A FEW MORE MINUTES WITH… Peter Wolf
Interview and story by Don Wilcock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
The older I get the more I realize that it’s the veterans who stick with it who get all the toys in the end and win life’s game. Peter Wolf – who plays The Egg’s Swyer Theatre in Albany on Saturday night (October 10) with his solo band the Midnight Travelers – finally has all the toys. He’s just off a tour with the J. Geils Band – the hit-making urban soul-rocking behemoth that scored big in the 1970s with “Looking for Love,” “Must of Got Lost” and their No. 1 hit “Centerfold” – which included a stop at the Times Union Center opening for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band last December.
He’s excited about playing The Egg again, one of his favorite venues, but he had to delay our recent phone interview by three hours because he was in the studio working on his next solo album, and he began our conversation graciously:
A: First of all, I want to apologize for things having gotten moved around.
Q: No apology necessary. When the muse calls, you go.
A: Yeah! I got a new record that’s coming out in March. We’re almost done negotiations on it, so I’d rather just say it’s coming out in March. The title is still just being formulated. There are several up for choosing, but it’ll definitely be hitting the highways and byways in March.
Q: Is this going to be reflective of a lot of the touring you’ve been doing with the J. Geils Band, or is it to be more in the tradition of your solo albums of the past?
A: This is definitely going to be in the tradition of solo. This is sort of an extension of Fool’s Parade, Sleepless and Midnight Souvenirs; same producer, same players. We don’t have guests like Merle Haggard or Mick Jagger and stuff on this one ’cause we just felt like Sleepless and Fools Parade stood on their own. We were going to have Bobby Womack do a number, but unfortunately when we got closest to the time of doing it, Bobby got very ill, and as you probably know, passed away, which is sad to me because I’m such a longtime fan, and I was really looking forward to this duet.
Q: What song were you working on today?
A: It was an original song. We’re finishing up on the mix. Some of the stuff has already been mastered, and the first part of the day was rehearsals with the band because you know we’re coming to The Egg.
Q: Is that your first stop on your tour with the Midnight Travelers?
A: It’s gonna be the second. The first one’s gonna be at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock [at 9pm on Friday, October 9]. So, yeah, it’ll be the second one. We’re looking forward to the gig. First of all, The Egg is such a fantastic and unusual room. It’s great for listening, and the audiences have always been wonderful when we played. And it’s such a unique space. We always look forward to getting back there.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between performing solo and with Geils?
A: For me, it’s great to revisit a body of work that I helped create and make popular for so many people [with the J. Geils Band], so I enjoy stepping back there and doing that, but what makes it enjoyable is that I know I still have a foot forward in the new work. So it’s not unlike a Shakespearian actor doing a great Tennessee Williams play that he might have been in many years before. You revisit it. You bring something new to it. You enjoy it, and then you proceed with stuff you’re involved with that hopefully remains pertinent for the future.
It’s great because the Geils Band has been on the road with Bob Seger, and we just finished a tour. There still seems to be a lot of interest in the work. I don’t think any rock and roller – be it the Beatles, the Stones, the Eagles – ever felt that the music would have an interest for people for this long a period, but I guess, not unlike the big bands or the great blues artists, we – the Geils Band – toured in an era when there was still what people called a classic rock era where, when we toured, we had people like Tom Petty touring with us, and Billy Joel, and a young Peter Frampton or even U2 opened up for us.
So, we all came out of that same period. It was a tremendous period for music, for the record companies, for the artists and for us, and it was a great audience that sustains, and a lot of new listeners seem to enjoy classic rock through the internet media, and stuff they click on. So people like the Stones and Geils Band still seem to remain pertinent to many people, and that’s exciting.
Q: Do you look at playing with Geils and going solo as having your cake and eating it, too?
A: Well, one could say that, and I do feel blessed that I have those two different outlets. I think what makes me enjoy Geils is that I do have the solo creativity and outlet so that, as I said before, I feel pretty blessed that there are people still interested in Geils, and I enjoy performing, and there are people interested in the solo work. That’s really very important and close to the heart.
Q: You mentioned you weren’t doing any guest stars like Merle Haggard on the next album, and of course your heritage is having hung out with blues greats back in the late ’60s that really inspired you. Have you had any instances since the last time you played The Egg where you’ve gotten to hang out with some great blues people and had a wonderful time with them and become inspired?
A: Well, there ain’t too many great ones left, but I did spend recently some time with James Cotton, who is an old friend and was a great harmonica player from one of Muddy Waters’ great bands when Otis Spann was part of it. But unfortunately people who I knew like Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf and Junior Wells are gone. Except for Buddy Guy, who’s on Keith Richards’ film on Netflix “Under the Influence.” I hang out with a lot of blues players who’ve played in those bands, but as far as the great names, there ain’t too many left.
Q: Have you heard Keith Richards’ new solo album?
A: Well, Keith’s invited me down to the premiere of the film at the Museum of Modern Art. It was great to see him.
Q: Do you see a parallel there with him and Mick and what happened to Geils in terms of the creativity? You’re a solo artist now, and Keith seems to be more creative now when he’s by himself than when he’s with Mick.
A: I really don’t know. I know both of them very well. I think they have tremendous respect for each other, and obviously some differences, but when they get up there on stage they’re still one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever.
Q: Yeah, I saw them in Buffalo recently for the 11th time.
A: There you go.
Q: Yeah, I think probably both of you (with the midnight Travelers and Geils) and the Stones are my two touchstones that keep my heart beating fast all the time.
A: Oh, good.
LIVE: The J. Geils Band @ the Times Union Center, 12/2/14
A FEW MINUTES WITH… Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band
A FEW MINUTES WITH… Peter Wolf
LIVE: Peter Wolf @ The Egg, 2/11/12
LIVE: Peter Wolf @ The Egg, 5/21/10