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Peter Wolf: Honky-Tonk 'Midnight Souvenirs'

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Peter Wolf: Honky-Tonk 'Midnight Souvenirs'

Peter Wolf: Honky-Tonk 'Midnight Souvenirs'

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(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Unidentified Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stage, from (unintelligible), the craziest band in the land, the incomparable J. Geils Band.


In the 1970s, the J. Geils Band carved out a reputation as one of the wildest party bands in the nation, and the lead singer, Peter Wolf, worked the crowd like a maestro waving a baton.

(Soundbite of music)

THE J. GEILS BAND (Music Group): (Singing) There's a place, right down the street, everybody (unintelligible) likes to meet. They got a band playing all night long. Everybody moves. They play the songs. They do the south side shuffle.

WERTHEIMER: At a time when disco was the only dance in town, the J. Geils Band revived rhythm and blues. But by 1981, the band was going in a radically different direction.

(Soundbite of song, "Centerfold")

WERTHEIMER: "Centerfold" stayed at number one for six straight weeks, and that success shifted the band's focus away from roots music for good. Peter Wolf didn't last much longer; he was out of the band two years later.

Now well into his solo career, Peter Wolf just released an album tinged with country and Western, as well as his beloved rhythm and blues. The new CD is called "Midnight Souvenirs."

(Soundbite of Song, "Tragedy")

Mr. PETER WOLF (Musician): (Singing) I think I won the fool's award today, the way I made my baby cry. I can't believe the stupid things I say without one good reason why.

WERTHEIMER: Peter Wolf joins me from member station WBUR in Boston. Hello.

Mr. WOLF: Hello.

WERTHEIMER: We're just playing the first track on your record "Tragedy," and like most of the CD, it has a definite country feel to it.

Mr. WOLF: Growing up in the era that I did, when the first generation of rock 'n rollers were coming out Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly - there was a fusion of rhythm and blues and rock 'n roll that was very profound.

And I think that the R&B and blues artists listened to the Grand Ole Opry. And the Grand Ole Opry artists always listened to Sonny Boy Williamson on the King Biscuit Hour, you know, I don't really see the difference between a juke joint and a honky-tonk.

(Soundbite of song, "Tragedy")

Mr. WOLF and Ms. SHELBY LYNNE (Musician): (Singing) But if you ever take love from me, now that would be the tragedy.

Mr. WOLF: Radio was really important to me. I grew up in The Bronx in New York, and for music in those years, it was a tremendous educational tool because I had Alan Freed, and then I'd listen to "Jocko's Rocket Ship Show," and Jocko had a show, (unintelligible)...

Mr. WOLF: (Singing) This is the jock on the radio. The time right now is 11:15, and this is the jock on the rocket ship machine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOLF: But on certain nights, I'd get the coffee-drinking deejay Lee Moore from Wheeling, West Virginia, and he would play these ladies that turned out to be the Stanley Brothers. And I just assumed because of the high-pitched voice, and I became addicted to WWBA, Wheeling, West Virginia, and country albums.

WERTHEIMER: The track that we just played "Tragedy," singer Shelby Lynne is on that song with you. There is a long tradition in country music of duets: Wynette and George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Did you sort of see yourself going in doing something like that for this record?

Mr. WOLF: Now that you say that, I agree with you. There is a tradition of duets, and also in R&B too. And my thrill is to be able to work with an artist like Shelby, who is a real spitfire, and of course, someone like Merle Haggard who, to me, is probably one of the last ones carrying that great torch.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you left sort of the best for last, I guess, then, because Merle Haggard is right at the end of the record. The song is called "It's Too Late for Me." We're going to play you a little bit of it. Now, yours is the first voice we hear, and then we hear him.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Too Late For Me")

Mr. WOLF and Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Musician): (Singing) The days go by, the days go by, and there's a heartache. I can't eat. The nights come on. I'm all alone with just my precious memories.

WERTHEIMER: You guys sound great together.

Mr. WOLF: Oh, thank you.


Mr. WOLF: Working with Merle was just a dream come true. To me, he does the same thing Sinatra does: take the story of a song, and basically what singing is for me is telling a story with a melody, and the singers that I love are the ones who make that story believable.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Too Late For Me")

Mr. HAGGARD: (Singing) It seems so long ago when someone loved me so.

WERTHEIMER: When you were writing this song, did you think of Merle Haggard?

Mr. WOLF: No. When we were writing the song, we were really thinking of the mood, sort of, country, mournful, Lefty Frizzell type of lament.

WERTHEIMER: Right, yeah.

Mr. WOLF: And I knew a gentleman that was very close to Merle, and I played it for him, and he said: I think Merle would love a song like that. And I played it for Merle, and he thought it was a Lefty Frizzell song, and that was the greatest tribute that he could pay.

And then I got a call from this piano player, saying Pete, Merle loves that song. He keeps playing it over and over. As a matter of fact, we're going to cut it next week. I go no...

WERTHEIMER: No, wait, wait.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOLF: Oh, wait, wait.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Too Late For Me")

Mr. WOLF and Mr. HAGGARD: (Singing) It's too late for me.

WERTHEIMER: You got back together with the J. Geils Band in January for a charity benefit.

Mr. WOLF: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: How did that go?

Mr. WOLF: It went okay. As Bruce Springsteen said when he was inducting U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he said it's easy for bands to start, but the real art is to keep a band together. And the Geils Band had been together for 17-and-a-half years with no personnel changes, and I didn't leave the band.

I didn't want to be a soloist, but that is what happened, and not to kind of get into that whole soap opera drama, the Geils Band was special for me. It's still special, and it was a very sad situation when it sort of fell apart, and I found myself out in the cold.

But then again, it opened up a door to the records I produced. And as an artist, you just keep trying to search for muses and find opportunities that allow you to keep producing what you do.

WERTHEIMER: That is Peter Wolf. His new CD is called "Midnight Souvenirs." We have some more tracks at our Web site,

Peter Wolf, thank you very much.

Mr. WOLF: Well, thank you for having me.

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