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J. Geils 

By C.G. Wolfe

(supplementary musings, assorted  ruminations, and stuff from past issues)

​​​​​Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers alike are mourning the passing of J. Geils, a guitarist whose eponymous group, the J.Geils Band, was part of the soundtrack of our high school and college days, bringing us everything from the amped-up blues of the 1970s to the synthesized, new wave sounds of the 1980s.

Black River Ramblings

This week's Ramblings pays tribute to Notable New Jerseyan and Bernards High School Graduate  J.Geils


In honor of the upcoming Willowwood Lilac Party, our Special Photo Feature this month is from our Summer 2013 article,"The Hidden World of Willowwood." 

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Born John Warren Geils, Jr. on February 20, 1946, in New York City, “J” whose father worked for Bell Labs, grew up in Morris Plains, New Jersey but spent his high school years in the Somerset Hills. The Geils’ moved to a house on Old Farm Lane in Bedminster Township in 1959, and Geils graduated from Bernards High School, in Bernardsville, in 1964 (two years ahead of sophomore, Meryl Streep), where he played horn in the high school band.

After graduation, Geils moved to Massachusetts to attend college at Northeastern before transferring to Worcester Polytechnic Institute to study mechanical engineering. Here, Geils, who eventually traded in his trumpet for a blues guitar, hooked up with harmonica player Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz and bassist Danny Klein to form his first band, Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels. They later moved to Boston, and with the addition of drummer Stephen Jo Bladd, keyboard player Seth Justman, and vocalist Peter Wolf, formed The J. Geils Blues Band which was later shortened to The J. Geils Band.

Geils was often overshadowed by his charismatic, fast-talking front man Peter Wolf, a former Boston radio disc jockey known as “Woofa Goofa.” But for most fans, Wolf’s funk just wouldn’t have been as funky without Geils’ bluesy riffs, and driving leads, never demonstrated better than in 1977's live version of
"(Ain't Nothin' But) a House Party," recorded at the legendary Winterland Ballroom (if you haven't seen or heard it lately, check it out on YouTube). The J. Geils Band churned out albums from 1970 to 1984 and had early top 40 hits with a cover version of The Valentinos' "Lookin' for a Love," which appeared on their second album The Morning After, and another one of my favorites, “Must of Got Lost” from 1974’s Nightmares...and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle.

Though many will always remember them as the ultimate live party band of the 70s, J. Geils reached their peak commercial success in the 1980s with a string of hits that were staple rotations on MTV, including "Come Back," "Freeze Frame," "Centerfold," (which spent six weeks at number one on the "Billboard Hot 100"), and “Love Stinks,” which saw new life in 1998, when it was performed by Adam Sandler in the movie, The Wedding Singer. 

When Peter Wolf left the band in 1983, to launch a solo career, leading to the band’s eventual dissolution in 1985. Geils turned to his second love, auto racing, and started KTR Motorsports, a vintage sports car restoration shop in Carlsile, Massachusetts. He returned to music in the 1990s, producing, and playing in the bands Bluestime, the New Guitar Summit and the Kings of Strings, and released a solo jazz album in 2005. Geils and his horn came back to Bernardsville in 2015, for his induction into the Bernards High School “Wall of Honor,” where he played the school’s rally song and thrilled the audience with a few blasts of “Centerfold.” 

J. Geils was found dead in his Groton, Massachusetts home on April 11, 2017, but he'll live on in our hearts and on our classic rock stations.

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John Warren Geils, Jr.  yearbook picture, 1964

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