Peter Wolf: Honky-Tonk 'Midnight Souvenirs' - Interview In the 1970s, the J. Geils Band carved out a reputation as one of the wildest party bands out there. Its frontman never abandoned his rootsy musical syncretism. Peter Wolf has a new solo album, conceived at the juncture of country and R&B.
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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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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.


THE J: (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.


WERTHEIMER: 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."


PETER WOLF: (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.

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.

WOLF: 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.


WOLF: (Singing) But if you ever take love from me, now that would be the tragedy.

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)...

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.


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?

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.


WOLF: (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.

WOLF: Oh, thank you.


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.


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?

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.

WOLF: 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.


WOLF: Oh, wait, wait.


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

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

WOLF: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: How did that go?

WOLF: 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: Peter Wolf, thank you very much.

WOLF: Well, thank you for having me.

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