Peter Wolf’s expressive voice and loose-limbed dance moves are ingrained in the brains of any ‘80s-era MTV viewers.
As the frontman for the J. Geils Band, Wolf’s lanky limbs were omnipresent in the channel’s early years as he bopped through videos while singing the frothy “Centerfold,” the bouncy “Freeze Frame” and the amusingly bitter “Love Stinks.”
But since 1984 when Wolf departed the band, the eternally youthful-looking singer has released a string of solo albums that are rooted in his musical origins as a disciple of blues and jazz.
In April, he unveiled his first new material in six years, the rootsy, insightful “A Cure for Loneliness (the artwork by Grace O’Connor inside the CD is worth your time, too).
On Friday, Wolf and his longtime band, the Midnight Travelers, will showcase some of those fresh tunes at the Egyptian Ballroom at the Fox Theatre (note: Wolf was booked to open City Winery Atlanta, but construction delays forced the show to be moved) as well as some J. Geils classics, including a zippy bluegrass version of “Love Stinks.”
Wolf has reunited with the J. Geils Band sporadically since 1999, including a 2014-2015 stint opening for Bob Seger, which brought the band to the Atlanta area for the first time in decades.
Last week, the thoughtful, candid Wolf, an almost-unbelievable 70, chatted from his home in Boston about the new album and his J. Geils Band history.
On why the J. Geils Band didn’t play Atlanta much:
There were two cities that we always have seemed to have a hard time with – Chicago and Atlanta. We always did great in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Alabama, different parts of the South. There was the Omni way back, but Atlanta for some reason always seemed to be uphill for us. We toured for so many years with the Allman Brothers and I remember Charlie Minor, the independent promoter who was a well-known character from Atlanta (Minor was shot to death in 1995). But for some strange reason, it never clicked with us there.
On the title of his new album, “A Cure for Loneliness”:
It came out of a conversation. In this day and age when putting out a new recording seems to sort of vanish, it’s like my medicine. The music is my cure for loneliness. Music has played such an important role in my life since I was a young kid – getting to see people like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers and seeing them all at their peak made me a convert to become a rock and roller, and I still am one. As the landscape of the world of music changes, which is inevitable, you keep doing what you find motivating, hence the title.
On some of the songs on the new album:
“Rolling On” was going to be the title of the record; it seemed to be biographically the place where I was. It was a focus piece and that’s why I started the album with that song. It doesn’t have the rockin’ energy of the other songs, but it has a mood and a feel that captures the theme. That and “Piece of Mind” are thematic aspects of the recording. I’m just glad I have a new recording out that I’m not embarrassed about and feel I can go out and perform the new songs from it.
On reconciling the blues roots of the J. Geils Band with the ‘80s hits that made Wolf and the band MTV pop stars:
You’ve touched on the issue that caused the fracture in the unfortunate breakup of the band. The “Lights Out” album (Wolf’s July 1984 solo debut) was basically songs I wrote for J. Geils . They put out a record without me (“You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd,” released in October 1984) and if you listen to it, you can see the musical collision that was happening. I felt that MTV was becoming the message and the medium and I also felt that we had made a certain contribution, but there was an aspect of our roots that we needed to re-establish and not become just a fun, novelty band. I did not leave the band, but the majority of the band wanted to move in another direction and the direction I wanted to pursue was not the one they wanted to go. They wanted to continue in a pop-techno way. It wasn’t my thing.
On incorporating some J. Geils hits in a show that isn’t about J. Geils music:
I do put in some Geils songs with my band. They know a good deal of the Geils catalog – they can play “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.” But it is a different performance and I’m not trying to exploit the Geils Band situation, but I was the key founding member of it and helped choose and write and create that material and if I’m doing an evening retrospective of my solo work and music that is important to me, omitting J. Geils songs wouldn’t seem right. So I include a lot of them, but not to the point that it becomes about (those songs).
On staying lean and youthful-looking:
I have no idea! (Laughs) Eat a lot of oatmeal? Busing through the night and being with these characters, I really enjoy it. I always wondered as the years passed, why do certain artists keep going, like The (Rolling) Stones or B.B. King right up until he died? It becomes inside your blood and seems to be the cure for much loneliness.
Peter Wolf. 8 p.m. June 3. $40-$55. Egyptian Ballroom at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. citywinery.com/atlanta.