Alt-Nation: An Interview with Peter Wolf and Fall Shows

My earliest memories of listening to radio involve getting down to The J. Geils Band when they started to have a string of huge radio hits with the likes of “Freeze Frame,” “Centerfold,” and “Just Can’t Wait.” This was the tail end of the band’s career as soon as they hit the big time, it was over.  Singer Peter Wolf left to go solo. Wolf would have a couple hits like “Lights Out” and “Come as You Are.” More than the hits, Wolf has built up a catalogue 30 years in the making of some really fantastic music. Growing up, there would be that one Saturday night of year where Wolf returned to where he started, on the airwaves of WBCN. He’d play all these obscure records that I had never heard of and spin tales of hanging with musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters that in my teenage mind were some legendary figures from another dimension. I had heard of them and these stories about them but didn’t really know much about them at the time. These experiences later would prod me to dig deeper in the band’s rich history.

The J. Geils Band remain one of my all-time favorites for classic American R&B-infused blues rock ‘n’ roll. With The J. Geils Band coming to town, it seemed like a good time to talk to singer Peter Wolf about the band and his solo career.

Marc Clarkin: Does it take a while when the band gets back together to recapture the magic?

Peter Wolf: Well yeah, we work hard on it. It’s not unlike actors getting together putting on a classic play. The lines might be there, but you want to make sure it lives and breathes and has the same intensity you are known for. We always try to keep the bar high and keep the energy where it needs to be. It is always an interesting get-together, kicking up the songs that we’ve been known for.

MC: When it comes to constructing the set lists, obviously there are the hits that everyone expects. Do you have any deep cuts or tracks you are partial to planned this time around?

PW: Yeah, we had about four or five in the set that were kind of obscure album tracks that we liked. This time there will be several of them. It changes. Of course people expect certain songs that you made popular, but that is true of many bands that have been around a long time like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles or the Rolling Stones. People want to hear the songs you made popular.

MC: Although The J. Geils only had their commercial success toward the end of their career, you guys were playing arenas for years prior to that.  Do you think that things are different today as far as a band being able to reach the level of selling out arenas without a hit record?

PW: We played arenas quite a bit, but I would say it wasn’t till the MTV era came along and embraced the band that we had our largest popularity. Also it coincided with a label change that had a great belief in the band that combined with MTV gave us new possibilities that we didn’t have before. There are a lot of bands playing arenas today that people say wow, where did they come from? I’ve never even heard of them.  There is a whole new audience through multimedia and the internet that communicate to a whole new fan base that are having great success that might not be played on the traditional radio in the way that the Stones or Geils or Aerosmith, bands of that order achieved their acclaim shall we say.

MC: You got your start in the music business as a deejay for WBCN in Boston. How did that come together?

PW: The fellow who put the station together was kind of an eccentric character. He used to go out drinking and when the bars closed, he’d come to my place and pass out on my couch. Then one day he asked me if I wanted to invest in this radio station. I couldn’t even pay my rent, never mind invest in a radio station. “Well,” he said, “you’ve got all these records around the house. Why don’t you at least help me out and come up and deejay?” So I ended up doing that for a couple of years. Every night I had the Wolfa Goofa Mama Toofa that went from midnight till 6 in the morning. I really enjoyed it. I had guests like Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, Carla Thomas, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and all sorts of different people. It was an amazing time to be on radio because it was one of the only music shows on at night on the FM dial that was playing that kind of stuff. So a lot of guests who were in town would drop by after their shows to promote that they were in town.

MC: I know you’re working on a new record. It’s been five years since your last solo record, the excellent Midnight Souvenirs, was released, how is the new record coming along?

PW: It is finished and should be out in February or March. We’ll be touring with the Midnight Travelers. which I’m very excited about. I enjoy doing the Geils stuff because it enables me to revisit a body of work that I helped create and was part of my life for so long. The solo stuff is very important and meaningful because it gives me the ability to keep rolling on.

MC: Midnight Souvenirs had a lot of guests on for duets; do you have any on the new record?

PW: It was a thrill to work with Merle Haggard who I always admired. He’s an icon. He’s right up there and it was a labor of love. On the album before that (Sleepless) it was great to work with Mick Jagger and another song with Keith Richards who are old friends. I had been planning to do a duet with a singer and songwriter that I had always loved and admired, Bobby Womack. There was a song I wrote with Don Covay who was a good friend of Bobby’s. Just as I got done finishing the song that Bobby was going to sing on, the fellow that was producing the record said you won’t believe it. I just got a flash on my cell phone that Bobby Womack passed away. It was very sad and disappointing news to lose an artist like that. His band the Valentinos was the first band to record “Looking For a Love,” which became a Geils staple. Bobby had been somebody that I had been a fan of throughout my career. That’s why I say with this Geils tour when people ask if this is the last tour, “You never really know.” Some bands like to promote it as the last tour but you never really know. So if people haven’t seen the band, they should make a point to get out there.  Catch it while it is there.

The J. Geils Band and Ian Hunter & The Rant Band will bring the Houseparty to India Point Park on The Providence Waterfront on September 5. The doors open at 5:30pm and the show starts at 6:30pm. 

Scurvy Dog Parking Lot Mega Show

The Scurvy Dog is at it again, hosting another all-day barbecue and rock show in their parking lot. The Labor Day Weekend lineup includes co-owner Jami Sleaze’s ’50s Elvis tribute band Louisiana Hayride, Beta Motel, the Viennagram, The Worried, Sasquatch, The Hornets, The Quahogs, Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion! (Boston instrumental surf rock), and Minibeast (crazy psych-rock featuring Peter Prescott of Mission to Burma and Adam Autry from Olneyville Sound System).  There will be a grill going outside with the Scurvy Dog’s usual menu plus the addition of Jennifer Hurricane’s world-famous seafood gumbo.

The Scurvy Dog Parking Lot mega show happens at The Scurvy Dog on September 6th.  The music will run from 2PM to 11Pm and the bar will be open all night.

Spot Underground’s Summers End Rock BBQ

As sad as it is to see summer go, who doesn’t like a good barbecue to send it out in style? In fact, one can just go barbecue hopping from the Scurvy Dog for the Parking Lot Mega Show to the Spot, and then maybe hit The Parlour. The whole time you’d have great music going on in the background. The Spot will have food and two stages going all night featuring performances by Spiderfighter, Another One Down, Chained to Insanity, Chronovore, Rich Polseno, Johnny Poons and Insanity Plague.

Spot Underground’s Summers End Rock BBQ will take place on September 6 at the Spot Underground in Providence.

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages come to town in support of their new powerhouse of record in Under The Savage Sky (Bloodshot Records).  Under The Savage Sky is packed with the R&B and garage rock that has long been Whitefield and The Savages’ calling card. I’ll have review of the entire record next issue but until then, circle this date on the calendar so you don’t miss something special.

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages return to rock the Columbus Theatre on September 11.

The Goddamn Gallows 

The Goddamn Gallows are like punk rock Americana with the way they incorporate instruments like washboard, mandolin and banjo into their up-tempo tunes. Hailing from Michigan, The Goddamn Gallows have made regular stops in Providence for years. If you are on the lookup for a night of up energetic music that is a little bit unique, check out The Goddamn Gallows.

The Goddamn Gallows will rock Firehouse 13 on September 16.

The Ghost Wolves

Austin rock duo The Ghost Wolves conjures up swampy blues and howling fuzzed-out garage rock on their album Man. Woman, Beast. As far as garage rock duos, The Ghost Wolves are a more dirty, raw-to-the-bone outfit than, say, a mainstream act like The Black Keys. I hear a heavy Cramps influence the way the blues is presented with a punk rock accent. This should be an exciting show!

The Ghost Wolves will rock Firehouse 13 on September 17.

The Mallett Brothers

The Mallett Brothers mix country and rock ‘n’ roll up in a stew, shake it and let it all hang out. I’ve been catching The Mallett Brothers for a few years now, as they seemed to be on one of those never-ending tours. Their sounds has bits of alt-country, Americana and folk combined with harder elements like full-on rock to make things pop. Get there early to check out The Red Pennys who have a new record that I’ll be reviewing next issue.

The Mallett Brothers, Sasquatch & The Sick-A-Billys, and The Red Pennys will rock the Met Café on September 18.

2nd Pop Fest

Chris “Pop” Popoloski was the Mayor of the Providence music scene. Pop was a voice of honesty whether manning the soundboard, playing a show, or supporting friends’ bands. Nobody was a bigger supporter of the scene. For the second year in a row his friends are having a memorial concert. All proceeds will go to the Pop Memorial Fund to assist stage hands and night club workers. The show will feature performances by The Struggle, Rhode Kill, The Bastards (Pop’s band) and Holy Cow. There are also a number of special guests lined up to appear.

The 2nd Pop Fest celebrating the life of Chris “The Pop” Popoloski takes place on September 19 at Aurora in Providence. Doors open at 8pm and the show will go all night with a $5 minimum donation.

Ace Frehley

The Spaceman — as original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley is known — continues the classic rock into Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel. I haven’t heard any of Frehley’s recent solo material, but I’m guessing it is closer to where his bread is buttered in the vein of KISS than say the disco of his solo hit “New York Groove.” That said, part of me hopes he comes out and does a 45-minute version of “New York Groove” because that would be so scarring.  Some of his solo work with Frehley’s Comet is excellent with gems like “Ozone” that have been covered by the Foo Fighters. I’m excited just thinking about all the ways this night could go.

Ace Frehley and Pistol Shot Gypsy rock Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel on September 23.

The Queers

The Queers are arguably New Hampshire’s finest export. They started as a Ramones rip-off, and then soothed the edges in the ’90s by incorporating the Beach Boys into their sound. Since then, there hasn’t been much change. The Queers have amassed a catalogue that is pretty damn impressive with gems like “I Met Her at The Rat,” “Punk Rock Girls, and “Teenage Bonehead.” The Queers don’t come down this way anywhere near as much as they used to, so don’t miss this one.

The Queers, Nobodys, and Party Pigs will rock Dusk on September 27.

Wayne “The Train” Hancock

Wayne “The Train” Hancock is an accomplished old style western outlaw country.  It seems weird thinking about it now, but it has actually been 20 years since his debut album, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, came out. Wayne “The Train” isn’t for those who like modern pop country, but the rabble rousers of the old hard stuff love him. All the cowboys of West Warwick are sure to be at this rodeo.

Wayne “The Train” Hancock will play Manchester 65 in West Warwick on September 27.

Pentagram

Pentagram are one of those rock ‘n’ roll tragedies that has been revived late in life. Pentagram started as a ’70s stoner metal rock ‘n’ roll band.  They should have been huge, but it took 16 years to release their debut. Drugs and more drugs capsized the band’s commercial potential. In the movie Last Days Here, a documentary of the band picks up with singer Bobby Liebling living in his elderly parents’ basement and addicted to crack. Liebling gets sober and married during the film and since then Pentagram has become active again. If you ever want a reason not to do crack, check out Pentagram live because Liebling in one grotesque-looking fellow. If that’s not enough of a reason to go, the band rocks, too!

Pentagram, Electric Citizen, and Satan’s Satyrs will rock The Met Café on October 1.

Gang of Four

Gang of Four are a seminal English post-punk band know for their political themes. Their debut album, Entertainment! is widely viewed as one of the essential albums out of the post-punk era. The lineups have changed over the years with guitarist Andy Gill the lone remaining original member. Gang of Four have been cited as an influence by REM, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers among others, so come to The Met and find out why!

Gang of Four and The New Regime rock the Met Café on October 3.

Up Star Fest 2015 – featuring The Vibrators

Up Start Fest is more like a traveling tour where the lineup can change slightly from night to night. The highlight for me is the presence of legendary first wave UK punks The Vibrators. The Vibrators released a lot of classic music most notably their 1977 debut, Pure Mania. They are more pop hook oriented than some of their contemporaries like The Clash and Sex Pistols. It isn’t every day that one gets the opportunity to see a first generation UK punk legend in an old firehouse in Providence, so take advantage of the opportunity at hand!

Up Start Fest featuring sets by The Vibrators, Two Fisted Law, Hudson Falcons, The Sharp Lads, Cry Havoc, Kyle Trocolla, and more hit Firehouse 13 on October 4.

Jesse Malin 

I’ve been a fan of Jesse Malin’s songwriting since the ’90s when he was fronting a glam punk band call D Generation. There is something about his lyric writing that is rich with references from rock ‘n’ roll while still being able to tell a story. Some of Malin’s solo work veers toward indie songwriter, but other points of reference include The Kinks, Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Pete Yorn. It’s been a busy year for Malin as he already released one album in New York Before The War and has a 2nd one called The Outsiders coming out the day of this show. This is my pick for the show of the fall right here.

Jesse Malin, Matthew Ryan, and Don Dilego will rock Firehouse 13 on October 9.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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