J. Geils Was A Rock Outlier

Sad to hear of the passing of John Warren Geils Jr., who surely had one of the more strange and unusual careers in Rock history. Here’s a guy whose band rode the top of the charts for a couple of years, and yet he didn’t write or sing any of his band’s material, and although everybody knew the name J. Geils, very few people could tell you what he actually looked like.

I can’t think of another band who had a career arc anything like the J Geils Band. Who else started in the Sixties as a blues band but didn’t reach their peak until the synthesized Eighties? Most Sixties bands had already fallen out of favor by the time the J. Geils Band was just hitting the top. They are one of Rock’s crazy anomalies.

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Geils’ father was a jazz enthusiast, and jazz represented Geils’ first love as well as the music he ended up playing in his later years. In between there was a lot of blues and rocking blues, power chords and doo wop swing, garage rock, synth rock and more. Geils’ biggest stroke of luck was hooking up with lead singer and songwriter Peter Wolf, as well as the harmonica player known as Magic Dick, who together had as much to do with the band’s sound as Geils did.

This is not to minimize Geils’ contributions. In fact, his versatility as a guitarist, whether it was delivering razor-sharp rhythm beds or peeling off searing lead licks, was ultimately what allowed the band to grow and change in the late Seventies and become the Rock giants they did in the Eighties. He was a natural-born collaborator, and the band wouldn’t have reached the heights it did had he not granted his bandmates the space to do their own things so well.

And he was never wedded to the Rock Star dream. After the band broke up in 1985 when Peter Wolf left, Geils said he didn’t even touch a guitar for ten years, preferring to feed his obsession with antique cars. The band did reunite in 1999, but it didn’t end well, with Geils suing his bandmates over the use of the J. Geils Band name. Egos clashing during bad times is a familiar Rock story. But Geils successfully keeping his ego out of the picture for so long is what allowed this band to find success in the first place.

Rock fans owe it to him, and to ourselves, to see that this band’s amazing body of work doesn’t go forgotten.

Photo by Carl Lender [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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