Although other groups achieved more chartbusting hit records, the J Geils Band became one of the most popular live acts in the US during the 1970s and early 80s, and were able to pack arenas with their rowdy, blues-based, good-time rock’n’roll. Their album “Live” Full House (1972) is considered a classic among in-concert recordings, and in 1982 they had a No 1 single in the US and No 3 in Britain with the exhaustingly catchy single Centerfold. John “J” Geils, who has died aged 71, was the band’s guitarist and one of the founding members.
The J Geils Blues Band were formed in 1967, but had become simply the J Geils Band by the time of their eponymous debut album in 1970. It became a local hit in the Boston area and the band were soon hoovering up legions of fans with a relentless schedule of live performances. They had their first US Top 40 hit with Looking for a Love (1971), scored their first US Top 10 album with Bloodshot (1973) – which also supplied the Top 30 hit Give It to Me – and were back in the US Top 30 with the album Nightmares ... and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle (1974). The last of these also gave them the US No 12 single Must of Got Lost, which became a reliable favourite in their live repertoire.
Though they enjoyed further success with the albums Hotline and Monkey Island, it was not until they switched from the Atlantic label to EMI that they enjoyed their greatest chart performances. Love Stinks (1980) was a US Top 20 album, and its slow-chugging title song became a Top 40 hit.
Their finest hour arrived with the album Freeze-Frame (1981), which topped the US and Canadian charts, gave J Geils one of their rare showings on the British charts, reaching No 12, and contained Centerfold. In 1982, the single Freeze-Frame reached the US Top 5 and the UK Top 30.
Having come to the top of the heap, the band could not stay there. Friction arose between vocalist Peter Wolf and keyboard player Seth Justman, the group’s main songwriters, prompting Wolf to quit in 1983. After the unsuccessful release of the album You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd in 1984, the band broke up the following year. To this day, despite their lasting reputation, they have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
John Warren Geils – the “J” for John was sometimes written as “Jay” – was born in New York City and grew up in Far Hills, New Jersey. He inherited his nickname from his father, the original John “J” Geils. “My father was an engineer at Bell Labs and taught me mechanics,” J Jr recalled in 2012. “There was never a repair man in our house for anything. He fixed the TV, the refrigerator and, of course, the cars.”
His father was a car fanatic, and kindled the same interest in the boy by taking him to events such as the Giants Despair road races in Pennsylvania. Both parents were keen jazz fans; when he was 10 his father took him to see Louis Armstrong, and then, at 13, to Miles Davis. He also recalled listening to his father’s albums by Benny Goodman and the guitarist Charlie Christian.
He began learning to play the trumpet, and switched to guitar when he attended Bernards high school in Bernardsville, New Jersey. He gravitated towards blues, considering it less technically complicated than jazz.
In 1964 he went to Northeastern University in Boston, where he played the trumpet in the marching band, then transferred to Worcester Polytechnic Institute to study mechanical engineering. He often spent his nights at Boston folk clubs. He formed the J Geils Blues Band (which had initially been dubbed Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels) with the bass player Danny Klein and the harmonica player Magic Dick, whose real name was Richard Salwitz. The band was completed in 1968 by the addition of Wolf and the drummer Steve Bladd from the R&B band the Hallucinations, who had been building their own reputation in Boston. The last to join was Justman.
After the band’s mid-80s split, Geils returned to his love of cars. He founded KTR Motorsports in Carlisle, Massachusetts, to service Italian marques such as Ferrari and Maserati. He sold the business in 1996, but over the years owned a string of vintage Italian sports cars and motorcycles. In 1999 he split from his wife Kris after 28 years of marriage.
In 1993 Geils reunited with Magic Dick to form Magic Dick & Jay Geils, playing “Chicago-style blues and classic jazz”, as he put it. They released the albums Bluestime and Little Car Blues. Geils also performed in the Jay Geils Jazz Quintet, featuring guitarist Gerry Beaudoin, with whom he appeared on the album The Kings of Strings (2006). The J Geils Band reunited for a tour in 1999 and made sporadic subsequent appearances, including opening for Aerosmith at Fenway Park, Boston, in 2010.
In 2012 Geils filed a lawsuit against the other band members when they “planned and conspired” to tour without him, claiming that they were unlawfully using the band’s trademarked name. This prompted Geils to quit the group permanently.
• John Warren Geils Jr, musician, born 20 February 1946; died 11 April 2017