20 February 1946
New York, New York, United States
11 April 2017 (aged 71)
John Warren Geils Jr. (February 20, 1946 – April 11, 2017) was an American guitarist who was the leader of the rock group The J. Geils Band.
Growing up in the New York metropolitan area, he grew interested in jazz and blues music. After moving to Massachusetts for his college education, he formed the J. Geils Blues Band while still a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After dropping the word "Blues" from their name, the band released their first album in 1970, performing soul and rhythm and blues-influenced rock music for most of the 1970s, before changing styles to New wave music in the 1980s. After the band broke up in 1985, Geils left regular performing to take up restoration and racing of automobiles, with occasional forays into music production. He continued to appear in reunion tours with the rest of his band sporadically during the 2000s and 2010s. Geils died of natural causes on April 11, 2017, at his home in Groton, Massachusetts.
Geils was born on February 20, 1946, in New York City, and grew up in Morris Plains, New Jersey. His father was an engineer at Bell Labs and a jazz fan. From an early age, he heard his father's albums by Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, and was escorted by his father to a Louis Armstrong concert. He worked out Miles Davis music on trumpet and drums, and he listened to blues guitarists Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters on the radio. In 1964, he began attending Northeastern University and was a trumpeter in the marching band. When he was drawn to folk musicians in Boston, he left Northeastern for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he studied mechanical engineering.
At Worcester, he formed J. Geils Blues Band with Danny Klein, Magic Dick Salwitz, Stephen Jo Bladd, and Peter Wolf, with Seth Justman becoming the last member before the band released its debut album in 1970. Renamed "The J. Geils Band", the band released 11 albums between 1970 and 1985. Originally influenced by soul music and rhythm and blues, the band's sound moved toward pop and rock by the time the breakthrough album Love Stinks (EMI, 1980) came out. Their next album, Freeze Frame, produced the song "Centerfold", which sat at number one for six weeks, as well as the title track, which was a Billboard Top 10 hit.
Tension and conflict arose among band members, and Peter Wolf left to pursue a solo career. The band broke up in 1985. Geils put down the guitar to concentrate on auto racing and restoration. Geils returned to music in 1992 when he produced an album for Danny Klein, and formed the band Bluestime with Magic Dick. He played in the New Guitar Summit with Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin and in the acoustic trio Kings of Strings with Beaudoin and Jerry Miller. In 2005, he released his first solo album, a jazz album.
In 2015, Geils was named to the Wall of Honor at his alma mater, Bernards High School in Bernardsville, New Jersey.
In addition to passing on an interest in jazz, Geils's father took his son to auto races in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. Geils fell in love with Italian sports cars. He drove in five races a year during the early 1980s, at the peak of the J. Geils Band's popularity. He opened KTR Motorsports, an automobile restoration shop in Carlisle, Massachusetts, to service and repair vintage sports cars such as Ferrari and Maserati. He sold the shop in 1996, though he continued to use the shop and participate in the company.
In 1982, Geils moved to Groton, Massachusetts. The town honored him by proclaiming J. Geils Day on December 1, 2009.
On April 11, 2017 J. Geils died, at age 71.
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