J. Geils was born John Geils, Jr. in New York City, the guitarist's nickname becoming the handle for one of the most legendary musical groups in the history of Boston rock & roll, the J. Geils Band. Growing up in New Jersey, Geils was a big jazz fan during his high-school years thanks to his father's (John "Jack" Geils) love of the genre. Jack Geils, Sr. had many 78-rpm records in his collection -- Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman -- and he also took the young musician to concerts, a performance by Louis Armstrong when he was ten or 12 years old being particularly memorable. Geils' own musical playing began when he performed Miles Davis tunes on trumpet and drums. He was turned on to the blues when New York radio station WRVR broadcast recordings by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and others on Sunday afternoons.
Geils went off to college in the fall of 1964, enrolling at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, where he played trumpet in the Northeastern marching band. Immediately drawn to the burgeoning folk scene in Boston in 1965, Geils witnessed Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Boston University student Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, and other proponents of that movement. Busy absorbing the live music around him, Geils transferred to Worcester Poly-Technic Institute. At the Worcester school he met harp player Magic Dick Salwitz and bassist Danny Klein, and they formed what Geils termed "this little kinda acoustic folk blues group," which they called the J. Geils Blues Band. (At Worcester Tech, Geils was trained as a mechanical engineer, which would serve him well decades later as he opened his own vintage auto-restoration shop.) The J. Geils Blues Band merged with two members of the Hallucinations, singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd. After promoter Mario Medious brought them to the attention of Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, they recorded a bit with rock critic Jon Landau, but the project was abandoned. About a year later, Seth Justman joined the group and they recorded their first album.
Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band went their separate ways, J. Geils formed Bluestime with Magic Dick in 1992, also playing with various musicians like Kevin Visnaskas in the Blood Street Band. Along with producing Danny Klein's Stone Crazy band (Geils was a brilliant and underrated producer, having worked with Michael Stanley in 1972 on the Friends & Legends LP), Geils worked with Gerry Beaudoin and Duke Robillard in the New Guitar Summit (utilizing the Bluestime rhythm section). Geils and Beaudoin also performed in an acoustic trio, Gerry Beaudoin's Kings of Strings, where Geils played rhythm guitar and Jerry Miller provided his mandolin.
With all this musical output, Geils released his first solo record in 2003, a jazz CD featuring many guest sax players. From the days when members of the J. Geils Band were on his case to learn more Jimi Hendrix riffs and he was off playing Charlie Christian instead, the founding member of a hugely popular and respected ensemble that opened for the Rolling Stones live and performed with Buddy Guy on record had his guitar singing the music of his heart. J. Geils died in April 2017 at his home in Groton, Massachusetts; he was 71 years old.