For Peter Wolf, music has long been a thing that fills a necessary space in his world. So as he was looking to launch his latest solo album, he decided to call it exactly what it is. “Music has always been my cure for loneliness and that’s where the title came in,” he shares during a recent phone conversation as he preps for the tour that will bring him back to the Music Box on Nov. 21.
“A Cure For Loneliness
is not unlike the previous records I’ve had, Sleepless
, Midnight Souvenirs
or Fool’s Parade
,” he says. “I start to do some writing and thinking about it, and I gather the same talented artists, and we just get together. I love collaboration and I love their input, so for me, it’s a very exciting process, just seeing certain songs come alive.”
The process of bringing those songs to life is something that Wolf and the members of his band experimented with a lot during the period that they were working on material for the new album, which was released in April. They recorded the songs live on stage and also in the studio and went through and cherry-picked their favorites.
“Every song on there has been recorded live. The only argument we had, there was a song called ‘Fun For A While,’ and some people really liked the live version and some people liked the studio,” he says. “Bob Ludwig, who is a great mastering engineer, [worked on it]. I said, ‘Bob, you make the decision. Because there seems to be a civil war here,’ and he picked the studio version. But yeah, we had everything live and studio. It was just a unique way of doing it, because the same band I tour with is the same band I use to record.”
The resulting studio recordings retain a similarly loose and casual feel next to the live versions. No matter what the setting might be, it’s hard to imagine Wolf and the band getting hung up on anything for too long. “We enjoy getting together,” he confirms. “We bring enough ammunition to keep things lubricated and the fun happening.”
As is the case with a lot of Wolf’s solo work, the material has an introspective feel to it and that’s something which he’s always looked for in the music that he enjoys personally, although he realizes that there is a certain balancing act to find the right mix.
“I enjoy the musicians, the artists that you can connect the singer with the song. I think that’s why the early Stones and the early Beatles were so kind of powerful, is because they seemed personal,” he says. “I think that’s why someone like Dylan is so powerful, or Leonard Cohen or even the great blues artists and the great country artists. You know, the old honky tonk guys, if they were singing about heartbreak, you really believed that it was a life experience for them. That’s the kind of music that I value most. So in writing, you try to do both. You try to do things that hopefully has some content to it and also, in the spirit of rock and roll, there’s something about ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ or ‘Rip It Up.’ You know, sometimes getting too introspective is not necessarily the best thing ever. You try to find the right balance.”
He reaches back into his J. Geils Band history to give “Love Stinks” an unexpected update. Of the 12 tracks on the new record, the well-known classic is one of two songs from the live recordings that made it to the final album. If Wolf had gotten his way, it might have just remained as a fun spontaneous moment that happened one night on stage.
“We were sitting around. I had the pleasure of getting to meet a couple of times, Bill Monroe, who many consider the father of bluegrass. We were doing some Bill Monroe songs backstage and we had some of Kentucky’s Finest, a bottle of that, and we were all having some fun,” he recalls. “I started going into ‘Love Stinks,’ and we decided to go out and do it. It happened to be one of the nights that we were recording and we went from a Bill Monroe song into ‘Love Stinks’ and when we were thinking of songs to put on the album, everybody when they heard that, they said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to put that on.’ I said, ‘Ah, I’m not sure about that.’ But I was vetoed, so there it is.”
Wolf and his Geils colleagues are once again on the list of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is their fourth time on the ballot and he calls it “a great honor to be nominated,” quipping that, “Maybe the fourth time’s the charm!”
He has a long association with the Hall, inducting Jackie Wilson (“one of my heroes”) in 1987 and more recently, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, during the 2015 ceremony in Cleveland. And if asked, it’s likely that he’d be happy to do the honors again for Joe Tex, the Southern soul singer who has been eligible since 1990 and is nominated this year for the fifth time to potentially be included with the 2017 class.
“Amen!” he says, when presented with the suggestion. “It’s funny, because Don Covay put together this group called the Soul Clan and Joe Tex was part of it. I got to spend some time with Joe Tex. You know, he wrote a lot of great songs and produced a lot of great stuff. He is somewhat forgotten unfortunately, but it’s great to see his name on the ballot.”
In talking about the Rock Hall, Wolf notes “the history of music means a lot to me.” His reverence for those who influenced him is something that continues to find its way onto the albums that he makes to this day. He had the good fortune of working on a number of songs with Covay over the years, most notably, Wolf’s 1984 solo hit “Lights Out.” The South Carolina-bred singer-songwriter had an impressive catalog of songwriting credits for artists including Little Richard, Chubby Checker and Aretha Franklin’s Grammy-winning version of “Chain of Fools.” Covay was someone Wolf had “idolized” early on and eventually, he was able to arrange a meeting.
“When the Geils Band finished recording our first record, one of the producers said, ‘You know, we’re working with a lot of soul artists, who do you want to meet?’ I said, ‘Don Covay’ and they were like, ‘Don Covay?’ They thought I’d say Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex or somebody like that and I just always was fascinated by Don. You know, if you’re a Rolling Stones fan, you can listen to Don’s early Atlantic recordings and you can hear so much of how Don influenced the Stones, Jagger particularly. I also had the great pleasure of introducing Don to the Stones, so that was a thrill for me.”
A Cure for Loneliness
brings out a song from Wolf’s collaborations with the late Covay, who passed away in January of 2015. It’s one that he had forgotten about and when he rediscovered it, he thought it would be a good candidate to record with another one of his musical heroes.
“You know, I always get mystified when I hear songwriters say, ‘Oh yeah, I put this one in the drawer’ or ‘I forgot about this one.’ I say, ‘How do people forget about songs?’ And then somebody said, ‘Pete, you know, you did so many great songs with Don Covay. I’ve got that demo of the two of you working on a song.’ They sent it to me and I hadn’t heard it in a long time. We were in the studio and I played it and everybody said, ‘Man, where did that come from?’ I said, ‘Well, it was when I was working with Don.’ Everybody said, ‘Let’s cut it, man. Let’s just go in there and cut it,” he remembers. ”Don Covay was very close with Bobby Womack — and Bobby and I had talked about doing a duet for a really long time. What was really strange was as soon as we got done cutting the track, the co-producer with me, Kenny White said, ‘You wouldn’t believe this, my phone just flashed that Bobby Womack passed away.’ It was so odd, so strange. Because I was just so looking forward to working with Bobby.”
When Womack passed in June of 2014, it really caught Wolf by surprise.
“I knew he had been ill, but then he seemed to be on the rebound. He went to England, he put out a new record and it really came as a shock,” he says. “And I should add, the other thing that people should remember is that Bobby came from Cleveland. He was one of a kind. He was just a real special character and his guitar playing, his songwriting, his singing, he was just something else. I was such a fan. Still am, obviously.”
He heads back out to the “highways and byways, doing what rock and rollers do” on his latest round of touring. Coming back for a second round at the Music Box on the heels of his sold-out show there in June, Wolf guarantees a good time will be had by all.
“I really like to move the set around and I think there’s seven or eight solo albums and there’s a whole bunch of repertoire from the Geils stuff and a bunch of songs that I just haven’t recorded or got yet, so there’s a mixture of all of it and I just hope that it will be an interesting, enjoyable evening of rock and roll,” he says. “I know for one thing, there’s going to be some great musicians on stage. That I can guarantee.”
Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travelers, Kenny White, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $45 ADV, $48 DOS, musicboxcle.com.