Cornered in Union Square, the Tír na nÓg, a brightly colored club shaped like a of wedge of cheese is where Peter Wolf secretly performs. Wolf stands center stage dressed in black while he croons the blues doing a two-song cameo for a local rock group, David Johnston Band. He jiggles and jolts erratically as if he was receiving an electric shock. “ The crowd was completely into him, and they didn’t want him off the stage.” said Mark Arnold, 24 a bartender at the club. Wolf knows how to move his audience from his 17-½ year run as lead singer of the J. Geils Band. Wolf would perform in sold out arenas across the world. At 60, he still plays hard. But since his last solo album, “Sleepless,” five years ago, he has remained out of the public eye, only performing in small clubs around Boston. The audience is dancing, while Wolf sings his heartbreak directing his attention to the prettiest girl in the audience.
First Passion’s Art, Love, Music
“Performing is something like …being very attracted to [someone] and kissing them,” said Wolf. While his legions of fans may think of him as a born rock star, music isn’t what brought him to Boston.
Wolf or as he pronounces it “Woo” said in his teens, his first passion was for creating art, which led him on a journey from college to college where he passed as a student in order to gain access to art supplies. “I just hitchhiked around schools and became a student because no one was asking for IDs back then,” said Wolf. During his travels he sent some of his drawings to the Museum School of Fine Arts College in Boston. Shortly, afterwards he was accepted into one of their art programs. “When I rolled in[to Boston], I was an art student” he said. “I was only concerned about one thing, which was painting. Music was an inspiring catalyst to get me further into painting.”
While the solitary role of the painter fulfilled his passion for visual arts, Wolf sought new outlets of creative expression through performing. He is best known for his theatrics with the J. Geils band, transmuting his legendary monologues to his audience-filled arena. He would preach to his screaming fans, “Love comes once and you better grab it fast.” Despite heartbreak he doesn’t have any regrets about grabbing the one he loved.
“I grabbed it fast, but it had a tragic end because that person died,” said Wolf, referring to Edie Marie, who was a dominant figure in his life. They were both art students who lived together until Marie’s untimely death from a car accident in 1972. Wolf did try to love again. He married actress Faye Dunaway, but their marriage lasted only five years. “I’m single, disengaged and double-parked in the highway of love,” he said.
After Marie’s death, Wolf abandoned his dream of becoming a visual artist and focused on his love for music. Wolf’s rock star status virtually fell into his lap; at a house party Wolf was asked to take the place of the lead singer who was too drunk to perform. He was well received and shortly after became lead singer of The Hallucinations, an untamed band of art school dropouts. “We were neo punk R&B rocked out wild manic bunch,” Wolf said, “Our first gig was backing up John Lee Hooker and later we played with the Velvet Underground.”
Wolf’s voice exploded onto the Boston music scene not through his live performances, however, but through his midnight radio show on WBCN. “ The Woofer Goofer Mother Toother]” show brought rock ‘n’ roll to Boston’s airwaves in the 60s. Since TV went off at midnight young people looking for entertainment would switch on the radio to hear this fast-talking deep voiced DJ. “I would bring boxes of 45s and play lots of John Lee Hooker, The Five Royals, Loretta Lynn, anything goes, said Wolf, “It had no beginning, middle, or end it just had this kind of mania to it.”
The Woofer Goofer notorious for his interviews with famous musicians would electrify young Bostonian rock fans. “People of the night would randomly drop by, including regulars like Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker,” he said. The Boston music scene had a voice, which lasted until the 80’s even during his career as lead singer of the J. Geils band.
Richie Bezjian, co-owner of Leo’s Place in Harvard Square has been a friend of Wolf for the past 30 years. He remembers Wolf from the beginning of his musical career. Bezjian while cooking breakfast for his customers said, “Not many people know that Wolf is a musicologists, some just think of him as in J. Geil’s Band, a party band, but he is so much more than this,” referring to Wolf’s personality and his radio show where he would play everything from bluegrass to the blues. Wolf is still a regular at Leo’s Place, he arrives in the evenings and always orders breakfast.
Working at the radio station and singing in one of the most popular American bands of the eighties was what this showman loved to do. When the other band mates asked him to leave because of artistic differences, Wolf was devastated.
“It’s almost like a marriage that went astray, which is sad because real groups are hard to come by,” said Wolf, “I dedicated a lot of my life to the band, and now I’m sailing my ship alone because that’s what I do and what I chose to keep doing,” Wolf referring to his career as a solo artist.
Even though Wolf creates solo albums, he is far from remaining alone as a performer. Each of his albums has had a mix of talents, from Rolling Stones member’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richards all the way to Michael Johnson who created one of the first hip hop infused rock groups, The Johnson Crew. “I enjoy a group atmosphere,” said Wolf, “When you have a lot of creative people come together it works. It makes something special.”
Wolf has an intense connection with all of his six solo albums. “With each one it feels like I’m creating a new family,” he said. Rolling Stones magazine rated his 2002 album, “Sleepless” featuring Jagger and Richards, as being one of the greatest 500 albums of all time.
Five years after the release of “Sleepless,” Wolf is currently working on a new album. He is optimistic about the future. For his new album he experiments with slow and fast melodies. For some of the songs that will be part of the album, he will ask his favorite artist to perform with him. As for what the future holds he said, “Its, like the song said, ‘tomorrow quite never knows,’ I have my desires, just toast in a nice warm cup of tea and… the rest I’ll play by year.”