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Music is Peter Wolf's personal cure for loneliess
"A Cure For Loneliness" wasn't the first title Peter Wolf had in mind for his latest solo album.
And even though the dynamic frontman of the J. Geils Band has never been a particularly lonely guy, it does sum up a role that music has played in his life.
"Oh yeah, most definitely," the 70-year-old singer says by phone from his home in the Boston area. "When I grew up, music was a constant by me. My dad was involved in music; He was a singer and vaudevillian. So music was all around me.
"And when I first got involved in rock 'n' roll I was very young. My first concert was Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. I saw the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll when I was 10 years old, and from that point on it was just something that I became possessed with."
That obsession has served him well over the years. Wolf -- who was born Peter Blankfield in the Bronx and was a disc jockey on Boston's WBCN-FM, where he created his "Woofa Goofa with the green teeth" alter ego before launching the J. Geils Band in 1967 -- has been recording since 1970 and was part of six gold and two platinum albums, as well as seven Top 40 hits including Geils favorites such as "Centerfold," "Freeze-Frame," "Must Of Got Lost" and "Give It To Me." He's been recording solo since 1984, and his life as a rock 'n' roll raconteur includes duets with Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Wilson Pickett and others, as well as an appearance on Kid Rock's Rock 'n' Roll Revival tour in 2008.
Wolf has remained active with the Geils Band, a Detroit favorite that recorded all or part of its first three live albums in the metro area, since it resumed playing live shows in 2009. But his main focus has been on his solo work -- albeit with space between albums. "A Cure For Loneliness" comes five years after "Midnight Souvenirs," which was eight years after "Sleepless."
"The last bunch of records have just been explorations in trying to keep it moving forward and keep it interesting and enduring and prevailing and trying to explore the music that I love," Wolf explains.
"If you were to come over to my house, we might spend the night going from Ray Price to John Coltrane to the Zombies. I will go from all sorts of erratic listening. I think it happens moreso these days than ever with people because of so many people shuffling through different kinds of music (online), so I don't find it unusual.
"But that just might be me."
Fittingly, the 12 tracks on "A Cure For Loneliness," which came out April 8in six years, are all over the place stylistically, mixing studio creations with live recordings -- including a jaunty bluegrass-flavored romp through Geils' "Love Stinks." Some of the songs have been around for awhile; Wolf wrote "It's Raining" with Don Covay for his "Midnight Souvenirs" and recorded it last year, with the intention of inviting the late Bobby Womack to guest on it.
"As I came out of the studio finishing the track, the producer said, 'Pete, you won't believe this. I jsut noticed on my phone that Bobby Womack passed," Wolf recalls. "I was determined to try to get him for this record and I knew he had been ill, but that was still kind of a shock."
The live rendition of "Love Stinks," meanwhile, reflects the anything-goes spirit of Wolf's solo band, the Midnight Travelers.
"There was a segment in the set that night that was a tribute to kind of country, bluegrass music," Wolf remembers. "I met Bill Monroe a couple of times, so we were doing some Bill Monroe/Stanley Brothers songs and I started messing around with 'Love Stinks' backstage. And during the show I just started going into it; we were in the midst of doing 'When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again' and I just started singing ('Love Stinks') and the band followed me.
"It was just a real spontaneous thing. And we happened to be recording that night and it sounded so good we put it on (the album). It was a happy accident."
Wolf says there are a lot of those these days thanks to the facile Midnight Travelers, whose lineup includes current Geils guitarist Duke Levine and keyboardist Kenny White, who co-produced "A Cure For Loneliness" with Wolf. "It's an organic thing, all improvised," Wolf says. "We try to keep a certain spontaneity so each show doesn't seem like a cookie cutter.
"That's what I love about working with the group of players I have; They're such unique players and great artists in their own right, and there's nothing more exciting for me than to come in with a song and let the other artists kick it around. It's always a surprise, what you come up with. It's a great situation."
Wolf will be concentrating on "A Cure For Loneliness" this year, with nothing on the books for Geils right now. But Wolf, who left the band temporarily in 1983, says Geils is still an active concern and works when it's members decide the time is right.
"There's no rhyme or reason; It starts with a phone call and goes from there," Wolf says. "The Geils catalog of songs is such an important part of my life and I was so absorbed in it and I helped create so much of it, it's always an interesting experience when we get that together.
"And if it's done right -- that's the key thing, if it's done right -- It doesn't feel like nostalgia. I don't want that. I want to keep ti exciting and fresh and musically as high a bar as it can be, or I wouldn't be part of it. That's how I feel about everything in music, really. If it's not interesting, why do it?"
8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 19 and 20.
The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor.
Tickets are $38 general admission, $68 gold circle.
Call 734-761-1818 or visit theark.org.
Note: Wolf returns to open for the Steve Miller Band at 7:30 p.m. June 24 at the DTE Energy Music Theatre. Tickets are $29.95-$125 pavilion, $20 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.
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