‘Our history is going to continue’: Peter Wolf discusses the ugly J. Geils Band lawsuit

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The J. Geils Band isn’t stuck in any freeze frame, despite an ongoing dispute with a former namesake member. In fact, the legendary party band will return to their home state this weekend for an appearance at Boston’s House of Blues.

Remembered by most for their 1981 charttopper “Centerfold,” the J. Geils Band had widespread radio exposure with 1974’s “Must of Got Lost,” 1980’s “Love Stinks” and 1981’s “Freeze Frame.” Co-founding frontman Peter Wolf left for a solo career in the early 1980s, but most of the original members reunited for tours between 1999-2010.

John Geils then filed an explosive suit against the group that bears his name when they announced this current nine-date tour, which started in late August. Geils, known both as “J” and “Jay” over the years, sued alleging trademark infringement, something the guitarist had claimed since 2008.

However, his former co-founding bandmates — including Wolf, Seth Justman, Danny Klein and Magic Dick Salwitz — say Geils made an agreement back in 1982 that actually limits his separate use of the band’s name. Geils countered that the document was improperly executed because he signed it without counsel.

Meanwhile, the J. Geils Band has continued with Duke Levine in the guitarist’s chair — and Wolf has taken to the airwaves to make the group’s case. He says the remaining friends are committed to moving forward.

“We have a long history and our history is going to continue,” Wolf told Chuck Nowlin on CBS affiliate 100.7 WZLX. “Like bands that stay around for decades, there are curves and twists and binds. The good ones are able to get through it.”

Wolf said the lawsuit arrived completely out of the blue: “What Jay did behind everyone’s back was very disturbing,” he said, adding he “did a very deceptive thing; it was not what we’d consider in any way a correct way to do to band brothers.”

As for whether the group should continue without its namesake, the lead singer was unequivocal: “The name,” Wolf said, “represents the group as a whole. … The J. Geils Band represents an energy, an attitude, and a catalog of work that I and Seth Justman have wrote and the band has for many years committed to play.”

In a quote that likely represents a general broadside against Geils himself, Wolf told Nowlin: “It’s not just the musicality; someone has to commit their body, mind and heart. It takes a lot of energy and passion to make the show what it is and provide the music the way we do it. … You gotta be able to work.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the J. Geils Band. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

J. GEILS BAND – BLOW YOUR FACE OUT (1976): For months and months, I looked at the cover of the spooky Geils record Nightmares. Never bought it though. At the time, “Give It To Me” (from Bloodshot) was getting a lot of airplay. The version of that song was probably coming from the live record Blow Your Face Out. Once they started playing “Musta Got Lost,” I was hooked. For years (until the Sanctuary and Love Stinks era) I listened to nothing but the live records (this one and Full House). They’re just too much fun: blues, funk, soul, heck … even a little comedy. If you think the J. Geils band was all about “Centerfold” you owe it to yourself to check ‘em out when they were truly at the top of their hip-shakin’ game.

JAY GEILS – TOE TAPPIN’ JAZZ (2009): Released near the end of 2009, this remains for me one of the most outstanding jazz albums in recent memory. Geils, calling himself “Jay” now, completely sheds his legendary persona as part of the Boston party band known for hits like “Lookin’ For a Love,” “Give It To Me,” “Must of Got Lost,” “Centerfold,” and “Love Stinks.” Who knew the hard-rocking Geils had this much love for jazz in his heart? The music is nothing fancy, nothing experimental. It’s just superbly played traditional jazz with the emphasis on melody and song structure. Sure, there is plenty of improvisation (what is jazz without that?) but it’s all very tastefully presented. The soloists never run amok or lose sight of the rest of the band because the group performs as a true ensemble.

PETER WOLF – MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS (2010): Let’s talk about the future. Specifically, one in which all of the physical objects of entertainment have been replaced by their digital counterparts. I had done a pretty good job of not thinking much about this recently, but then I watched a documentary on the making of Peter Wolf’s Midnight Souvenirs. He’s standing in his apartment in front of a long display of albums, saying that it’s not a record collection … it’s his “wall of influences.” It’s not a collection, it’s just “the stuff that I love.” There were Chicago blues albums and records by Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, and Lefty Frizzell. Had Wolf gone on, I’m sure we would have seen a bunch of soul and funk records too. Will “the console” take the place of just witnessing what a person has collected? I suppose it will have to. Just don’t look for one at my house. Instead, you can’t flip your way through all of my J. Geils records. They’ll be in between the Little Walter and the Howlin’ Wolf.

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  • Jeff Renzello

    My wife bought me 2-front row tickets for my birthday to the Aug. 26th show in Vermont ( I was raised in Boston and talked to her alot about the bands back then). So we didn’t find out till that night that Peter wolf was not going to be there and thih lawsuit. I was ready to go home but we stayed and the kid that took oner Peters place The Band did not even say his name to let other think it might be Peter and he tryed copying his style whitch we all now Peter Wolf Is Peter Wolf Thanks For your time I hope it get worked out.

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