We’re big fans of The J. Geils Band here. There was a time these guys were America’s Rolling Stones, building a reputation as the best live band in the land while cranking out albums packed soul-deep with R&B covers and their own originals that pushed things forward with due respect for the past. Unfortunately, too many people missed all of that and only caught the MTV hits that were just big enough to break up the band, leaving their reputation and too many outstanding songs and albums to fade away in to the classic-rock abyss (unless, of course, you grew up listening rock radio in Detroit or Boston, which means you can still recite, verbatim, the intro to “Musta Got Lost”).
Despite being a devoted, lifelong fan, Geils never felt worthy of playing jazz until The J. Geils Band split
But, despite the name, The J. Geils Band was always very much a band, not merely a showcase for Geils’ own versatile and subtle virtuosity. So with the passing of the band’s namesake, we want to turn your attention to the music Jay Geils made in the last years of his life. A jazz-obsessive since he was a kid, Geils pointed all the way back to 1930s jazz player Charlie Christian as his guitar hero. Christian was a massively influential guitarist who not only helped invent bebop but pretty much took the electric guitar out of the rhythm section and made it a lead instrument. You wouldn’t guess it from listening to The J. Geils Band, but Geils worshipped Charlie Christian to the point that he even collected the same guitars Christian used to play. Despite that idolatry, Geils never felt worthy of playing the kind of music Christian helped invent until long after The J. Geils Band split up. Only then, just a few years ago, Geils finally felt he was ready to put his true passion on disc. Nobody paid much attention to it, but 2011’s Toe Tappin’ Jazz proved Jay Geils had the chops and the good taste to do it right. He also had no problem settling back in to a proper band, giving plenty of room to the players around him and never taking any more time for himself than the song requires. Unlike many solo projects by rock guitarists, there’s no flash, no showboating, and barely a focus on the guitar itself. It’s just the sound of a musician comfortable, confident, and content enough to finally play the music he’d only worshiped from afar. For all the songs that brought J. Geils fame, we think this is the note Jay Geils would have most loved to go out on.