In Memoriam of J. Geils

Earlier this week, blues and jazz guitarist J. Geils, who led what Rolling Stone called “the world’s greatest party band,” passed away at age 71.

Like most other people, the first time I heard about The J. Geils Band was in the early 80s when Centerfold was playing on the radio. The song and the album on which it appeared, Freeze-Frame, took the band to its commercial peak. Ironically, as is all too common in rock & roll, long sought and finally achieved success led to the band’s demise only a few years thereafter.

John Warren “J.” Geils Jr. was born in New York on Feb 20, 1946. As a child, he listened to Count Basie, Duke EllingtonBenny Goodman and other artists in the record collection of his father, who was a big jazz fan. During his high school years, he took up the trumpet and learned how to play Miles Davis tunes. But after Geils had heard Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and other blues legends on the radio, he put the trumpet aside and switched to blues guitar.

In 1965, while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Geils got together with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz to form Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio. In 1968, the band changed its style to electric blues, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and became The J. Geils Blues Band. Later that year, keyboarder Seth Justman completed the lineup. Prior to the release of its eponymous 1970 debut album, the band dropped “Blues” from its name.

J Geils Band Live Full House

While The J. Geils Band may be best known to most people for Love Stinks, Centerfold and Freeze-Frame, they were at their very best during their earlier years, particularly as a live band. In addition to 11 studio albums, 30 singles and various compilations, the band recorded three live albums between 1970 and its breakup in 1985. In particular Live Full House from 1972 is truly electrifying. I had a chance to see the band live myself in New Jersey in 2013, when they were an opening act – I believe for Bon Jovi. They played a great set, though Geils was not part of the lineup.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album.

Apart from their own music, the band recorded fantastic covers of songs from other artists, especially on their early albums.  First I Look at the Purse (Robert Roberts, Smokey Robinson) and Homework (Otis Rush, Al Perkins, Dave Clark) from their first album, and So Sharp (Arlester Christian) and Looking For a Love (J.W. Alexander, Zelda Samules) from the second studio album The Morning After are great examples in this context.

J Geils and Peter Wolf

After the band split up in 1985, Geils got into car racing and restoring old sports cars. In 1992, he returned to music, producing an album for Klein and forming a band with Salwitz called Bluestime for Magic Dick. They released two albums: Bluestime (1994) and Little Car Blues (1996). Another project included New Guitar Summit, a blues trio with Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin, which released two records in 2004. In 2005, Geils also put out a solo jazz album, Jay Geils Plays Jazz.

The J. Geils Band did occasional reunions after their breakup. Then things started to go downhill. In 2009, Geils obtained a trademark for The J. Geils Band name, of which he informed his band mates in 2011, his lawyer told Billboard. In August 2012, Geils sued his former band mates after they had announced a tour without him. As reported by Rolling Stone, he claimed Wolf, Salwitz, Klein and Justman “planned and conspired” to exclude him from the tour while unlawfully using the group’s trademarked name.

On April 12, Geils was found dead by police officers at his home in Groton, Mass. He appeared to have died of natural causes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Geils and his former band mates reconciled.

Here’s a clip of a live performance of First I Look At the Purse.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, YouTube

 

Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan

Today 26 years ago, the world lost one of the best blues guitarists.

As I have previously written on this blog, Stevie Ray Vaughan was an amazing blues guitarist. On August 26, 1990, he died in a helicopter crash at the age of 35.

To remember this incredible artist Guitar World posted a great YouTube video on their web site. It shows Stevie and his band Double Trouble in January 1986 during a sound-check. They’re playing Scuttle Buttin, one of my favorite Vaughan tunes, Ain’t Gone ‘n’ Give Up on Love and Say What!

As they say, a picture, or in this case a clip, speaks more than a 1,000 words!

Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck at PNC Bank Arts Center, NJ

The second show of my concert summer season featured guitar legends (and cool septuagenarians) Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck.

Last night (July 26), I had a chance to see Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. From the moment I started exploring Buddy’s music in greater detail earlier this year (admittedly very late!) I wanted to see this amazing blues guitarist live. And when I learned he is doing a summer tour with Jeff Beck and they are playing in my neck of the woods, it was an easy decision.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a great outdoor venue, in my opinion – not too big, not to small. I’ve seen other fantastic gigs there, including Santana, Steve WinwoodThe Allman Brothers and Tom Petty. Yesterday, the weather was brutally hot, so luckily the show only started at 8:00 pm!

Buddy kicked things off, which almost made it feel like he was opening up for Jeff. While Jeff played the longer set, it should have been the other way around. After all, it was Buddy who was around first and influenced Jeff and many other great guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards! I read Clapton once called him “the best guitar player alive.”

Buddy was truly on a misson, saying he wants to save the blues. His guitar-playing was simply out of this world. I also thought he had a pretty strong voice. Both certainly did not give you any clue that the man is close to 80 years old. In fact, his 80th birthday (July 30) is just around the corner! In addition to playing and singing with an impressive amount of energy, Buddy also went on a little hike off the stage to walk through the audience in the front of the venue – pretty cool.

I thought highlights of Buddy’s set included Damn Right I’ve Got the BluesHoochie Coochie Man and Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me). He also played two songs from his latest album, Born to Play the Guitar, including the title song. Unfortunately, he did not perform my favorite from that album, Whiskey, Beer & Wine, which currently is also my overall favorite Buddy Guy song.

Next it was Jeff’s turn. He certainly delivered as well! In addition to his amazing guitar-playing, I was mostly impressed with his band, especially singer Rosie Bones who also appears on his latest album Loud Hailer, singer Jimmy Hall and dynamite bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.

I think my favorite of Jeff’s set was the version of the Sam Cooke classic, A Change is Gonna Come. Jimmy Hall did an outstanding job on vocals. Other highlights included Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and the instrumental of The Beatles’ A Day In the Life, which was the final song of the night.

Perhaps the only thing that could have made the show even better would have been at least one song both of these fantastic guitarists would have performed together, just like they do in the above photo!

The Electrifying Stevie Ray Vaughan

A little tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was one of the greatest electric blues guitarists

This morning, I listened to my blues playlist in iTunes. One of the songs was Hank Ballard’s Little Sister performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Every time I listen to Stevie, I get goose bumps. I think he was one of the most amazing electric blues guitarists.

In addition to Little Sister, which was included on Stevie’s 1985 album Soul to Soul, some my favorite tunes from him include Pride And Joy (from Texas Flood, 1983), Cold Shot (Couldn’t Stand the Weather, 1984) and Tin Pan Alley. The latter, which also appeared on the Couldn’t Stand the Weather album, is one of the best slow blues tunes ever, in my opinion.

Sadly, Stevie died in a helicopter crash in August 1990. He was only 35 years old. But his music undoubtedly continues to live on.

The other day, Guitar World had a cool clip of Stevie and Jeff Healey, playing Little Sister together back in 1987. Jeff, another terrific electric blues guitarist, also passed away in the meantime (March 2008). Check out the clip at http://www.guitarworld.com/stevie-ray-vaughan-and-jeff-healey-play-look-little-sister-video/25997.

 

My Late “Discovery” of Buddy Guy

While I had heard of Buddy Guy before, it was not until a few months ago that I began exploring his music – better late than never!

It all started when I came across Whiskey, Beer and Wine, a song from Buddy Guy’s most recent studio album Born to Play Guitar, released last year – the title couldn’t be more fitting!

What an amazing guitarist and what a fantastic tune! When I listened to it for the first time, I could picture Jimi Hendrix before my eyes. And no wonder, from what I read, Jimi was one of many top-notch guitarists who were influenced by Buddy. Others include Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few.

It’s also amazing to me that when you listen to Born to Play Guitar, you certainly don’t realize Buddy is close to 80 years old. He seems to have the energy of a young Jimi Hendrix!

Buddy was born in Lettsworth, LA on July 30, 1936. He started performing with bands in Baton Rouge in the early 1950s. His debut solo album, I Left My Blues in San Francisco, came out in 1967. Buddy has since released 16 additional studio albums and various live albums. He has also collaborated with numerous other artists on more than 20 albums.

Born to Play Guitar and six other of Buddy’s albums have won Grammys for Best (Contemporary) Blues Album. I think this record speaks for itself.

I know it’s impossible to know all music, but if you like Blues and were like me just a few months ago, go and check him out! And if you need additional encouragement, a clip of Whiskey, Beer and Wine is here.