For a while it seemed as if Peter Wolf, lead singer for the Boston-based J. Geils Band, would find showbiz fame only as Mr. Faye Dunaway. But when Wolf and the actress split in 1978 after six years, the best was yet to be for him. Almost immediately the Geils Band’s LP Sanctuary struck gold. Now comes perhaps the band’s biggest album ever, Love Stinks, with the title cut and Come Back both Top 40 hits.
What happened, explains Wolf, 34, is that rock’s new wave finally caught up with the driving blues-rock style of his band, founded in 1968. “Disco cleared the air,” he says, “and suddenly there’s a whole new audience for basic rock’n’roll.”
Not much has changed for Wolf personally, except that “finally restaurants give me tables away from the draft.” And while “a lot of older bands are martinied and limoed out, I still know how to take a taxi.”
Hardly a typical rocker, Wolf maintains “I don’t like parties or people just hanging around. My friends work real hard. I like people who grab for it, who dive in and consume themselves.” Peter lives alone in a four-room Boston apartment. Romantically, “There’s no one who gives me a buzz. It’s hard to meet someone who sets your soul on fire.” He likes to roam the streets in dark glasses (“so I can be a voyeur”) and collects German Expressionist art. He’s a voracious reader, favoring authors like William Faulkner and Graham Greene, and stores thousands of books in the band’s rehearsal hall.
Wolf, who is 5’10” and a “scarily low” 118 pounds, needs only a few hours’ sleep. “That’s enthusiasm, not insomnia,” he explains. “My band says I’m running on charcoal.” Through the night he listens to music, phones friends and watches two broken TVs “that together get all the channels.” He has tried “all the drugs,” but now insists he has quit, noting “I got bored.”
Growing up in the Bronx, Wolf was introduced to R&B greats like Little Richard and Bob Dylan by his father, Allen Blankfield, who was alternately a lieder singer, classical FM disc jockey and vaudeville dancer. Mother Lillian modeled part-time. Though Peter stuttered as a kid and suffers from dyslexia (a reading disability), he skipped three grades and finished high school at 14. “As a teenager I was miserable,” he recalls. “I was like a marshmallow, soft and squirmy.” He began painting in a studio he rented under a hat factory. Then in 1964, at 18, he headed for Boston to study at the Museum of Fine Arts.
At a loft party in 1965 a singer with the Hallucinations had “one too many,” Wolf remembers, “and he asked me to sit in. I’ve never sat out since.” While performing with that group Wolf took a job as a progressive rock deejay. “I got to interview Rod Stewart and Led Zeppelin,” he recalls. He also began using his childhood nickname, “Wolf,” on the radio, and it stuck. “I needed a new identity,” he says.
When Hallucinations split, he joined the J. Geils Band, named for its guitarist. The promise of the group’s fine debut LP, The J. Geils Band, faded with a string of mid-’70s stiffs. Luckily, Peter’s breakneck performance onstage had been mesmerizing fans as the group headlined with opening acts like the Eagles, Billy Joel and Bob Seger. One admirer, Dunaway, made it backstage in San Francisco in ’72; two years later she and Peter were married in L.A. He won’t discuss their breakup or Dunaway’s rumored upcoming marriage to photographer Terry O’Neill. (The bitter lyrics to Love Stinks were not inspired by his failed marriage.)
Wolf now manages the band. Keyboardist Seth Justman, harmonica player Magic Dick, bassist Danny Klein, drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and Geils all are original members and live in the Boston area.
Wolf’s passion for rock has kept him from going Hollywood, despite suggestions from Alfred Hitchcock and George Cukor that he take up acting. “I’ll be proud if I’m still rockin’ at 42,” Wolf exults. “I meet friends I went to school with, and they look 20 years older than me. Rock keeps me young.”