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Peter Wolf  

Peter Wolf is an American rhythm and blues, soul and rock and roll musician, best known as the lead vocalist for the J. Geils Band from 1967 to 1983; and for a successful solo career with writing partner Will Jennings.

For some, Peter Wolf is the energetic singer of a handful of major hits for The J. Geils Band--“Centerfold,” “Freeze Frame,” and “Love Stinks.”

For others, he’s the genre-spanning solo artist whose 2002 album Rolling Stone ranked among its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Yet those highlights barely scratch the biographical surface of a man who became friends with blues greats Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker; as a child painted in the studio of Norman Rockwell; as a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston roomed with director David Lynch; was the founding program director and disc jockey at Boston’s acclaimed FM station WBCN; and led a band for which U2 was once the opening act.

“Early in my life I committed myself to two lovers--music and painting,” says Wolf at his Boston home, “and each feeds the other. I’m the kind of guy who usually sees his glass as half-empty, but it’s full when I’m doing work, whether music or art, that’s worthwhile, that touches that spark of creation. To give birth to music, to hear it come alive, brings meaning to my life and hopefully that music inspires others.”

Wolf’s seventh solo album, MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS(Verve/UMe), released April 6, 2010, produced by Wolf and Kenny White, is his first since 2002’s lauded Sleepless. Featuring duets with country great Merle Haggard, indie heroine Neko Case, and Grammy® Award winner Shelby Lynne, MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS embraces rock, R&B, blues, folk and country in a way that has distinguished Wolf’s entire career.

From the melancholy “It’s Too Late For Me” with Haggard and the ‘70s R&B soul of “Overnight Lows,” from the romantic “The Greenfields Of Summer” with Case, modern country blues of “Tragedy” with Lynne and rockin’ “The Night Comes Down” (dedicated to the late Willy DeVille) to the anthemic “There Is Still Time,” hard-drivin’ “Lyin’ Low” and bittersweet ballad “Then It Leaves Us All Behind,” MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS continues his lifelong love affair with music.

Born in New York City to a musician father and teacher mother, Peter Blankfield grew up surrounded by music. His father took him to classical chamber concerts, bebop jazz performances, and shows by the folk group The Weavers. Wolf took part in a series for children with Woody Guthrie and that legend’s "Songs To Grow On" was the first record he owned. His first concert featured Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly.

When his father began working at the Tanglewood Music Festival, the family relocated near Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where Wolf spent afternoons in the studio of local painter Rockwell.

He studied piano, guitar, and violin but his dyslexia, then undiagnosed, made learning them difficult. He became the school orchestra’s drummer but the teacher decided he played too loud and transferred him to the cymbals and then the triangle.

Just 14 years old, he moved to a painting studio in Manhattan while attending the High School of Music & Art in Harlem. At the famed Apollo Theater nearby, he witnessed soul giants such as James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Dinah Washington, and Ray Charles. Later accepted into the Museum School of Fine Arts, he headed to Boston, where fellow student Lynch was looking for a roommate.

Wolf’s life changed one night at a loft party. The band’s singer was so drunk that he forgot the words to “There’s A Man Down There.” Wolf recalls: “I was just drunk enough to jump on stage and finish the song. It was such a powerful moment. I’ve been chasing that feeling you get from performing ever since.”

Eventually, he became the band’s lead singer and the Hallucinations became one of the most popular young groups in New England. So, after he saw Hooker perform at a near-empty coffeehouse, he convinced the bluesman to let the Hallucinations open for him to help fill the room. With Wolf’s apartment near the celebrated Club 47, many blues performers stopped by, including Muddy Waters, who also became a friend.

In addition to playing with Hooker, Waters, Junior Wells, and Howlin’ Wolf, the Hallucinations toured with the Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Young Rascals, the Byrds, and the Shirelles. It was also the house band at the Boston Tea Party, which saw the first American appearances of Led Zeppelin, Traffic, the Who, the Jeff Beck Group, and Fleetwood Mac.

At the same time, Wolf passed on an offer to buy WBCN and instead became the music and program director, as well as its late night DJ, “the Wolfa Goofa Mama Toofa.” Among the many artists he interviewed on the show was a young Irishman who had moved to town, Van Morrison, and they became fast friends.

In 1967, Wolf met guitarist J. Geils, harmonica player Magic Dick, and bassist Danny Klein. With Hallucinations drummer Stephen Bladd, they formed The J. Geils Band, so named because the guitar player’s manager insisted. Quickly a local favorite, the band signed to Atlantic Records the next year. When keyboardist and Boston University student Seth Justman became the final member, he and Wolf formed the songwriting team.

The band’s self-titled 1970 debut album launched its television premiere on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and a tour that earned fans across the country. In 1972, "Full House," recorded live in Detroit, captured the raw energy that marked the band and went gold. So too did 1973’s Top 10 charter "Bloodshot." The group enjoyed such Top 40 Pop hits as “Looking For A Love,” “Give It To Me,” and “Must Of Got Lost,” as well as AOR #1s “First I Look At The Purse (Live),” “Did You No Wrong,” and “Love-it Is,” and #2 “(Ain’t Nothin’ But A) House Party.”

Signing in 1978 to a new label, EMI America, brought the gold "Sanctuary" and its Top 40 “One Last Kiss” and title track favorite. 1980’s "Love Stinks" went Top 20 and gold, spinning off the anthemic title track and “Come Back,” both Top 40, as well as “Night Time.” Then came "Freeze Frame" in 1981. With the help of the dawning MTV, the album shot to #1 and went platinum. “Freeze Frame” reached #4 and gold; “Centerfold” was #1 for six weeks and gold; and “Angel In Blue” hit the Top 40.

Touring worldwide with The Rolling Stones, The J. Geils Band achieved international stature even as it rose to become one of America’s most popular. For one headlining tour, U2 was an opening act. 1982’s live "Showtime!" went gold and boasted the Top 40 “I Do,” but was the band’s last album with Wolf.

Artistic differences with Justman resulted in Wolf’s exit. “Like a marriage,” Wolf reflects, “it was sad when it dissolved. We could have continued to grow artistically, and it was important that many people discovered Muddy and John Lee through us. But it makes me feel good that I’ve kept my commitment to my roots in my solo career.”

Songs he had written for the band now made up his solo debut, 1984’s "Lights Out," which featured Mick Jagger, Elliot Easton of the Cars, Adrian Belew, G.E. Smith, members of the P-Funk Horns, Yogi Horton, Maurice Starr, and Michael Jonzun of the Jonzun Crew. The album reached the Top 30, yielding the Top 15 title track, Top 40 “I Need You Tonight,” and rock hit “Crazy.” The next year, Wolf recorded “Push,” a duet with Aretha Franklin with Carlos Santana on guitar.

1987’s "Come As You Are" included the Top 15 title track (also #1 Mainstream Rock) and “Can’t Get Started.” That year, Wolf also participated in the anti-apartheid project Artists United Against Apartheid founded by Little Steven Van Zandt, including the track “Sun City.” In 1990, "Up To No Good," on MCA, was recorded in Nashville with songwriters Taylor Rhodes and Robert White Johnson. Wolf also began working with much-honored songwriter Will Jennings. For 1996’s "Long Line," on Reprise Records, several songs were written with Boston-based singer-songwriter Aimee Mann.

Kenny White came aboard as co-producer on 1998’s "Fool’s Parade," on Mercury. Incorporating recording techniques from the early blues and R&B records they loved, they used vintage equipment and recorded live. Rolling Stone would name "Fool’s Parade" one of the 50 most influential recordings of that decade.

In 1999, The J. Geils Band reunited for a U.S. tour. Other limited reunions have occurred since, including a series of 2009 shows highlighted by opening the Boston House of Blues.

“I committed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to The J. Geils Band,” says Wolf. “It still means a lot to me. Every now and then, if the reason is right, we get together--but there’s nothing formal. It took me a long time to recover from the breakup and to find my own voice. Now I feel comfortable sailing my ship on my own.”

2002’s "Sleepless," on short-lived indie Artemis Records, was an artistic triumph. Featuring performances with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Steve Earle, Rolling Stone tagged it “an instant classic” and listed it among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Commercially, however, "Sleepless" suffered from the small label’s lack of resources.

Wolf has since penned a chapter on Muddy Waters for Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, Rolling Stone pieces for its “Immortal” issues on Van Morrison and Jackie Wilson (who he inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and participated in the Hall’s Sam Cooke tribute. In 2008, he joined Kid Rock on The Rock N Roll Revival Tour. He also began recording MIDNIGHT SOUVENIRS.

“This may sound strange,” admits Wolf, “but ultimately I don’t consider myself a musician; I consider myself a fan. Music is what I do but more importantly it’s what I love.”

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