MOTOR CITY: “There was a thing about Detroit that embraced the Geils Band because we just worked so damn hard.”
There’s a dirty little secret about the J. Geils Band — one that diehard Boston fans don’t always appreciate hearing. In the band’s ’70s heyday, Boston may have been their home, but Detroit was their home away from home. In fact, when in 1972, two years into their deal with Atlantic Records, the Geils Band recorded Live: Full House, they did so in front of an audience at the Cinderella Ballroom in Detroit, not here in Boston.
Now Geils frontman Peter Wolf is once again gearing up to face a Detroit audience: on February 8 and 9 he’ll be out in front of a full house of 18,000 people at the Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City. Only this time it won’t be with the Geils Band — it’ll be as a guest of Detroit-bred rap-rocker Kid Rock. And rather than bringing along his own group, Wolf will be hitting the stage with Kid Rock’s band to play at least a couple of Geils nuggets. When I reached him by phone in Evansville, Indiana, where the tour started on January 25, he hadn’t settled on a set list for his segment of the show, and he was keeping his cards pretty close to his vest. “We’re out here for four or five days figuring it out. The Kid said, ‘Pete, whatever you want to do.’ So there’s some Geils stuff, and I might throw in a couple of solo things, and we’re also working up a Motown tribute where we’ll be doing some Temptations stuff. And since we both love country, we might also be doing a Hank Williams tune.”
Even after just a couple of days away from Boston, Wolf is feeling the vibe of being back in the Midwest. “I’m here in the heart of the country,” he enthuses. “This is where people work hard, if they can find work these days. And they party hard, which means lots of Jim Beam and beer. And they still value and love rock and roll. The Midwest was always such a great supporter of the Geils band. It’s different from the East or West Coast because it’s all blue-collar. They don’t have much money, so when they spend it on something, they’re expecting something in return. When we first got into Detroit with MC5 and the Stooges and Mitch Ryder, there were just a lot of great bands. And there was a thing about Detroit that embraced the Geils Band because we just worked so damn hard. I’m not saying we were better than other bands. But energy-wise, we worked like five times harder than most of the bands we played with.
“In that era, when we started performing, they had these package tours. I think one of the first ones we were on was with the MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, Bob Seeger. And when we hit the stage in Detroit, the crowd just went crazy. It was like an instant love affair. They just got it. It was a very powerful thing. There was something innocent and honest about it.”