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Interview:
J. Geils Band Brings Back The Dee-troit Breakdown
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

It’s been nearly a decade since their last “Motor City shakedown.” But time has not diminished the mutual love affair between Detroit and the J. Geils Band.

The group members still refer to Detroit as their “adopted home town,” according to harmonica player Magic Dick Salwitz. And Detroit radio dutifully plays a full array of Geils favorites, including “Centerfold,” “Freeze Frame,” “Love Stinks,” “Give It To Me,” “Must Of Got Lost” and, of course, the anthemic “Detroit Breakdown.”

And when the group decided to get together in its home town of Boston earlier this year, it was fully open to bringing the Geils show back to the Motor City, too.

“This is not really a reunion tour, per se,” explains frontman Peter Wolf, “but we felt like it would be really meaningful to get back to Detroit. The people there have been so supportive of our career, and without Detroit, I don’t think the J. Geils Band would have made it as far as we did.

“So, I figured if we can do it here (in Boston), we can do it there, too.”

The current spate of Geils activity began on Feb. 19, when the group, which has been inactive since a short run of shows in 1999 — including three that summer at the Pine Knob (now DTE Energy) Music Theatre and a millennium New Year’s Eve date at the Palace — convened to play at the opening of the Boston House of Blues. “It was a fantastic offer we couldn’t refuse,” says Magic Dick, and the subsequent “buzz” stoked a bit of interest in doing something more.

“What we’re basically about is making people happy, including ourselves,” explains Magic Dick. “That’s what we do. So when the conditions are right, we’re ready — and there are a lot of conditions, various things that have to be right in order for all of us to agree to do these things.”

Wolf, who even at 63 is one of rock’s most hyper-kinetic showmen, adds that those conditions revolve around the fact that “Geils is a commitment, not only mentally, but physically. It’s not just another band up there strumming. You’ve got to be able to sort of let loose and shake, rattle and roll. So it’s a bigger commitment than many other bands that get out there.”

It was Wolf, born Peter Blankfield in the Bronx, who stopped feeling that commitment in 1983. He left Geils acrimoniously after 16 years, in the wake of the group’s greatest commercial success with 1981’s multimillion-selling “Freeze Frame” album. Magic Dick, keyboardist Seth Justman (who co-wrote most of Geils’ material with Wolf), bassist Danny Klein and guitarist and namesake Jerome Geils briefly tried to soldier on but packed it in after just one more album.

During its tenure, however, the group had forged a particularly strong bond with its Detroit audiences, a relationship chronicled on three live albums — 1972’s “ ‘Live’ Full House,” recorded at the Cinderella Ballroom, 1976’s “Blow Your Face Out,” recorded partly at Cobo Arena, and 1982’s “Showtime!” recorded at Pine Knob.

“For some reason, Detroit seemed to almost adopt the J. Geils Band,” Magic Dick recalls. “I think there may have been a significant number of people who thought the band was from Detroit because we played there so often and had such great success.”

Wolf, who toured in 2008 as a special guest in Kid Rock’s “Rock N Roll Revival” show, credits that “almost spiritual connection” to the band’s blue collar kind of work ethic.

“It was the nature of the shows — we really didn’t stop ‘til we dropped,” he says. “We try to give 110 percent, and there was a certain kind of energy that people responded to in the music. I think people realized, like, ‘Hey man, these guys are for real. They’ll bleed for us,’ and they remained very loyal to us.”

Geils will reward that loyalty this weekend via two shows filled with fan favorites. “I think it’s material that the audience that loves the J. Geils Band will be very familiar with,” Magic Dick says.

Wolf, meanwhile, says the band is “digging deep,” but not in any way that will leave fans scratching their heads.

“We’ve got (13) albums or so, so there’s a good amount of material to choose from,” he says. “There’s a lot of catalog, so we don’t have to stray far.”

But while the group will be celebrating Geils’ past, a future is very unlikely, according to Wolf.

“Right now nothing is moving in that direction,” says the singer, who’s slated to release his seventh solo album this summer. “I think it really has to do with everybody’s energies, and right now there’s really no plans. That could always change, I suppose, but I’d be very surprised if it does.”



The J. Geils Band and the Howling Diablos perform at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (April 24-25) at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Tickets are sold out. Call (313) 961-5451 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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