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J. Geils, whose band’s catchy pop hits colored the 1980s, dies at 71

By Niraj Chokshi

J. Geils, the guitarist who lent his name to the J. Geils Band, which in the early 1980s produced a series of continuously played, catchy pop hits like “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and, especially, “Centerfold,” was found dead at his home in Groton, Mass., on Monday. He was 71.

His death was confirmed by the Groton Police Department, whose officers found him after they were asked to check on Geils, whose full name was John Warren Geils Jr. A preliminary investigation showed that he appeared to have died of natural causes.

The band that bears Geils’ name was originally formed in the mid-1960s as Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels while Geils attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute, according to the J. Geils Band’s official Facebook page. It switched focus in 1967, recruiting the energetic frontman and lead singer Peter Wolf and becoming the J. Geils Blues Band, with “blues” later being dropped.

The band spent years establishing roots in the Boston area before signing with Atlantic Records in 1970 and emerging on the national stage a year later.

After enjoying some acclaim in the 1970s, the band became a major commercial success in the early 1980s, with the hits “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” which blended blues harmonies with bouncy synthesized pop.

“Centerfold” spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, while “Freeze Frame” reached the No. 4 spot.

As the group prepared to record a follow-up album, Wolf left the band, beginning its unraveling.

In 1984, the group released another album, “You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd,” earning Geils accolades from a New York Times critic for sharp playing that combined “the harmonic sophistication of a jazz player with a rocker’s sensibility.”

The group disbanded in 1985 before reuniting for a brief concert tour in 1999, according to its Facebook page. It has since periodically reunited, once to perform at the opening concert for the new House of Blues in Boston in 2009 and another time as the opening act for Aerosmith at Fenway Park the next year.

In recent years, the band toured without Geils because of a legal dispute with his record label, which claimed ownership of the band’s name, according to the Facebook page. Reportedly, Geils quietly secured the trademark for the name in 2009, according to the Boston Globe.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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