World Class Rock

Peter Wolf: Finding The Cure

Almost 50 years in, one of rock and roll’s coolest still finds a deep connection to his audience.

By Steve Houk

It’s been almost 40 years ago now since my high school buddy Ted Riegel used to crank up “Musta Got Lost” from the J. Geils Band‘s seminal 1976 live record Blow Your Face Out on a cassette player in our locker room before our varsity baseball and soccer games to get us psyched up. It was that perfectly raucous combination of rock and roll, soul and R & B that the Geils band was so good at, especially with their powerhouse lead singer Peter Wolf blasting out the vocals in a style truly unique to him. And boy, did it get you stoked to go out and do some damage on the field.

I related this story to Wolf recently, and what do ya know, he had a very similar story related to him by one of rock’s most notorious leading men, a story that made us both laugh at the almost identical nature of the memory that involved Wolf and his wild old band.

“I met Axl Rose many years ago, and he told me that when he was a football player on his high school team, they used to play ‘Musta Got Lost’ before each game. And he said every time they played it, they won. You never know how the music penetrates.”

As far as Peter Wolf is concerned, his music has deeply penetrated our hearts, minds and rock and roll souls for nearly five decades, from his wild Woofa Goofa days riling up crowds (and high school athletes) into a frenzy with J. Geils, to his post-Geils days churning out consistently stellar solo work. And his excellent new effort A Cure For Loneliness is no exception, and may be his best solo foray yet. Wolf brings his superb band The Midnight Travelers to The Birchmere on June 1st.

For Wolf, Cure is a reflective piece that takes a look at where he is at this point in his life across a host of genres. He does it with just the right combination of flair, subtlety and power, along with solid musicianship, and says he crafted it with a specific process in mind.

“We put together a batch of songs and recorded it in studio,” Wolf told me on a break during his current tour. “And then we did some recording of the same songs live and we just picked and choosed. We tried to give it some kind of beginning, middle and an end. ‘Rollin’ On’ kinda leads into the thematic aspect of the record. ‘Stranger’ leads with a kinda lonely kinda feelin.’ And ‘Cure For Loneliness’, well, there it is, music’s my cure for loneliness.”

Listening to the new record, I found myself feeling my own individual connections to the music, songs that seem to speak to what I’m feeling at this point in life, right now. Add that’s a hope every artist has when they create music, to make that kind of connection with the listener.

“When I make ’em, I make ’em to please myself,” the amicable 70-year old Wolf said. “Because I figure, if I can’t please myself, I can’t expect other people to be pleased. So it’s nice to hear there’s some kind of connection to the audience.”

As far as the current live show, it seems that it has something for everyone, and that’s really been Wolf’s appeal his whole career.

“I choose very special artists to perform with me, so by that alone it makes the evening unique. And we have a great camraderie. We can play all the songs on the solo records, we can play some favorite blues and rockin’ stuff that I like, and we can play most of the Geils stuff. We got hundreds of songs in our repertoire, and when we get to a show, anything goes.”

And when you ask Peter Wolf what makes him happiest these days, well, after almost 50 years, it still all comes down to the music.

“Playing with this band, in front of a good house, that’ll do it for me. I don’t mean that to sound like show biz jive, just telling you the honest truth. It still has to do with the connection to the audience, and also my connection with the band.”

Peter Wolf and The Midnight Travelers perform Wednesday June 1st at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here.