Crispin Cioe: Jammin’ With J. Geils

Bruce Springsteen’s current tour has gotten plenty of press. Playing MetLife stadium until 2 a.m. — after a long lightning delay — added one more chapter to The Boss’ legacy.

But Bruce isn’t the only longtime rocker still rockin’ stages. The J. Geils Band recently completed a fantastic East Coast tour.

And there — wailin’ on sax, as part of the 3-piece Uptown Horns section — was Westporter Crispin Cioe.

Crispin Cioe

Crispin’s credentials are impeccable. He’s played and recorded with nearly every big name: from Coldplay, Wyclef Jean, James Brown, Aretha and Joe Cocker to Debbie Harry, Solomon Burke, Lou Reed, the B-52s and Ru Paul — plus Tom Waits, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Joan Jett.

He spent more than a year on the road with the Rolling Stones, during their famed Steel Wheels tour.

Crispin’s J. Geils connection goes back decades. In 1983 — during the band’s “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” era — he toured and recorded with them.

In an industry famous for break-ups and lawsuits, the J. Geils Band has had more than its share. The latest tour, in fact, was almost derailed by fights over who owned the Geils name. The actual J. Geils was not around this time — but singer Peter Wolf carried the show.

He and his bandmates — along with 2 backups singers and the Uptown Horns — were in “great shape,” Crispin says.

Sets lasted well over 2 hours. They featured early, rootsy, blues-based music,  segueing into later stuff. From “Give it to Me” — which Crispin calls “one of the first reggae/ska tunes done in rock and roll” — to “Love Stinks,” audiences responded avidly.

The J. Geils Band (without J. Geils). Crispin Cioe is 3rd from left.

Venues included state fairs, and smaller, intimate places like the House of Blues in Boston and Westbury Music Fair. Audiences included plenty of baby boomers, but quite a few Gen Xers — even younger, Crispin says.

Older fans remember J. Geils from their youth. Newer fans see the group as a bit “underground.” Crispin calls J. Geils “one of the greatest rock bands of all time.”

Touring can be grueling. “You play a show, get on the bus, drive 6 hours, check into a hotel at 6 a.m., sleep, then get up at 3 p.m. for a sound check,” Crispin says.

But he and the band were buoyed by audiences’ enthusiasm. “There was not one bad show,” Crispin notes. “And when everyone is so invested in it, that makes it all worthwhile.”

J. Geils will tour again this winter, primarily in the Midwest.

Crispin, meanwhile, prepares for his next project. He’s the musical director of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. It will be presented to Ellen DeGeneres October 22, at the Kennedy Center.

Crispin is writing original music for the show. “It’s totally different — and keeps me on my toes,” he says.

The same toes that tap while playing sax with one of America’s most legendary rock ‘n’ roll bands.

7 responses to “Crispin Cioe: Jammin’ With J. Geils

  1. The J. Geils Band is one of my top three favorite live bands, if not the top one. You can’t listen to their non-live albums as the songs sound terrible. But live, that’s another thing altogether. If you ever have a chance to see them, GO! Well worth your time and money. I understand Stephen Bladd (drummer) and J. Geils (guitar) aren’t touring but all the other original members are. Peter Wolf (vocals), Seth Justman (organ and main song writer) and of course Magic Dick (harmonica). Not having J.Geils and Stephen Bladd is no big deal. J. Geils was never much of a showman. Bladd was OK but I’m sure they found a nice replacement. It’s these three that make the show! I’ve seen J. Geils probably 20 times and once was without Peter Wolf. After that I vowed to never see them again without him. He IS The J. Geils Band! Unfortunately his ego is bigger than anyone you know so controversy always lingers when he’s around. I’d put money on that’s the reason the other two aren’t touring because of him. Go see these guys before they start using wheel chairs. From what I read Peter Wolf is better than ever both physically and vocally. ” I get down to it!”

  2. Two things– first, there is another Westport connection to the J. Geils Band: Barry Tashian, Staples ’63, the lead guitarist/vocalist of The Remains, who later played with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, was very helpful to Peter Wolf at the beginning of his career. They were actually roommates at one point in Boston and, according to Peter’s official website, “Barry helped influence Peter’s musical career.”

    Second, although I don’t know Peter well, from my experiences with him he has been the antithesis of someone whose “ego is bigger than anyone you know so controversy always lingers when he’s around.” Peter served as the narrator–at no cost–in the documentary I produced about The Remains, “America’s Lost Band,” and he was very happy to work with and accommodate us. Plus, I know he has been helpful to at least one relatively unknown and up-and-coming band out of Boston.

  3. What about Danny Klein, the sixth original member? Is he still with them?

  4. I used to deliver the NY Post to Peter Wolf’s parents in the Bronx in the mid 70’s. Saw him there once with Faye Dunaway at a visit. He was nice to me. Faye was distant. Just some useless info.

  5. I think Faye was 60 and Peter was 25 when they got married. That was one of the most strangest matches ever! I guess Wolf has a need for motherly types?

  6. I remember seeing them at Staples way back when and they were better than great. So lucky were we to have access to great music in high school.