Guitarist J. Geils died at his home in Groton, Massachusetts, on Tuesday, April 11, the Associated Press reports. He was 71.
Groton police said officers went to Geils’ home around 4 p.m. Tuesday on a well-being check and found him unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“A preliminary investigation indicates that Geils died of natural causes,” police said in a statement.
Born John Warren Geils Jr., Geils was the guitarist for the chart-topping J. Geils Band, a band he started in 1967 in Worcester.
Formed when Geils was a mechanical engineering major at WPI, the J. Geils Blues Band (which would soon drop the word “Blues” from its title) featured the band’s namesake, bassist Danny Klein, harmonica ace “Magic” Dick Salwitz, drummer Stephen Jo Bladd, and singer Peter Wolf, with keyboardist Seth Justman becoming the last member before the band released its debut album in 1970.
The J. Geils Band attained national stardom in the early 1980s with such hits as “Love Stinks,” “Freeze-Frame” and “Centerfold” and were an FM staple in the ’70s and ’80s especially on radio station WBCN 104.1 FM, where Wolf once dee-jayed.
Other J. Geils Band staples included “Looking for a Love,” “Whammer Jammer” and “(Ain’t Nothin’ But A) Houseparty.”
Worcester guitarist Cliff Goodwin called Geils “one of the purest white blues players” he ever saw on the guitar.
“He didn’t specialize in flash,” Goodwin said of Geils. “His playing was beautiful, economic and pure.”
After the J. Geils Band’s greatest commercial success, 1981′s “Freeze-Frame,” and the tour behind that record (including a sold-out New Year’s eve show at the Worcester Centrum), singer Peter Wolf split (or was fired, depending on whom you believe) from the band. As a result, the band broke up in 1982, leaving the concert album “Showtime” (the band’s third live album) as the swan song of the great original J. Geils Band lineup.
Geils, who once told the Telegram & Gazette that he’s always been a “Ferrari fanatic,” was an avid motorhead, devoting his spare time fixing and racing sports cars.
Fiery blues guitarists Geils and Magic Dick emerged in the 1990s with the short-lived blues combo Bluestime, which played at the defunct Plantation Club in Worcester. Over the years, Geils often played solo at intimate area venues, including The Bull Run in Shirley.
After a 17-year hiatus, the J. Geils Band kicked off its “Never Say Never” tour in the summer of 1999 at the Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield, but they were never to regain the arena rock status that they abandoned at the height of their career.
A reunited J. Geils Band would play sporadically over the years to come, including opening for Aerosmith in the summer of 2010 at Fenway Park and playing a 20-minute, six-song set at “Boston Strong: An Evening of Support and Celebration,” a benefit for The One Fund Boston (for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing), in 2013 at TD Garden, both in Boston.
Worcester drummer Marty Richards, who played in the Geils Band for about five years and on and off with Geils (the man) for about 20 years, last performed with the guitarist in September.
“He was a very talented guy, very inspirational, really driven,” Richards said. “He was a huge fan of jazz music, blues music. Also, he was influenced by trumpet players. He played trumpet. That was his first instrument.”