When I was going to Merrill Junior High here in Denver I had an 8th grade music teacher named Mrs. Weber who would allow us kids to bring in records on Friday afternoons for a kind of cultural show and tell. Many of the kids would bring things in an attempt to shock or upset Mrs. Weber with curse words or something controversial. Mrs. Weber liked me however because I took the challenge seriously and tried to bring in things that would impress her musical sensibilities. I remember bringing in Dave Brubeck, Traffic, The Allman Brothers and Yes, all of which she liked. One week I brought in Live Full House by the Boston based boogie rockers The J. Geils Band and it caused a funny reaction. When jive-talking, motor-mouth singer Peter Wolf proclaimed “Take out your false teeth mama, I wanna suck on your gums.” Mrs. Weber looked over her glasses at me and said “Well, that certainly is a delicate way to put it.” Then she cracked up and chuckled throughout the rest of the class, tapping her foot to the irresistible barroom boogie and blues of this seminal live album.
J. Geils Band never made any pretensions to be anything other than an ass-kickin’ bar band, and they were that in spades. Much later they somehow stumbled onto a new-wave video making identity with “Freeze Frame,” “Centerfold” and “Love Stinks” but throughout the early and mid-70’s this band stormed through bars and arenas in the heartland taking no prisoners with their brand of high-energy R&B and Rock and Roll. There was nothing fancy about it, just unbelievable commitment and competence. Starting with the three front men, this band had it all. Peter Wolf spent some of the 1960’s being a Boston based R&B DJ called The Woofa Goofa and he was the real deal. To a normal American kid like me, to hear a white dude who could spit out suggestive slang with such authority and speed freak sure-tonguedness was a revelation. He was a non-stop motion machine, jumping up and down and deliverin’ the word with complete authority. On either side of him were two other amazing characters; on harmonica, the man with the best name in all of rock and roll Magic Dick, a Jewish kid with a huge afro and lightning skills on “the lickin’ stick.” On guitar, the band’s namesake John Geils was a fantastic, rock-solid guitar player, slamming out the blues riffs and taking incredibly tasteful solos on almost every song. Three frontmen, but the other guys were world class as well - especially keyboard player Seth Justman who could jump from waves of Hammond B-3 to barrelhouse piano and back all within the course of one solo. He never failed to find the exact right setting for each song.
The repertoire after-all was what early J. Geils was about. Wolf took his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure R&B and Blues and gave J. Geils Band the hippest bunch of floor fillers a band could ask for. Their shows were non-stop dance parties and Full House is a primer on getting a crowd on its feet and keeping them there. In front of a rabid Detroit audience (their spiritual home base) they open with the Smokey Robinson classic “First I Look At The Purse.” As it closes, Wolf yells out “The College Of Musical Knowledge” and without missing a beat they lurch into Otis Rush’s “Homework.” Totally exhilarating, and for me, it was the college of musical knowledge. Whatever dark, smokey, sexual secrets these guys had learned under the stage lights I wanted to know about. It sent me out to record stores looking for the original records that they were covering. There isn’t a slow moment on the album - even the smoldering 9-minute cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Serves You Right To Suffer” burns along with a hot pulse and lots of great soloing by Dick, Geils and Justman. Every song just cooks, and I feel the same excitement listening to it 42 years later as I did in Mrs. Weber’s class.
Live Full House, along with records by Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield and The Grateful Dead, got my early juices going for traditional American music, and they opened my eyes to the value of taking what was and injecting it with the energy of what is for a new generation. For this White kid, there was no better entrée into Black music than through the J. Geils Band.
- Paul Epstein