Back in December, the J. Geils Band rolled into town for a show at Quicken Loans Arena supporting Bob Seger; it marked their first Cleveland area appearance in 15 years. Don’t take that personally — since their initial reunion in 1999 for a short tour, the band has played shows sporadically with charismatic frontman Peter Wolf continuing to put the main focus on his solo career. Thankfully though, the Seger gigs went over so well that the band is back out for another set of fall tour dates — it’s headlining this time around with another longtime Cleveland favorite, Ian Hunter, booked as the opener.
“I always tried to have strong support that would make the evening better for the audience and this was in the era when there were always three bands and at least two good bands on a show,” Wolf says during a recent phone conversation. “Throughout the years, U2 opened up for us, Tom Petty opened up for us, Billy Joel opened up for us, the Allman Brothers opened up for us and one of the people that opened up for us was Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. It was always great to see them and I knew Mott the Hoople, so I got to spend some time with Ian and through the years, he would come to Boston. His shows were always just so stellar. They were so fresh and I found myself just becoming a fan of what he did. I thought that like what Geils did with Seger where they sort of created an entertaining first part of the evening, I thought that Ian would do the same, because he’s just such an important artist and I think [he’s] someone who hasn’t really gotten the popularity [that he deserves], because he’s continually releasing records and he continues to have a quality band. So I’m really looking forward to sharing this tour with him.”
many of their classic rock contemporaries that are out on the road every summer, Wolf and the members of the J. Geils Band are careful not to wear out their welcome. As a result, each opportunity to see the Boston-bred band feels uniquely special. Wolf enjoys the chance to revisit his Geils past, but says there isn’t any creative overlap between his solo work and the shows that he plays with the band.
“It’s not unlike an actor that makes a movie, like Johnny Depp is making Pirates 7 or whatever it is and then he goes back and does a movie on Whitey Bulger,” he says. “It’s two different entities, the concentration is different, the approach to the stage is different and that’s what I enjoy about it is that it is different. You know, I enjoy jumping back to the Geils stuff — we don’t do it that frequently, so when I do get an opportunity to jump back, it’s a way of revisiting the material that I helped create, but it’s the solo stuff that I really feel most enthused about. Not that I don’t feel enthused about the Geils, but the Geils is sort of, it’s more of a house party feeling, where we get together and kick up a lot of the songs that we’ve made familiar and popular.”
Wolf takes more of an introspective approach to his solo material and he’s currently wrapping up his next album, which he says will be out in February or March of next year.
“It’s pretty much a continuum of the Sleepless and Midnight Souvenirs [albums]. There’s no duets on this one, because it just didn’t seem to call for it,” Wolf says. “I don’t like to do a duet just to kind of say, ‘Hey, so and so is hot right now, let’s get them on the record.’ There are so many artists that I do know, just through all of the years of touring. You know, the other day, Elvis Costello was in town and before that, Billy Joel played Fenway Park and U2 was in town. We’ve remained friends all of these years and it’s easy to ask somebody, ‘Hey, would you like to sing on something,’ but it’s really not [about] having a well known artist on it, it’s really for me, does it work or not work or is it needed or not needed. So I’m excited about this new one and it’s a continuum sort of in the texture of the last several solo records that I did make.”
Longtime collaborator Will Jennings was once again in the songwriting mix for the new album and Wolf says that his presence helps to keep the creative process flowing smoothly.
“Will is someone that’s been an important part of my solo career,” Wolf says. “I enjoy collaborating because I find that if I sit alone, I get too scattered and never really have the discipline to get things completely done. So with Will, who is such a talented writer and who has done things with Stevie Winwood and won Grammys and Oscars, when I get out, he and I spend a good deal of time, but we always come up with [good results]. Even if I’ve written a song already, I’ll bring it out to Will, and it’s always better after the maestro’s hands are placed on it.”
The experience of making the Midnight Souvenirs album, which was released in 2010, is one that sticks with him. He got the chance to work with a number of friends on the album, both old and new. Wolf marked at least one item off of his own personal bucket list when he collaborated with Merle Haggard on the album closer, “It’s Too Late For Me,” an experience which he says was a real thrill. “Merle was somebody who I always admired and I got to meet several times, but I never dreamed he would consent to doing a recording with me.” He also had the opportunity to work with longtime friend Neko Case.
“I got to see her when she was first starting at a small club in Cambridge, Mass., and she had driven in from Montreal, her and her band,” he recalls. “They hadn’t eaten, so I knew the club owner and I got them some food. Then I had them follow me to the turnpike, because they had to be in New York the next day and we just became friends ever since. We were out at dinner one time and she asked me what I was doing and I said I was doing a new record. She said, ‘Well, if there’s a song that you think would be suited for me, I’d love to sing with you.’ And so ‘The Green Fields of Summer’ became the song that I thought she could really sound great on and that’s how all of that came about.”
Wolf was in Cleveland earlier this year to induct the Paul Butterfield Blues Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he was diplomatic when it came to sharing his thoughts on the possibility of the J. Geils Band being inducted someday and the recent concerns that the Hall might be moving away from inducting older artists.
“Well, you know, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has their own rules and regulations. We’ve been nominated, I think, three times,” he says. “I got to induct one of my favorite artists and one of my heroes, Jackie Wilson, before I did the Paul Butterfield [induction] and I have attended many of the ceremonies — I think almost all of them. It’s the kind of thing where if you’re nominated, it’s a thrill, but if you’re inducted, it’s something that means a lot and it’s one of those things that if it happens, it happens and if it doesn’t, well, you just keep doing what you do. There’s a lot of artists I love that have not even been nominated, so it’s a big ocean out there and I know what you’re saying, I think they’re trying to perhaps keep it interesting for newer audiences — I’m not sure. But it would be nice to be part of it. I’ve been part of it in one way and it would be nice to be inducted. But again, if it happens, it does.”
J. Geils Band, Ian Hunter, 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $52.50-$79.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.