J. Geils Band's Peter Wolf Still Knows How to Chill in Boston

As he releases his new album, the legendary frontman tells us what he likes to do in Boston, what he listens to when he travels and why he came to this city in the first place.

Peter Wolf knows how to chill but shows no signs of slowing down. At age 70, the (sometimes) lead singer of the J. Geils Band and Boston resident released his eighth solo album, “A Cure for Loneliness." Local fans often see Wolf out and about town, so we asked him about his favorite things to do.

One of the songs on your new album is called “Wasting Time.” If given a day to “waste time” in Boston, how would you?

I wouldn’t call it wasting. Using time wisely. I’d probably be going to Stereo Jack’s, a record store that I like that’s got a great collection of music. The people there are so knowledgeable and have great passion. I like to roam the Museum of Fine Arts at night. I like to peruse certain bookstores like Raven, the Brattle, and Bryn Mawr in Cambridge.

Where might we find you at cocktail hour?

That’s a problem. There are some very good bars and restaurants, but there’s no real bar I can think of that’s dedicated to the art of fine drinkery, where you can get a really nice late afternoon martini and sort of gaze and float away. These things seem to have disappeared. I had many: There was the bar at the Budapest Café, and upstairs at the Ritz used to be really a grand place, but these places have either gone or have flat-screen TVs, and that doesn’t quite have the same magical romance for me.

How about dive bars?

There’s too many dive bars I like to mention.

What is your pick for the top three local clubs to see a gig?

Places where the people are very friendly and the music is good. I love the staff and owners of the Middle East and what they do for new bands and musicians—they always treat everybody with a warm welcome. I [also] like the Lizard Lounge and Atwood’s. [Unannounced, Wolf frequently joins musician friends such as Dennis Brennan and Duke Levine, also a guitarist in his touring band the Midnight Travelers, at those spots.]

You were born in New York, but have been a part of Boston’s rock 'n' roll fabric for your whole career—as a DJ at WBCN, as a performer—and you continue to live here. Many artists who come from Boston leave for New York, Nashville or L.A. What inspires you about the city?

Well, I came up here to study painting at the Museum School of Fine Arts and just grew to enjoy the town. When I started to get involved with music, there were so many colleges and fraternities that hired bands for all different events and a tremendous amount of clubs—folk clubs and even in the [red light district] Combat Zone. Back in the day, Washington Street was lined up and down with music clubs, so it gave me and the band I was with [the Hallucinations first, then the J. Geils Band] a great opportunity. And it was easy getting on the Cape in the summer and playing. It was a healthy place to incubate to learn the craft.

What keeps you here?

For the same reasons I mentioned. You sort of hang your hat up and get used to it. I planted roots here, and I stayed, and it became home. The J. Geils Band helped break the stigma of a thing they called the Bosstown Sound, which was a [1960s] invention that made people apologize if you came from Boston. So we helped break that stigma and open up the doors for bands like Aerosmith, Boston, Jonathan Richman and the Cars, It seemed to be a conducive place to get music together. We have all the different colleges and there was, and still is, some great college radio that is unique to this town—WUMB, WERS, and Tufts and Harvard [stations]; the list goes on.  

While you’re on the road, what artists are on your travel playlist?

It’s eclectic and it’s like the weather—it can change anytime. It can go anywhere from Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Dinah Washington, right into Hank Williams, right into Muddy Waters, back down to Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, and right up to Lefty Frizzell and Willy Deville. There’s a lot of contemporary stuff. I love gospel, country, rock, rockabilly, doo wop. I love music that focuses on the roots that I came up on. It’s like paintings; there are certain periods of paintings I feel strong about, so you tend to appreciate artists of that period or of that style, but that doesn’t mean you’re not open to new things or lots of other things.

Do you ever discover music you haven’t heard before from artists you know well?

Oh, all the time. And you always rediscover. Even if there’s stuff you think you know, you hear it in a different way. For instance, I just found a whole trove of unreleased Hank Williams where he does “On Top of Old Smokey.” People haven’t heard that, and I recommend listening. It’ll give you a new appreciation for a) the song and b) the power of what an artist like Hank Williams has.

Your new album is called “A Cure for Loneliness.” For you that cure is … ?

Music. It’s a friend. If you’re depressed, it can help you within that aspect and help you get out. Or if you feel like staying in it, it can keep you company down there, too. It’s a powerful—I don’t want to say drug—but it’s a powerful force.

Jim Sullivan
About the author
As former staff music writer for The Boston Globe and a contributor to myriad publications including The Boston Phoenix ...