Wednesday, July 07, 2010

J. Geils Band bookends year

The J. Geils Band earned a reputation as a top-notch
live act in the early1970s.


My senior year at Central Michigan University began and ended with the J. Geils Band.

Just weeks after I returned to the Mount Pleasant campus for the fall semester, the powerhouse Boston-based outfit unleashed their "Full House" long-player.

The dynamic live album quickly became a favorite around Herrig Hall and indeed around the country.

Although I was busy studying journalism and political science, one important lesson I learned was that if you wanted to start a party, play the new J. Geils Band record.

When you did, singer Peter Wolf, harp player "Magic Dick" Salwitz and guitarist J. (short for Jerome) Geils would leap from the speakers.

Before you knew it, you had an instant party.

Actually, the band, which included keyboardist Seth Justman, bassist Daniel Klein and drummer Stephen Jo. Bladd, had been throwing parties for years.

One of their best took place just down the road at Detroit's Cinderella Ballroom before nearly 2,000 fans on April 21 and 22, 1972.

For the show, the band played material from their first two albums: a self-titled effort and another called "The Morning After."

Stanley the Mad Hatter announced the program which also included Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.

Atlantic Records taped the festivities, pressed up scads of albums, and the J. Geils Band had a hit on their hands with their third release.

Nevermind that all the songs came from their first two discs and that the album clocked in at less than 33 minutes in length.

Months passed as the J. Geils toured the country to promote their live album and record songs for a follow-up.

Back at CMU, J. Geils still spent time on the turntable, but my roommate and I decided to increase the party sweepstakes by going on spring break.

In March, we made a sleepless 24-hour trip to Daytona Beach, then the country's bullseye for college kids looking to let off a little steam.

Exhausted by another day-long drive, we returned to Mount Pleasant as the final months of our college careers wound down.

Then, as we were readying ourselves to face the cold cruel world, some bright yellow posters sprung up on campus.

Those broadsheets announced the impending local appearance of none other than the J. Geils Band!

There would be one last shindig with one of the greatest live bands ever before we marched into the work-a-day world.

Anticipation grew as the concert, scheduled for Tuesday, April 10, 1973 at Finch Fieldhouse, approached.

Designed by Erv P. Lewandowski of Mountainrush Graphics, the poster carried a collage of band images and pertinent details.

The event was sponsored by student radio station WCHP and the college's Program Board.

Opening act was Gentle Giant, recently on tour with fellow Britishers Jethro Tull, but relatively unknown in the United States.

On the day of the show, the venue where the Chippewas played their basketball games filled quickly with eager fans paying $3.50 or $4.50 for the evening.

J. Geils and his bandmates traveled to Mount Pleasant from Hillsdale College where they had a gig the previous evening.

Entertainment started with the progressive rock sounds of Gentle Giant.

The quintet, formed in 1970, was known to stretch the boundaries of contemporary music with complex jazz, classical and folk elements.

They were touring to support their "Octopus" album, delivered in late 1972.

Gentle Giant's serious, even studious music didn't sit well with an audience looking for a good time, however.

The fun had to wait until the headliners showed up with their "party all-night" agenda.

On stage, the J. Geils Band looked like greasers, dressed in leather, with their hair slicked back.

At this late date, it's impossible to construct an exact setlist, but the J. Geils Band certainly played most of "Full House."

I had that album memorized. Side One: "First I Look at the Purse," "Homework," "Pack Fair and Square," and "Whammer Jammer." Side 2: "Hard Drivin' Man," "Serves You Right to Suffer," "Cruisin' for a Love" and "Looking for a Love."

The latter track was even a Top 40 hit in early 1972.

Besides the familiar material on "Full House," the band had an arsenal of great tunes. There was the show opener "Sno-Cone" by bluesman Albert Collins and originals like "Floyd's Hotel," "I Don't Need You No More," "Wait" and "Cry One More Time," written by Wolf and Justman.

The week of the CMU show coincided with the release of "Bloodshot," the band's fourth album, which opened with the infectious "(Ain't Nothin' But A) House Party."

"Give It To Me," a single released a few weeks previously became a lengthy reggae-flavored jam in concert.

"Must of Got Lost" may have fit into the setlist, too.

As you might have expected, the band's energetic performance soon had the audience in a frenzy.

Wolf dominated the stage, Geils played lead guitar licks while on his knees and Magic Dick impressed everyone with his prominent harmonica chops.

The crowd sang, danced, clapped and stomped along.

Acknowledging the roar of fans as the show ended, the six band members formed a pyramid on stage, just like a cheer squad.

The next day it was back to classes for the final weeks of the semester, but the sounds of the J. Geils Band continued to reverberate.

In coming years they achieved great success, even reaching No. 1 with "Centerfold" in the early 1980s.

They broke up after Wolf left for a solo career, although there have been several reunions since.

Still, what I remember most about the J. Geils Band is how they neatly encapsulated my last year in college with a dynamite album at the beginning, followed by an explosive live concert at the end.

No comments: