned. About a year later, Seth Justman joined the group and they recorded their first album. After Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band went their separate ways, J. Geils formed Bluestime with Magic Dick in 1992, also playing with various musicians like Kevin Visnaskas in the Blood Street Band. Along with producing friend Danny Klein's Stone Crazy band (Geils was a brilliant and underrated producer, having worked with Michael Stanley in 1972 on the Friends & Legends LP), Geils worked with Gerry Beaudoin and Duke Robillard in the New Guitar Summit (utilizing the Bluestime rhythm section). Geils and Beaudoin also performed in an acoustic trio, Gerry Beaudoin's Kings of Strings, where Geils played rhythm guitar and Jerry Miller provided his mandolin. With all this musical output, Geils released his first solo record in 2003, a jazz CD which features many guest sax players. From the days when members of the J. Geils Band were on his case to learn more Jimi Hendrix riffs and he was off playing Charlie Christian instead, the founding member of a hugely popular and respected ensemble that opened for the Rolling Stones live and performed with Buddy Guy on record now has his guitar singing the music of his heart, the sounds that inspired one of the most familiar names in rock music.
Joe Viglione, Rovi