J. Geils, Whose Band’s Catchy Pop Hits Colored the 1980s, Dies at 71
By NIRAJ CHOKSHIAPRIL 11, 2017
J. Geils and Danny Klein of the J. Geils Band performing in 1972 in Copenhagen. Jorgen Angel/Redferns, via Getty Images
J. Geils, the guitarist who lent his name to the J. Geils Band, which in the early 1980s produced a string of catchy pop hits, including “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” was found dead on Tuesday at his home in Groton, Mass. He was 71.
The Groton police said officers found Mr. Geils in the late afternoon after they were asked to check on him. Mr. Geils, whose full name was John Warren Geils Jr., appeared to have died of natural causes, the police said. No other details were given.
The J. Geils Band was formed in the mid-1960s as Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, while Mr. Geils was attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, according to the band’s Facebook page. It switched focus in 1967, recruiting the energetic frontman and lead singer Peter Wolf and becoming the J. Geils Blues Band, an acoustic trio that later turned more toward rock and dropped the “blues” from its name as it added members.
The band spent years establishing roots in the Boston area through live shows before signing with Atlantic Records in 1970. That year it released its debut album, titled simply “The J. Geils Band,” to modest acclaim. A follow-up in 1971, “The Morning After,” helped push the group to the national stage as its sound developed.
Adding bouncy synthesized pop to its blues roots, the band became a major commercial success with the hit single “Love Stinks,” from a 1980 album of the same name. The group’s 1981 album, “Freeze-Frame,” yielded two more hit singles as the group leaned further into the increasingly digital pop-rock of the era.
J. Geils Band – Love stinks 1980
J. Geils Band – Love stinks 1980 Video by fritz51316
“I founded the band as a Chicago-style blues band, and it evolved into a bluesy rock band,” Mr. Geils said in a 2015 interview with the website Best Classic Bands. “I don’t care what any recording artist says; they all want a No. 1 gold single, and we have two.”
“Centerfold” spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, while “Freeze-Frame” reached the No. 4 spot.
The J. Geils Band was also exposed to large, far-flung audiences through its association with the Rolling Stones, fellow students of the Chicago blues, who took the Boston group on tour as an opening act.
As the group prepared to record another album after “Freeze-Frame,” Mr. Wolf left the band, beginning its unraveling. (“Basically, they threw me out,” Mr. Wolf said.)
The J. Geils Band went on to release a new album, “You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd,” in 1984, earning Mr. Geils accolades from Robert Palmer, the pop music critic for The New York Times. He wrote that Mr. Geils’s guitar playing combined “the harmonic sophistication of a jazz player with a rocker’s sensibility.”
J. Geils Band – Centerfold
J. Geils Band – Centerfold Video by JGeilsBandVEVO
The group disbanded in 1985 but reunited in 1999 for a brief concert tour. It had since reunited periodically, once to perform at the opening concert for the new House of Blues in Boston in 2009 and the next year as the opening act for Aerosmith at Fenway Park.
In recent years the band toured without Mr. Geils because of a legal dispute with his record label, which claimed ownership of the band’s name, according to the Facebook page. He quietly secured the trademark for the name in 2009, according to The Boston Globe.
There was no immediate word on his survivors. He told The Globe in 2004 that he and his wife of 28 years, Kris, split up in 1999.
John Warren Geils Jr. was born on Feb. 20, 1946, in New York City and grew up in Far Hills, N.J. His father was an engineer at Bell Labs and, Mr. Geils said, passed on his love of jazz to his son, taking him to see Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis perform. He played the trumpet in high school before switching to guitar.
After graduation he attended Northeastern University before transferring to Worscester Polytech.
An automobile enthusiast, Mr. Geils founded KTR Motorsports out of a garage in Carlisle, Mass., to service vintage Ferraris, Maseratis and other Italian cars. He sold the business in 1996.
Correction: April 12, 2017
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the day Mr. Geils’s body was found by the police. It was Tuesday, not Monday.