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Extended Analysis

J. Geils Band: Full House

By Published: September 10, 2004
J. Geils Band
Full House

Blow your face out, baby...

Once, when I was teaching Chemical Quantitative Analysis, a student approached me before a test and asked, "Can you tell me all I need to know to pass this exam?" I told him yes, but it may take awhile. When he asked why, I replied, "Because, it all starts with protons, electrons, and neutrons.'" First principles— this is the place where all begins and is explained.

My first musical brush with first principles was the first time I ever heard Little Walter Jacobs blow his breath through his chromatic mouth harp. It was then that I understood perfectly Magic Dick Salwitz's awesome power and talent on the harmonica. Magic Dick was the wailing harmonica soul of the J. Geils Band, not lead vocalist Peter Wolf, whose singing was a recognition faction in the band's sound. However, Magic Dick's sound defined the band, at least in the beginning.

Founded in 1967 in Boston, the J. Geils Band made a reputation of itself as an over-the-top bar band, specialists in esoteric Soul and R&B songs. Raunchy by way of Wolf, Bluesy by way of Magic Dick, Jazzy by way of keyboardist Seth Justman, and all Rock & Roll by way of J. Geils, the J. Geils Band forged a white bridge between Detroit Soul, Memphis R&B, and American pop culture. The band made albums in the early 1970s that fed the appetite of AOR FM stations and Late Night AM stations. It was not until the late 70s and early 80s that the band finally reached a wider audience and produced a string of Top Ten hits'and in the bargain lost their original grit. "I Must of Got Lost," "Give it to Me," and "Centerfold" were all solid pop confections, but they were no match for what the Band produced ten years earlier on "Live" Full House.

Minute for Minute, "Live" Full House is one of the densest rock live albums ever produced. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, it packs a relentless punch that leaves the listener drunk with pleasure and wanting more. The disc opens with the relatively obscure Smokey Robinson tune, "First I Look at the Purse," which is totally transformed into a slab-o-rock lava flow and proceeds through Otis Rush's "Homework" (easy blues) and the originals "Wammer Jammer," "Hard Drivin' Man" (Rock and Roll), and "Crusin' for Love." Most songs are of 45 rpm length with the notable exception of John Lee Hooker's staggering nine plus minutes of "It Serves You Right to Suffer," a funeral dirge turned nasty.

J. Geils and Seth Justman add their tasty licks to the stew prepared here, tickling all of those R&R receptors in the listeners' brains, forcing them to dance. Peter Wolf swaggers with all of the greasy Mick Jagger confidence he can muster

But in all of this, it is that pre-John Popper harmonica of Magic Dick that steals the show. He distills everything Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boys I and II, and Junior Wells ever played into a frenetic style played at a nuclear tempo. Just put on "Wammer Jammer," turn it up to eleven, and get back to first principles.

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