Musician J. Geils playing guitar in his home.

Credit: Howard Powell / WGBH

1 Guest: J. Geils

February 5, 2013

1981 -- it was the year that brought us the first space shuttle launch, the DeLorean, Donkey Kong, and "Centerfold," the J. Geils band hit that stayed at the top of U.S. charts for six weeks. The hit came of a decade of success as a party band, churning out memorable songs like "Love Stinks" and "Musta Got Lost," and catapulted J. Geils band into the spotlight.

Over three decades after the band's first top ten hit, Emily Rooney sat down with guitarist J. Geils to talk about music, memories, and what he'll do next.

On Meeting with His High School Guidance Counselor...

Typically in high school  you have a meeting with your guidance counselor in your sophomore or junior year — you're getting ready to go to college. And the first question is..."What do you think you want to do with the rest of your life?" And I said, "Well, I either want to be a race car driver or a jazz musician."

On Switching from Playing the Trumpet to Guitar...

I got to Boston in '64 [to attend Northeastern] and there's huge coffeehouse blues, folk scene. And there were a couple of hotshot guitar players in my dorm, one of whom is still in the vintage guitar business in Greenwich Village. And I said, "This is for me — I got to get on top of this." 

Showing Photos of His Musical Inspirations...

These are some of my favorite guys — Freddy King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. [King]. There's Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. I first played with them at The Unicorn in the summer of '67. This is me and Duane Allman — we were pretty good friends. This is us [J. Geils Band] on tour in '82 with the Rolling Stones. 

On Breaking into the Music Scene...

We had, in the early to mid '70s what were called turntable hits. It was a big time for underground radio — quote, unquote. WBCN in Boston, I'm sure you've heard of that. Peter Wolf [J. Geils Band lead singer] was the first DJ on BCN because he had a record collection. And the first studio was in the dressing room of the Boston Tea Party. I was there.

You could make a living. But everything changed once you went, as they say, national. We were playing either opening acts or there were a lot of triple act shows in those days. There would be an "LO," a local opener, and then us, and then Mountain, or Johnny Winter, or West, Bruce and Laing, or European groups.

You know, air travel was not that expensive. Holiday Inns were not that expensive. I stayed in a lot of Holiday Inns.

On the Height of J. Geils' Fame...

Our big year was really '82...we had the number one single and the number one album — pretty much in the wold. And in the summer of '82 we were the opening act, directly preceding the Rolling Stones on their European tour because we had the hit record. They needed us to sell tickets — imagine that. 

... It was quite an experience to be — quote, unquote — on top of the heap for a few months in Europe. The record company came over and we took a 90 foot yacht cruise from Nice up to Monaco, and they took us to dinner. The good quote is from the Mel Brooks movie [The History of the World, Part I], "It's good to be the king." At least for a couple of months. 

On Continuing to Play Jazz...

I always get billed as "rock guitarist J. Geils," but I never wanted to really be a rock and roll star. I wanted to just be a good musician ... My whole time growing up in my house all I heard was big band jazz, and then I started buying Miles Davis — I still have the first record I bought, "Working with the Miles Davis Quintet." I have the original mono version of "Kind of Blue."

Eventually, when I sold my business in '96, I had that rare thing where you have the time and the money to just do what you want to do. And it was like back in the '60s — I was practicing 10, 12 hours a day to get on top of how you play jazz.  

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