fb-pixel

The first night Peter Wolf arrived in Boston, he slept at a YMCA.

The second night, penniless, he slept on the banks of the Charles River.

“The third night, it was going to rain. I was in the hallway, hoping to find somebody who could maybe put me up,” says Wolf, 73. “I bumped into this guy who was looking for a roommate. And that guy turned out to be David Lynch.”

The painter and soon-to-be-J. Geils Band frontman roomed with fellow art student and soon-to-be “Twin Peaks” director on Hemenway Street for about a year.

Born Peter Blankfield in the Bronx in 1946, Wolf was, by the ’60s a talented young painter who arrived in Boston on a scholarship to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Advertisement



“There was no dormitories at the Museum School,” explains Wolf, noting he and Lynch lived in “a little one-room apartment with a bunkbed. It was kind of funky.”

Wolf didn’t stay focused on painting long. A self-proclaimed “music fanatic,” he joined a band of art school musicians, essentially, to meet musicians. He also became the all-night DJ “Woofa Goofa” at WBCN, then an upstart counterculture FM station, to talk music all night long.

“I just consider myself a music fan. I went from art to music because it was a way of meeting musicians,” says Wolf. “I’m just fascinated by people who can really play.”

We caught up with Wolf as he was driving to Cambridge to work on his new album, slated for late 2019 or early 2020 release. He and his longtime band the Midnight Travelers play a string of upcoming shows in North Truro and Fall River. Next month they open for The Who at Fenway Park.

Q. So what’s it been like playing with The Who?

A. I played with the band many years ago, when all the original members were with us, and it’s still great. They have a symphony orchestra, and so it’s a pretty special show. It’s great to be in front of a large bunch of rock ’n’ rollers, like when we played with [Tom] Petty. It was the same thing; it was special because I knew Tom, and it was great to be part of that [Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour in 2017].

Advertisement



Q. He also opened for you, way back.

A. That’s true. As Tom said, “We’re going around the circle.” Because when he was just starting out, the Heartbreakers opened up for the Geils band, I used to go into that dressing room and visit ’em and yak with ’em and they were always appreciative of that. We stayed in touch throughout the years. And when he was putting together the tour, I was very honored that he asked me.

Q. Tom offered you “Don’t Do Me Like That” at one point.

A. Yeah, he had sent in the mail a cassette, and Jimmy Iovine, his producer, said, “Pete, I think this would be a great song for you.” And I listened to it, and unfortunately, we had just finished recording a record, and by the time we were able to record it, he had recorded it. The last time I saw him, we were kidding around about it. He said, “Hey Pete, thanks for not recording it. Gave me one of my biggest hits. I think it would’ve been twice as big for you.”

Advertisement



Q. You came here to study painting. When did you switch to music?

A. I was at a party and all the people in the band were art students, and I couldn’t quite believe they were putting together this group, the Hallucinations. So I decided I wanted to join. Our first date was playing for John Lee Hooker, then the Shirelles, then we opened for the Velvet Underground, then Sun Ra, Roy Orbison — a whole bunch of people.

The Hallucinations, a lot of the guys started to get back in painting. So I met Jay [Geils], he was playing with some guys. I said, “Let’s put together a band.” And so I put together what became the J. Geils Band. I brought the drummer in from the Hallucinations. And we didn’t look back.

Q. Do you still paint?

A. Yes, I do. I painted last night. I paint every day, almost. Painting is a way of just being able to sort of unwind.

Q. You’re the opposite onstage; you’re so energetic. Do you do anything before to get pumped up before a show?

A. What gets me moving is the audience. It’s very much like being in a romance. If somebody turns you on, “action-reaction” would be the simplest way of stating it. I rely on the audience, really.

Q. How did you meet the Midnight Travelers?

A. Just going to different shows and noticing these guys were so great. I’m playing with guys like Duke Levine, and Marty Ballou, he’s in the Rhode Island [Music] Hall of Fame. All the guys in the band, they’re all really A1 top-shelf players. We all have a brotherhood. We do stuff from my solo albums, songs I haven’t recorded, we do blues, any Geils song, because that’s part of my life, too. Every Peter Wolf show, I include Geils songs.

Advertisement



Q. What are your favorite Geils songs?

A. There’s too many to pick. My favorite album is our first live album, “Full House.” That was a great snapshot of what we were about when we kicked it in.

Q. You were a ’BCN DJ.

A. Actually, ’BCN was put together in my living room. The fellow that started it wanted me to become a partner with him. He said if I gave him $10,000 I could become his partner. And I didn’t have $10. So he said, “Pete, you might not have money, but you got hundreds of records, why don’t you come and be a DJ?” So I became the all-night disc jockey. [Speaks incredibly fast] The woofa-goofa-mama-toopa-hoppa-loopa-making your knees screech, your bladder splatter, if it’s in you it’s got to come out cuz that’s what rock ’n’ roll is all about do it to it and get right through it we’re gonna have some fun until the midnight sun. I did that sometimes for five hours, seven days a week.

Q. Would you do a radio show again?

Advertisement



A. I’ve been asked to, and I’ve done some stuff on Tom Petty [SiriusXM] Radio. I did one in Detroit not too long ago. But the station I used to do ’em on, they’ve all gone.

Q. Looking back at your career, what highlights stand out?

A. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to Detroit by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to speak on my relationship with Detroit and Detroit music and I got to meet all the great Motown stars — the Marvelettes, the Vandellas, part of Smokey and the Miracles. It was great to [meet] the iconic people who inspired me so much.

Through music I got to meet my heroes: Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, James Brown. It’s overwhelming to me. I got to record with Merle Haggard. Got to do duets with Mick Jagger, duets with Aretha Franklin — those are moments you just treasure. It’s hard to pick one.

When the Stones were in town — we toured with them many times — it was great to go backstage and hang out with those guys, who I admire so much. That’s the dessert of what I do.

Q. What was Dylan like?

A. I got to see him before he even recorded his first record; I’ve been a fan a long, long time. Bob is a really unique guy, he has a great sense of humor. I knew him from hootenannies at Gerde’s Folk City and the Gaslight Cafe. As a young kid, I used to hang out in the Village; I got to see Bob and Dave Van Ronk, and Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk — I just hung out in the Village and he was just part of the scene, and I liked him from the first moment I heard him. I wouldn’t say we’re great friends but I always go to the shows and we try to hook up.

Q. Boston named a Peter Wolf Day in 2016.

A. And it was really great because it was done at [the New England Center and Home for Veterans] and it helped publicize a charity to help homeless veterans. It was a poignant, moving experience for me.

Q. Do you think of yourself as more Bronx or Boston?

A. You can take the boy out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the boy. But I would say, at this point, definitely Boston.

Q. Yankees or Red Sox?

A. Definitely Red Sox. I never liked the Yankees. Even growing up in the Bronx, I didn’t like ’em.

PETER WOLF

At the Payomet Performing Arts Center, North Truro, Aug. 29-30. At the Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, Sept. 6-7. At Fenway Park with The Who, Sept. 13. www.peterwolf.com/tour


Interview was edited and condensed. Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. She tweets @laurendaley1.