By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Longtime J. Geils frontman visits Portland on Tuesday in support of new solo album
Talking with Peter Wolf is a lot like taking a stroll through an art museum with one of the great masters of painting.
In an hour-long telephone conversation, we somehow managed to cover some 60 years of musical history, ranging from 1950's era Valentinos through this year's release of Wolf's latest solo album.
One master paying homage to those who have gone before him. Wolf considers himself more of a student than master, however.
"Growing up, I always painted, but music was the great background of my life. My dad wanted me to see artists as a kid. At the age of ten years old, I got to see people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers, Dion and the Belmonts, the Chantelles, the Platters, and the list goes on and on. I was baptized very early into rock and roll."
These early musical influences formed the core of Wolf's musical persona and helped propel him to great success fronting the J. Geils Band. More recently, Wolf has focused on his solo career and has released several albums as a solo artist. Wolf visits the Aladdin Theater on Tuesday.
This years "A Cure for Loneliness" is Wolf's best solo release to date and has an intimate feel throughout, one of Wolf's goals in making the album. I reviewed the album in May.
"A Cure for Loneliness" is Wolf's best solo release to date and has an intimate feel throughout, one of Wolf's goals in making the album.
"I've always enjoyed the artist where you can connect the singer with the song, they are the ones I find myself listening to. Those who you feel are putting something personal of themselves into the music."
The best example of this is found on the last track of the album, Stranger, which has only Wolf's vocals and Duke Levine playing guitar.
"I had a version that had the full band, harmonies, pedal steel, and fiddle. It really worked, but there was something about the loneliness of the back porch feel of myself and an accoustic guitar with Duke that felt to be more powerful and in synch with what we were trying to acheive."
Wolf has always seen himself as something of a curator of under-exposed music.
"I would always go into my record collection to try to pull out these recordings that people didn't know to try to expose these great songs and pay tribute to them," he explains.
As an example, the Covay penned The Usual Place is on the Geils Band's second album, which isn't surprising considering Wolf has always had a liking for Covay.
After recording the first Geils album, an executive at Atlantic offered to introduce Wolf to anyone of their artists. "I said Don Covay and they were kind of taken aback. They thought I'd say Aretha (Franklin) or (Wilson) Pickett."
"He's still pretty subterranean, not many people know of his work. The work I love of his specifically is the work he did on the Atlantic label. I think those recordings are just fantastic."
The new album includes the cut It's Raining which Covay and Wolf had written together some years previously. Going into the studio, Wolf had planned on Bobby Womack making an appearance on the album, who is another of Wolf's musical icons.
"I had been trying to work with Bobby Womack for a while, I'm such a great fan of his. He was the first person to record Lookin' for a Love. I was just always floored with Bobby's early work with the Valentino's."
"When I got out of the studio, just as I was finished recording this Don Covay track, the producer told me, 'You wouldn't believe what I just heard. We just found out Bobby Womack passed.'"
Wolf immediately went back into the studio and added a spoken introduction to the song, paying tribute to both Womack and Covay.
Although Wolf has been through the area during his days with Geils, this is the first time he has toured the Pacific Northwest solo.
"It's been so long since I've been out in that area and it's definitely a place I enjoy going. With all the solo work I've never been able to get out the the Northwest," he says.
Talking with Wolf, it becomes clear that he still loves writing and performing and rejects the idea that rock artists diminish in relevance over time.
"It comes down to, at the end of the day, the relevance and quality of the work. When you see a painting by one of the great masters, what it comes down to is the painting relevant or not relevant."
"I didn't choose to be a soloist but it was the only way I could continue to do the music and creatively keep doing what I love. There's a jubilation in being able to just keep rolling on."
ON TOUR: Peter Wolf rolls into the Aladdin Theater Tuesday, August 9th at 8:00pm. Tickets are still available.