[Review] The J. Geils Band (1970)

Whether it’s the second coming of The Rolling Stones or the third coming of Otis Rush, you’ll just be glad you came.

Kronomyth 1.0: Merry and faithful.

Many of the rock & roll bands of the Sixties were weaned on the milk, cream and alcohol of American rhythm and blues, only to trade in that drink for the harder drugs of psychedelic and progressive music. That’s not a complaint or an indictment, since this is ostensibly a progressive rock site (the ostensibleness of which should be plainly ostensible to all), simply an observation. The J. Geils Band, however, remained faithful to their original R&B inspiration. You could even say it flourished in their care, if you didn’t mind the risk of being punched in the face for using a word like “flourish,” although, honestly, whoever was going to punch you for a word like that would have already knocked you unconscious after the third “ostensible” anyway.

I am not a big fan of rhythm and blues by nature. Generally, I associate it with early, tentative and derivative albums by bands that got better after they abandoned it (The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, The Kinks, etc.). The Rolling Stones were one of the few bands that really sounded at home in that setting, and The J. Geils Band certainly have a set of stones to call their own. On The J. Geils Band, you won’t be able to tell the originals from the oldies, so uncanny are their instincts for rhythm and blues. Add to that the fact that the band is unbelievably tight, and you’ve got the makings of an American classic.

Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau greeted the album with praise; not surprising given the mag’s affection for rhythm and blues (and disdain for progressive rock). Despite the positive press, The J. Geils Band barely scratched the Top 200. The band was, frankly, unfashionable in an age of suede boots and brocade jackets. Still, to listen to their music is to hear the pumping heart of rock and roll sustained during the excess of the Seventies.

Although their label eventually trotted out Homework and Cruisin’ for a Love as singles, The J. Geils Band doesn’t have a single standout track. The band stands up for the opening Wait (one of those great originals I was talking about) and doesn’t sit down until the last drop of Albert Collins’ Sno-Cone melts from the amplifier. In between, the whole thing runs like a well-oiled machine. Peter Wolf growls his way through the music like Mick Jagger, J. Geils and Magic Dick provide the solos, and the rhythm section doesn’t miss a beat. A good half of the songs clock in under three minutes and only a cover of John Lee Hooker’s Serves You Right to Suffer goes longer than four.

You don’t need to be a fan of rhythm and blues to listen to this album, but you’ll probably be one after. As much as I love progressive rock, someone needed to keep the original flame of R&B alive, and I can’t imagine a better standard-bearer than this album.

Original elpee version

A1. Wait (Peter Wolf/Seth Justman) (3:25)
A2. Ice Breaker (for the Big “M”) (J. Geils) (2:15)
A3. Cruisin’ for a Love (Juke Joint Jimmy*) (2:32)
A4. Hard Drivin’ Man (Peter Wolf/J. Geils) (2:18)
A5. Serves You Right to Suffer (John Lee Hooker) (5:01)
B1. Homework (Otis Rush/Al Perkins/Dave Clark) (2:45)
B2. First I Look at the Purse (Robert Rogers/Smokey Robinson) (3:54)
B3. What’s Your Hurry (Peter Wolf/Seth Justman) (2:44)
B4. On Borrowed Time (Peter Wolf/Seth Justman) (3:03)
B5. Pack Fair and Square (Walter Price) (2:01)
B6. Sno-Cone (Albert Collins) (3:24)

*Juke Joint Jimmy is an alias for the J. Geils Band.

The Players

Stephen Bladd (drums & vocals), J. Geils (guitar), Seth Justman (piano & organ), Danny Klein (bass), Magic Dick (harp), Peter Wolf (vocals). Produced by Dave Crawford & Brad Shapiro; recording engineered by Jay Messina; re-mix engineered by Geoffrey Haslam; special assistance by Fred Smith.

The Pictures

Photography by Stephen Paley. Album design by Lloyd Ziff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on November 16, 1970 in the US (Atlantic, SD 82875). Reached #195 on the US charts.

  1. Re-packaged with The Morning After as 2 Originals of J. Geils Band on 2-for-1 2LP in 1973 in Germany (Atlantic, ATL-60061) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1989 in the UK (Edsel, ED-300).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1995 in the US (Atlantic, 82806-2).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 2008 in the UK (Rhino Encore, 799061).
  5. Re-packaged with The Morning After, Full House Live, Bloodshot and Ladies Invited as The Original Album Series on 5CD box set in 2010 in the UK (Rhino, 98338).

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