Pop ’N Hiss: The J. Geils Band’s “Live” Full House

Detroit Get-Down
Pop ’N Hiss: The J. Geils Band’s “Live” Full House
The J. Geils Band onstage in 1972 – J. Geils, Danny Klein, and Peter Wolf.

You heard of the Boogaloo?” singer Peter Wolf bellows as the J. Geils Band roars through “Hard Drivin’ Man.” “You heard of the Boston Monkey? You heard of the Philly Freeze? We got the Detroit Demolition here tonight!”

Recorded April 21 and 22, 1972, at Detroit’s Cinderella Ballroom, the J. Geils Band’s “Live” Full House was a raucous workout that solidified the Boston sextet’s reputation as a preeminent blues-rock ensemble that hosted a slam-bang concert.

Detroit latched on to the music of the J. Geils Band early, so the group – Geils (guitar), Peter Wolf (vocals), Danny Klein (bass), Seth Justman (keyboards), Stephen Jo Bladd (drums) and Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz (harmonica) – opted to record its first live effort there. The notion of a live album as a third release went against the grain because all of the songs appeared on the band’s first two studio albums – six on the self-titled 1970 debut, two on the ’71 follow-up, The Morning After.

“There could have some business or monetary reasons behind it, but the driving motivation was to present our live show, and those songs were a better way to show our strength,” Klein recently said of the decision. “What they got on tape was really representative of what we sounded like.”

While up-front harmonica was requisite for a blues band from the south side of Chicago, such a lineup was rare among rock bands. But, Magic Dick’s harp has numerous lead breaks, often sounding so much like a Geils guitar lick it’s difficult to tell whether it’s one or the other – or both.

“Live” Full House is also abetted by Wolf’s manic stage incarnation of the Woofa Goofa, a hipster persona he assumed as host of a popular late-night radio show in Boston.

The album kicks off with a blistering cover of the Contours’ “First I Look At The Purse” with harp taking the first lead break. Note-for-note licks between guitar and harmonica and/or bass abound, with a take on Otis Rush’s “Homework” bringing the first example.

“A lot of those were difficult to work out, and some of the unison stuff was on studio albums,” Klein said. His favorite example, “Hard Drivin’ Man,” also includes funky chicken picking by Geils and rollicking piano from Justman.

J. Geils Band 1972: Michael Putland.

Throughout, Klein’s bass sounds like it’s being played hard.

“Sometimes it was difficult to control back then,” he chuckled, recalling that when the album was recorded, he was favoring a sunburst Jazz Bass with a maple fretboard and black-block markers while Geils played a goldtop Les Paul, customized Flying V, and a Les Paul Junior.

A coarse cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Serves You Right To Suffer” is the only slow tune, but its tempo and message are insistent. The first five and a half minutes feature harmonica and organ solos before Geils’ jittery guitar swoops in with a distortion-engorged passage that yanks the melody to an alternate state.

Klein and his bandmates accomplished their quest to properly document a J. Geils Band concert, and half a century later, he’s still proud of the effort. Released September 28, 1972, “Live” Full House peaked at #54 on Billboard. Its cover was designed by Bladd and Wolf, and the card display isn’t a full house – it’s three jacks, the king of spades, and the queen of hearts. Close inspection reveals the queen offering a knowing wink.

The band’s popularity in Detroit figured into subsequent live albums; 1976’s Blow Your Face Out was recorded there and in Boston, while 1982’s Showtime! was solely in Detroit.
Klein is still active in music.

“We play a lot of early Geils blues stuff,” he said of Danny Klein’s Full House. “We’re not a tribute band, but last year was the 50th anniversary [of “Live” Full House], so we played the whole album in concert. We really enjoyed it.”

A high-energy showcase, the album remains a definitive presentation of a full-throttle J. Geils Band show succeeding in, er… spades.

This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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