It sucks that our rockers are dying, and it doubly sucks when they are car people, and that was certainly the case with J. Geils, who apparently died of natural causes in his home in Massachusetts at age 71 this week.
John Warren Geils, Jr., founded the J. Geils Band in 1967, and while they didn’t set any records for Grammy wins, Geils’ guitar and Peter Wolfe’s vocals helped win the band plenty of fans. Geils is third from the right in the photo above.
Journalist Phil Berg visited Geils’ shop in 2012 for a story in Autoweek magazine, where the musician spoke of attempting to follow his father’s footsteps into engineering, but veered off into rock and roll while in college. His father was a sports car fan, and took his son to a race in 1956 where a 10-year-old Geils fell in love with the Ferraris and Maseratis competing there, and later drove plenty of them.
Berg would write later that it took him two pages in a legal pad to list all the collectible cars and motorcycles Geils had owned. And if you think he wasn’t serious about it, here’s a quote from that Autoweek story about the Maserati Sebring he was personally restoring at the moment: “This is a Nardi steering wheel. The original was a Hellebore, with horn buttons that were inserts in the spokes; too goofy for me,” he says. “The gas cap is supposed to have a knurled plastic knob but I made this aluminum piece on my lathe and put a little Maserati logo on it. I restored the shifter knob and inlayed another Maserati logo on it.”
Geils was also featured more recently in the book “Rockin' Garages: Collecting, Racing & Riding with Rock's Great Gearheads,” by Tom Cotter and Ken Gross, which also featured profiles of, among others, Brian Johnson of AC/DC, Billy Joel, Keith Urban, Nick Mason, Sammy Hagar and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Perhaps more than any other, Geils came across as the most hands-on musician when it came to his car collection, on the order of another Massachusetts celebrity, Jay Leno.
Last September, Geils was arrested for DUI after a minor traffic accident where he rear-ended a Nissan which occurred, according to one report, after he imbibed during lunch. He was driving “a red antique car.”