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John Geils of J. Geils Band Dies

Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

John Geils, the guitarist and namesake of the J. Geils Band, has died. He was 71.

Boston’s WCVB says that he was found dead in his home in Groton, Mass., where he had lived for 35 years. As of now, the cause of death is unknown. The station’s Kathy Curran tweeted that police responded to a call to check on his well being. They do not suspect foul play.

Peter Wolf, the lead singer of the band from 1967-83, and during their reunion tours, posted on Facebook, “‘Thinking of all the times we kicked it high and rocked down the house! R.I.P. Jay Geils’ PW.”

Born John Warren Geils Jr. in New York City on Feb. 20, 1946, he began playing jazz trumpet, but eventually switched to blues guitar. He formed an acoustic blues trio, Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, with bassist Danny Klein and harmonica player Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz, while studying mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the mid-’60s. They soon moved to Boston, where they added drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and singer Peter Wolf, who was a DJ on WBCN and changed their name to the J. Geils Band. The arrival of keyboardist Seth Justman in 1968 rounded out the lineup, and they were signed to Atlantic in 1970, with their self-titled debut coming later that year.

Like many bands of the day, they originally had trouble breaking through to the masses despite great reviews and an energetic live show. But it eventually paid off, finding the Top 40 three times in the next few years with “Looking for a Love,” “Give It to Me” and “Must of Got Lost.”

A commercial lull followed, but they rebounded in 1980 by modernizing their sound on Love Stinks and 1981’s Freeze-Frame topped the charts on the strength of the No. 1 single “Centerfold” and the title track, which reached No. 4. Wolf left for a solo career in 1983, and the group broke up after the Justman-fronted You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd.

From there, Geils turned to another love: cars. He founded KTR Motorsports, where he restored vintage European sports cars. But a reunion of the original lineup, minus Bladd, followed in 1999. Although they never recorded again, they toured a handful of times over the next 15 years.

However, by 2012, relations between Geils and the other four had soured over the rights to the name, and Wolf, Justman, Salwitz and Klein announced a tour, aided by additional musicians, using their band’s name, which resulted in a lawsuit from Geils. The group, again without Geils, toured most recently in 2014-15, where they headlined clubs and served as Bob Seger‘s opening act.

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