Jay Geils, whose blues rock band he co-founded with fellow Massachusetts-based musicians in the late 1960s, went on to considerable commercial success as the J. Geils Band, died today, April 11, at his Groton, Massachusetts home. He was 71.
Reports indicate that Geils died of natural causes. In a statement, Groton police said that officers went to a home on a “well being” check at 4 p.m. “Upon arrival to the house, police located a man who was unresponsive. He was declared dead at the scene,” said Chief Donald Palma in a statement.
Foul play is not suspected.
In the mid-’60s, J. Geils—his first name is John but he’s never used it professionally—teamed up with harmonica player Richard Salwitz (who called himself Magic Dick, and still does) and bassist Danny Klein to form an acoustic blues trio.
They were doing just fine on the local circuit when, in ’67, they decided to go electric, adding drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and a disc jockey/singer from The Bronx, New York, Peter Blankenfeld, who went by the name Peter Wolf. With the final addition, Justman, the J. Geils Band quickly found its niche.
Even as they became a word-of-mouth concert favorite throughout much of the U.S. (Detroit was a particularly hot market), the band’s album and single sales remained cool. Bloodshot, in 1973, became their first and only top 10 album for Atlantic Records, and none of their other singles for the label rose above #30 and they couldn’t break out of their B-level status.
That all changed when they signed with EMI America and a cable network called MTV flipped the switch in 1981. Their album Freeze-Frame was perfectly timed and after years of modest success, the album and its huge single, “Centerfold,” topped their respective charts. The title cut was also a smash, reaching #4.
This interview originally appeared on Best Classic Bands on September 13, 2015. Jay Geils turned 71 on February 20, 2017…
The J. Geils Band continues to motor on. But oddly, they do it without its namesake guitarist, J. Geils née John Geils, Jr., now professionally billed as Jay Geils. He left the group for good, perhaps, in 2012 (or so says Wikipedia).
“I don’t really remember exactly,” he confesses. “I know I played the Fenway Park show in 2010 and maybe one or two after that. Sorry I can’t be more specific. I honestly don’t remember where and when my last show was with the band.”
There was, for a few years, a fair amount of acrimony on both sides of the divide – Geils and the Geils Band. A large part of that had to do with a now-resolved lawsuit over ownership rights to the J. Geils Band name. With guitarist Geils out of the band for three years, we thought we’d check in on him to see how he looked back on it all.
Best Classic Bands: What are your thoughts on the J. Geils Band continuing on, playing gigs without you?
Jay Geils: It’s fine with me; it helps sell CDs and generate royalties.
BCB: I know there was a lawsuit going on. I’m not sure of the resolution. Can you talk about that at all?
JG: The suit is resolved and finalized to the benefit of both parties, in my opinion.
BCB: Have you come to a point where you wish them well in their endeavors or is there a bitterness that lingers?
JG: I wish them well. There is no bitterness on my part. I don’t know how they feel about me. I was tired of playing our brand of high-energy rock ‘n’ roll. As of five days ago, I’m closer to 70 than 69-years-old.
BCB: Are you proud of the band’s legacy?
JG: Of course I’m proud of our legacy. I founded the band as a Chicago-style blues band and it evolved into a bluesy rock band. I don’t care what any recording artist says; they all want a #1 gold single and we have two. And both originals by Seth and Peter: “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.” I actually have an autographed-to-me Playboy centerfold by a girl named Angel. (“Angel is the centerfold”) It was her favorite record.
BCB: What are your main musical pursuits at this point?
JG: I do a show occasionally called The Jay Geils Jazz and Blues Review with a few tunes sung by Cassandra McKinley – she’s a terrific singer – and sometimes with Fred Lipsius (Blood, Sweat & Tears), a great sax and piano player. I have also played some “special guest” gigs with James Montgomery and Jeff Pitchell and have coming up the special guest thing with Joe Louis Walker for a B.B. King tribute. I’m also playing trumpet again – my instrument from age 8 to 18 – and getting pretty good except for running out of lip!
I wrote about pop music and other arts for the Boston Globe for 25-plus years, with more than 10,000 stories to my credit before leaving in 2005. Since then I’ve freelanced for the Boston Phoenix, Boston Herald, Where magazine, Boston Common, Yankee magazine online, Time Out Boston, US News & World Report, the Cape Cod Times. I host the XFINITY on Demand music/interview show “Boston Rock/Talk,” and write and edit www.jimsullivanink.com, which serves as a critical guide to arts and events around metro Boston.