Peter Wolf, the dynamic rock and blue-eyed soul frontman singer for the J. Geils Band, who co-wrote some of the band’s most popular songs such as “Love Stinks,” and “Must Of Got Lost,” is gearing up to play the Academy of Music in Northampton on Oct. 13.
Valley Advocate Staff Writer Chris Goudreau interviewed Wolf about his upcoming performance in Northampton, his early days as an art student in Boston, past performances in Western Massachusetts venues, and his favorite J. Geils Band record.
Chris: First I’d like to ask you about your latest record, A Cure For Loneliness. Could you tell me about the recording process for that record?
Peter: I have a band that I’ve been working with for a long time — The Midnight Travelers — and we’re like an ensemble. They work with me on many of the solo records. And it always starts with the songs and I work with Kenny White, who’s a singer-songwriter and an old friend, and we start with the songs. And then we all get together in a studio that we feel has the right feel to it and is able to give us a real pure sound.
Chris: If there are one or two records that you’d like to talk about, some of your favorites, playing with the J. Geils Band, what would they be?
Peter: As far as Geils Band, I’d say my favorite Geils album would probably be Live Full House. And the reason for that is it captured an evening where we were pretty much on fire playing to an audience … It was the beginning of a very long relationship with the Geils Band and Detroit, where we built a very large following throughout the years. And if you listen to Full House, it’s a pretty accurate snapshot of what it was like being at a J. Geils show. When I hear that record, it just pulls me back to those days where we used to do 200 some odd shows a year. Just traveling in a station wagon going from city to city to city and never stopping for decades.
Chris: One thing I read up about was that you got into singing by sort of having an epiphany playing with the Hallucinations. Could you tell me more about that?
Peter: I was going to art school studying a very serious painter and I got a scholarship to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. And one day there was this loft party. Nobody really had any money, but the way you got into this party was to bring a jug of some cheap wine. There was a band of art students playing. They were playing a song off a record I just bought; a blues record. And the lead singer forgot the words. I happened to yell over, ‘I know the words’ and they said, ‘Well, why don’t you come up and sing?’ When I was very young I had this group; we did this talent show in the Bronx, that we didn’t too well at, but other than that this was the first time I was ever really in front of people performing. It was just sort of a whim. It just was this sort of profound, one could say revelation, that I really enjoyed. Rather than painting, it was very immediate.
I asked these guys what they’re doing and just started coming to their rehearsals. Slowly, I ended up becoming the lead singer and our first gig was with John Lee Hooker and our second gig was with the Velvet Underground and the Shirelles. We played with Sun Ra and a lot of great jazz guys. Then, we went out with Muddy Waters for a good long time. Then, Van Morrison. So, it happened very quickly.
Chris: That must have been amazing for you. I heard that you were a blues fan back then. To open up for John Lee Hooker, that must have been amazing.
Peter: It was really exciting for me. I worshiped John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Just having the opportunity of getting to know these artists and like Muddy and John Lee, becoming very close friends, there was so much that I learned from osmosis; just by being around them.
Chris: Do you have any fond memories of specific venues in Massachusetts that you loved playing?
Peter: Well, there used to be a place up in your neck of the woods called Woodrose Ballroom, which was in South Deerfield, and that was a great place. It was an old ballroom and they had the Flying Burrito Brothers … Many of the clubs that I played are gone. When Hallucinations first started we played at a place called the Combat Zone [in Boston], which was basically a lot of mob clubs that you’d do four or five sets a night. And they were kind of like bucket of blood places. But that’s where we kind of broke in a lot of our material and got to meet a lot of touring bands. I remember one day Duke Ellington coming in.
Chris: Are you still involved with painting?
Peter: Yeah, I do. I get yelled at all the time for coming in with stacks of art books. One of the ways I enjoy relaxing is going into bookstores and hunting down these great old art books that are quickly being put out of print or are out of print … An empty canvass is like an empty page when you’re trying to write a song. And so, there is a similarity at least in accomplishment. You work on it until you feel it’s finalized.
Chris: What are some of the things that you love about playing in front of an audience?
Peter: As a frontman to these great musicians I work with, my job is to make sure that we’re able to connect with the audience and I think that’s the job and role of a lot of frontmen … For me it’s what it’s all about because you can play with musicians at a practice pad, but getting in front of a live audience, that’s when everything sort of comes together for me.
Chris: What are you planning to perform for your Northampton show at the Academy of Music?
Peter: I’m glad to say that I have an amazing band that travels and records with me and what we do is we go through all different kinds of textures and influences and different kinds of genres of music. I do a lot things from my solo works, some songs I haven’t recorded, and I pick some of my favorite Geils songs depending on the evening. It turns out to be a pretty interesting and diverse kind of music, if I don’t say so myself.