Peter's high school was located in Harlem, only a few blocks from the legendary Apollo Theater. Peter attended the theater religiously and developed a love of soul music. He saw an endless list of soul and jazz legends such as James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Billy Stewart, Dinah Washington and Ray Charles, all of whom had a profound affect on his musical development and, later, his stage persona.
Interested in visiting friends involved in the folk music scenes, Peter began hitchhiking across the country and visited Chicago and later, his sister at the University of Wisconsin. Peter hung out at different college campuses, pretending he was a student so that he could use the school's art facilities. While living in Chicago, he was accepted to Boston's Museum School of Fine Arts and he hitchhiked to New England, where he spent several days living in cheap hotels.
During a visit to Brandeis University, he met and befriended student and musician Jon Landau, who later became an influential writer for Rolling Stone magazine, a record producer and Bruce Springsteen's manager. One day while searching for an apartment, Peter met another student who was looking for a roommate. Peter and that student, filmmaker David Lynch, became roommates.
One night, Peter went to a loft party that was attended by many painters and musicians. A band was performing, but its members had a little too much to drink and the singer couldn't remember the lyrics to the song "There's A Man Down There," by G. L. Crockett. Though he had drunk several glasses of wine himself, Peter jumped in and helped the band finish the song.
Performing at this party was a revelation for Peter. The experience was so powerful that he became completely consumed with the idea of joining this band. After much persistence, Peter became a member and, eventually, the band's lead singer. They all dropped out of art school to devote themselves completely to the band and rehearsed constantly. They called themselves the Hallucinations and became one of the most popular young groups in New England. They soon became drenched in early rock, R&B and Chicago Blues.
During this period, Peter became interested in Chicago blues. One night, he went to see John Lee Hooker perform at a coffee house and was shocked to find the club nearly empty. He went backstage to talk with him and tried to convince John Lee that if he let Peter's band join him on the bill, they could help fill the room. Hooker agreed, and Peter's group became the opening act, paving the way for a long friendship.
A newly formed band, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was spending a lot of time in the Boston area. Along with guitar great Michael Bloomfield, they used the Hallucination's rehearsal loft to put together their second album, East West.
Peter's Cambridge apartment was just a few blocks away from the celebrated Club 47, which showcased great performers such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, Son House, Bill Monroe and Skip James. The club's dressing room was so small that Peter invited many of the performers to use his nearby apartment between sets. During this period, Peter had befriended Muddy Waters and became his unofficial valet when Muddy was in Boston. Many members of Muddy's band would stay at Peter's apartment when playing in New England.
In addition to playing with Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf, the Hallucinations also toured with bands such as the Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Young Rascals, the Byrds and the Shirelles. They also became the house band at the famed Boston Tea Party club, which featured the first American appearances of groups such as Led Zeppelin, Traffic, the Who, Jeff Beck Group and Fleetwood Mac.
Peter became close friends with musician Barry Tashian, the leader of the Boston group, the Remains, an extremely influential band throughout New England. They toured the United States with The Beatles and were part of the Beatles' final American tour in 1966, which included the famed Shea Stadium concert. For a short time, Barry and Peter were roommates, and Barry helped influence Peter's musical career. Barry later went on to play with Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, who at the time was attending Harvard University. Gram later recorded J. Geils' song, "Cry One More Time," for his album Grievous Angel.
After the bars would close, many musicians would go to Peter's apartment and jam all night long. An eccentric Harvard University law student from Kansas City named Ray Riepen, who always sported a three-piece, pinstriped, Brooks Brothers' suit, frequented these sessions and often ended up passed out on Peter's couch. One day, he asked Peter to join him in a venture to buy an FM radio station WBCN in Boston. Peter, having no money and little entrepreneurial sense, passed on the offer and instead volunteered to help organize the programming.
Peter became the station's music and program director as well as its late night, fast-talking Disc Jockey, the "Wolfa Goofa Mama Toofa." He created a program that fused rare rock 'n' roll with rhythm 'n' blues. The show, influenced by many of the R&B DJs he heard growing up in New York, became extremely popular, not only with the general radio audience, but also as a resource for musicians in New England.
Peter interviewed many artists on the show, including John Lee Hooker, Carla Thomas, Howlin' Wolf, Mose Allison, Roland Kirk, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and a young Irishman who had recently moved to town, Van Morrison. Peter and Van became close friends and spent many sleepless nights listening to their favorite records and playing together at the same clubs.
In 1967, several members of the Hallucinations began to pursue other artistic interests, leaving Peter bandless. In his search for new musicians to play with, Peter attended an open mike night at a Boston coffeehouse where he met J. Geils, Magic Dick, and D. K.. Together, with Stephen, former Hallucinations drummer, they decided to form a band. At the time, guitar player J. Geils was under an exclusive management contract. The manager, to protect his interests, would not allow Peter and J. Geils play together unless the group was called the J. Geils Band.
The band moved to Montreal, where they learned obscure blues and R&B material, mainly from Pete's vast record collection. When they finally returned to Boston, the J. Geils Band immediately became a popular local favorite.
A year later, Mario Medious, a hip, south side Chicago, fast-talking promotion man for Atlantic Records, was visiting Boston with Dr. John. While attending a show at the Boston Tea Party, Mario heard the J. Geils Band from the back room. He assumed they were a south side Chicago blues band and went backstage to introduce himself.
To his surprise, Mario found five young, white musicians from Boston. Instantaneously impressed, he called his boss, Jerry Wexler, then co-owner and Vice President of Atlantic Records. The next week, Peter and his friend Jon Landau met with Jerry Wexler in New York. In 1968, with the approval of saxophone legend King Curtis, the band was signed to Atlantic Records.
Wexler asked Landau, who had just produced a record for the MC5 in Detroit, to explore what the J. Geils Band sounded like in the studio. After a week, they all agreed they needed more time before recording an album.
Back in Boston, the Geils band set up home base at a basement club underneath several pool parlors called the Catacombs. The club offered a unique roster of artists such as John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Billy Boy Arnold and Pharaoh Sanders. It was also the place where Van Morrison debuted the songs he eventually recorded for his classic album, Astral Weeks.
Seth Justman, a young Boston University student and musician from Washington, D.C., became a frequent visitor to the Catacombs. After much persistence, he eventually became the final member of the J. Geils Band.
After Seth's first performance with the band, it was decided that Peter's unconventional vocal style and frenetic stage performance might be an illogical hindrance rather than an asset. Much to Seth's surprise, the other members thought it would be best for Peter to leave the group and drummer Steven Bladd became the new lead singer. Several weeks later, they asked Peter to return. Seth and Peter cultivated a strong friendship, and shared many musical interests and became the band's song writing team.
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