The Hippo


Apr 20, 2019








Peter Wolf. Courtesy photo.

Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travelers 

When: Saturday, Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Flying Monkey, 39 Main St., Plymouth
Tickets: $39-$45 at  

Peter Wolf talks
J. Geils Band singer performs at Flying Monkey

By Michael Witthaus

 Though Peter Wolf will perform primarily solo material Oct. 17 at Plymouth’s Flying Monkey Theatre, most of his band will be the same guys he shared the stage with for the year-long J. Geils Band tour that wrapped up a few weeks ago — Duke Levine and Kevin Barry playing guitars, and drummer Tom Arey. Bassist Marty Ballou rounds out the group.

The singer is working on a new record, his first since 2010’s Midnight Souvenirs. The previous disc featured duets with Merle Haggard, Neko Case and Shelby Lynne, but this one’s all Wolf. A collaboration with Bobby Womack, who wrote the Geils Band’s first hit, “Looking for a Love,” was scrapped when Womack died unexpectedly last year. 
Wolf spoke with the Hippo while traveling back from a New York City premiere of Under the Influence. (He called the Netflix Keith Richards film “a great documentary.”)
You spent most of 2015 fronting J. Geils Band; how does it feel returning to your solo side?
It’s like being in a play or being part of a repertoire where you revisit a body of work you helped create. It’s not unlike an actor that does a role they’ve been involved with for a long time. You break away and come back to it. It’s not unlike a Shakespearean actor revisiting a play. … It’s a challenge, but it’s something I’ve learned to know how to do.
How does your new album in progress compare to earlier ones?
It’s a continuum, in the sense that it’s a lot of the same players, cut in the same studios … it started off with Fool’s Parade, so I guess it’s a quartet of works. … It’s different, as Sleepless was different from Midnight Souvenirs [but] there was a certain kind of similarity that runs through it.
What songwriting themes are you exploring on the new record?
The same sort of stuff: love, despair, life, living, loss and all of the above.  
You did some big shows this summer. What are your best memories?
With the Geils Band, we just finished Pine Knob, and that was a really good run — we had Ian Hunter opening up for us with the Rant Band. He has a pretty legendary history going back to the old ska days when a lot of English bands started forming, and of course the David Bowie and Mott the Hoople days. We toured with him way back when he was working with Mick Ronson, so it was a good night of rock and roll. 
Do you like your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chances this year?
I don’t know, they keep changing the rules, changing people. … We were nominated three times. It’s hard to say. I’m not really sure. It would be a nice honor, but I’m not sure it’s something that’s coming our way.  
Do you like the transition from playing big to small venues?
They’re all so different, not to overuse the analogy but it’s like being an actor. It’s one thing doing a big production than doing a small one … it’s a different kind of challenge, but I enjoy it. A lot of the music that I grew up, people like Muddy Waters and a lot of the country guys, it was so close. Throughout their careers they played honky tonks and juke joints. When I first saw Muddy Waters it was in a small club, like Little Richard, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. We’re honoring an important tradition in American music and music in general. Most of the great jazz artists played Birdland, the Five Spot or the Vanguard, all small clubs. We enjoy rolling into places like Flying Monkey. 
Do you think your show business marriage [to actress Faye Dunaway] in the 1970s would have been more difficult in the Internet age?
In actuality, it did happen. When I was married, I got calls from People magazine and Barbara Walters wanting to come in the house. It’s just we didn’t choose to be a professional or public couple. Like Gregg Allman and Cher, they were all over the place. It’s just something I personally didn’t want to do so it was under the radar, but I understand your question. It would be a lot different today for sure.
On a personal note, I experienced many amazing Geils Band shows growing up near San Francisco — thank you.
It’s funny, because on this last Geils tour we were doing “Cruising for a Love” [and] I said, ‘I’d like to dedicate this song to a gentleman by the name of Bill Graham, who was really responsible for us getting our start.’ He invited us down sight unseen to play the Fillmore East, and we were opening for a band called Black Sabbath. The audience really didn’t want to hear us, but he said, ‘You gotta give these guys a chance.’ We went over so well he kept inviting us back. Then when he was closing it down he invited us and Albert King and the Allman Brothers with Duane Allman, a pretty heady night that went until six in the morning. Everybody kept playing and jamming … a lot of those people aren’t around, but it was important that we got to work with people who were creative in presenting the music.
I count myself as fortunate to grow up in Bill Graham’s Bay Area. His loss has been felt for a long time.
It was a different landscape for sure, because Bill really started setting the tone of how to make it comfortable for a performer, with dressing rooms and stuff you take for granted; so much of it was due to his style. 

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