Music Times Talks to Peter Wolf about New Solo Work, the J. Geils Band and More
The J. Geils Band will be rolling into our hometown of New York City in a few weeks…for the first time in a few decades. Vocalist Peter Wolf took some time to talk to Music Times about the last gig the band played when they were in town (headlining Madison Square Garden), his forthcoming solo release, the chances that the group will find a home in the rock and Roll Hall of Fame and slang as translated by Sam The Sham. Don't be an "L-seven" (you'll learn what that means later): Check it out.
Music Times: I understand you guys are going to be playing at the Beacon Theatre in a couple of weeks, and that's a really iconic venue for your era. Have you played there before, or can you can you shed some light on what about that venue resonates with rockers like the Allman Brothers and yourself?
Peter Wolf: That's an interesting question Ryan, but no, the J. Geils Band never played there. The reason being that a lot of times when we come to New York, we would play the Fillmore East or we would play the Palladium. The Beacon really wasn't doing shows at that time. It wasn't until later on that they started doing shows. I've of course attended many great rock shows there but never played there.
Aright. Add it to the list then.
We're excited because I've seen so many different artists there, from Dylan to the Stones. We're looking forward to rolling in. We haven't played a full show in New York in...decades. I think the last we actually played a full show, we were headlining Madison Square Garden in the "Freeze Frame" tour.
Wow. Looking at your career, personally, I understand you're going to roll out a new solo album before the end of the year?
Yeah, I'm very excited. It's done, it's completed, it should be out in February or March. It's untitled as of yet. So if you come up with any titles during this interview, that'd be helpful (editor's note: We forgot to answer this question, but we recommend Elbow/Face. No reason.). It's a continuation of the solo work I've been doing and I'm very excited by it.
I didn't come prepared with anything but if it comes to mind, I'll let you know (see above). Looking at your last solo album, Midnight Souvenirs, there was a bit of a country bent on there, at least in terms of the guest stars. Do you have any notable names that are going to be appearing with you on this one?
Well, the last bunch of albums...I did one with Aretha Franklin, I did one with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and Steve Earle. With Midnight Souvenirs I had Shelby Lynne, Neko Case, Merle (Haggard). When I use guest artists, I don't like to use them to exploit fame or whatever. I just use them because I think they would be interesting and help the song. This time, nothing popped up that seemed to...that another voice would lend to. This one, there's no duets. Shelby and I did something again but I don't think that's going to be included. It's pretty much some of the stellar musicians that I've used in the previous solo recordings, but there's no "special guests" on this.
Totally theoretically, is there anyone you would just love to work with on a solo album?
Oh, there's a lotta people I'd love to work with but there's so many artists that I already have worked with that I love. Big Rolling Stones fan so to work with Mick and Keith was great...Aretha is Aretha...the queen of soul. I've done stuff with Wilson Pickett, I've done stuff with Solomon Burke, I've recorded with Little Milton, done stuff with Muddy Waters. But I'm a fan of so many different artists. I've jammed with so many artists but not officially recorded. It's a long wish list.
Your rep informed me that you enjoy painting as a hobby and I believe you did the album art on Midnight Souvenir...
Yeah, I did.
It might be too early to ask this but any idea on what it's going to be for the new record? Will you handle that again?
I have some things we're starting to put together now because the album's already been mastered. I have some working titles and I have some working artwork for it, but I would think in the next week or two it'll all be decided. Still uncertain of how that's gonna be.
Getting back to the J. Geils Band, and I'm sure you get asked this question more than you care to hear, but I'd be remiss not to ask...
Who's the best looking in the J. Geils Band?
No, but go ahead and answer that one.
No no no, I'm only joking.
Would there ever be any thought towards a new album from the group? I know it's been three decades...
Well, when we went our separate ways, due to artistic differences, there was the thought that that was it, we would never play again. I hate to answer it with a cliché, "never say never," but if you would ask me now, I would say "I don't think so" because there's so much of my involvement in the solo work and there's so much artistic rewards that I get from the solo work—I mean satisfaction artistically—that I get fully encompassed with it. I enjoy the Geils Band. We don't get out and tour that much, it's very infrequently that we do, and so I enjoy revisiting a lot of the material that I helped create and write and make popular. That's always fun. All of my energies have been put to continuing the solo work, so to do a Geils album—all the time it would take and the energy—it seems unlikely.
I had the chance to head up to Cleveland this year for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, where you spoke on behalf of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I know the J. Geils Band has kind of been on the cusp...is that something that keeps you up at night?
Well, we've been nominated three times and it's always exciting. We'd be honored to be inducted. It just, for whatever reason to this point, has never happened. It's one of those things where if it does come along, one would be grateful for, but it's not the kind of thing that I personally dwell on. One of my great heroes and influences is Jackie Wilson, and I got the honor of inducting him into the Hall of Fame and, as you say, Paul Butterfield. I've been to almost all of the ceremonies. The Geils Band has come up but...the voting or the politics, I'm not sure, it's not quite made the final induction list. Time will tell, as they say.
Comparing you guys with the Butterfield Blues Band: Paul Butterfield, obviously an iconic harmonica player. You guys have Magic Dick in the Geils Band...I don't know how much attention you pay to the harmonica personally, but I wonder if there are any artists nowadays that don't get enough attention for it.
Actually, I was a harmonica player in the first band that I played (The Hallucinations), but when I met up with Dick, who had so many styles and was so versatile, there was no need to have two, so I put mine away. I think Dick really encompasses, has really been able to recreate and carry forth the styles of the great Chicago harmonica players. There's a lot out there, a lot of really good players, with Dick being up there on the top shelf. The harmonica's an interesting instrument. There's different styles—Bob Dylan uses one kind of style, Neil Young uses another kind of style. Magic Dick bases his styles on Little Walter and Junior Wells and Sonny Boy Williamson. Just like guitar players. There are certain guitar players that might be influenced by Albert King, like Eric Clapton was, or there are other artists that are influenced by Keith Richards or Jimi Hendrix.
Well, to wrap things up, on a more personal note, I have to tell you that my sister was pushing very strongly as we prepared for my wedding last year that "Centerfold" be included in the reception soundtrack and she hasn't forgiven me for it, so I was hoping I could get a formal pardon from you.
You got a formal pardon, but what song did you end up using for your wedding song?
Well it wasn't a first dance kind of thing. We just had a playlist for the night. More than enough to fill the time and it didn't get played, but my brother's song got played so she was miffed.
Oh. What's your brother's song?
He was "Wooly Bully" by Sam The Sham (and The Pharaohs).
Oh yeah. You know what an "L-seven" is, from that song?
Uh...like, the machine gun?
No, no. He says "let's not be an L-seven, get up and learn to dance."
No, I have no idea.
Well if you take your left hand, right? And make an "L" with your thumb and index finger.
And then you take your right hand and make an "L" and touch your thumbs, you get a shape that's a square. So "don't be an L7" means "don't be a square." Come on out and dance.
Oh man. I got it.
I learned that because my first band, we opened up for Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs. He was quite a character.
We witnessed him performing "Wooly Bully" live in Worcester, MS. We were the opening act and he...he's somebody that should be in the Hall of Fame. He was a character. He would wear a turban and his band, I think, was comprised of guys who were all like 15-years-old, Tex-Mex players. He was quite a character. Anyway, tell your sister you have reprieve from me.