John Geils, Guitarist Of The J. Geils Band, Dies At 71

Apr 11, 2017
Originally published on April 12, 2017 8:13 am

John Geils Jr., who played guitar in the J. Geils Band, was found dead in his Massachusetts home, according to the Groton (Mass.) Police Department. He was 71. The police department said in a statement that he likely died of natural causes.

Geils is best known for the J. Geils Band's No. 1 hit, "Centerfold," which spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1982 and 25 weeks on the chart cumulatively. The band followed up the success with "Freeze-Frame," the title track to its 1981 album, which peaked at No. 4.

Before the band found mainstream success in the 1980s, the J. Geils Band were one of the more popular rock bands of the 1970s. The Boston-based blues-rock band released 10 albums during the decade, touching the top 10 of Billboard's album chart with 1973's Bloodshot.

Internal strife between songwriters Peter Wolf and Seth Justman resulted in the J. Geils Band temporarily breaking up in 1985. Geils continued to collaborate with the band's harmonica player, Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz, in Bluestime, which released two albums in the 1990s. The J. Geils Band reunited in 1999 for some live dates and performed sporadically thereafter.

Geils released his first solo album, Jay Geils Plays Jazz!, in 2005, drawing praise from prolific music analyst Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we are remembering a musician today whose band gave us these wise words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE STINKS")

J. GEILS BAND: (Singing) Love stinks. Love stinks, yeah, yeah.

GREENE: Yeah, that's The J. Geils Band. And their leader-guitarist John Warren Geils, well better known as J., died yesterday at the age of 71. This group was strictly a blues band when they got things started in the mid-'60s, but they would soon take on a rock 'n' roll swagger.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, they got this huge, massive regional fan base around Boston, slowly picking up a national following through the '70s. And by the middle of the decade, The J. Geils Band was opening for groups like The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart.

GREENE: Yeah, and their lead singer, Peter Wolf, really was stealing the show. He would twirl the microphone stand like it was a baton, riffing between songs, I mean, like a fiery preacher. But still, the heart of the band really came from J. Geils. His guitar playing was the calm - I think you could say - amid the chaos of his more flamboyant bandmates. He described his style to station WGBH in Boston in 2013.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN GEILS: I don't care if I ever took another solo. You know, everybody's into the Guitar Hero, oh. I would prefer to just do this (playing guitar).

MARTIN: At the beginning of the 1980s, The J. Geils Band combined those guitar chops with some new wave panache. And they scored huge hits doing so. The song "Centerfold" topped the charts. This one, "Freeze Frame" got to number four.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEZE FRAME")

J. GEILS BAND: (Singing) Freeze frame. Freeze Frame.

GREENE: But I mean, what band finds smashing success without some fighting within the group? Peter Wolf left to start his own career, and the band called it quits in 1985. J. Geils recorded sparingly after that. He spent most of his time restoring sports cars.

MARTIN: Geils lived in the town of Groton, Mass., for more than 30 years. After a constant rock star life on the road, he relished a more quiet life. He told The Boston Globe in 2004, quote, "everyone in town knows me. Nobody bugs me. I'm just a regular guy." J. Geils, rock star turned regular guy, died yesterday at the age of 71.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CENTERFOLD")

J. GEILS BAND: (Singing) My blood runs cold. My memory has just been sold. My angel is the centerfold. Angel is the centerfold. My blood runs cold. My memory has just been sold. Angel is the centerfold. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.