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Concert Review-Wolf Left Ridgefield Audience With Some Special 'Souvenirs'



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Concert Review—

Wolf Left Ridgefield Audience With Some Special ‘Souvenirs’

By John Voket

RIDGEFIELD — Singer, bandleader, songwriter, DJ and producer Peter Wolf has a long history of partnering with some of the biggest names in the music business, from Muddy Waters to the J. Geils Band. But when a high ranking member among rock and roll royalty shows up to check him out in concert, it’s a perfect excuse to crank the energy level up a few notches.

Such was the case as Wolf pulled in to The Ridgefield Playhouse on March 24. Just as the house lights began dimming, a shadowy Keith Richards, surrounded by his entourage, hustled in from backstage and took a seat in the center of the third row to check out the show.

According to one source, the Rolling Stone is an occasional Playhouse patron, but on this night he attended to support Wolf, who previously featured Richards and Mick Jagger as guests on his Sleepless project in 2002.

The two-hour showcase appeared to be as much of a blast for Wolf and his esteemed backing outfit as it was for the audience, although folks close to Richards said he pretty much just watched and clapped politely while whispering to his wife, Patty Hansen Richards, every once in awhile.

For the most part, the attention was fixed on Wolf, who posed and prowled the stage, delivering each of the show’s two dozen songs in his own unique style, almost always introduced with some sort of entertaining quip or story worthy of the hip raconteur holding the microphone.

Seeing him in concert today, audiences are often regaled with stories of Wolf’s colorful career, especially the famous circles in which he has run most of his life. The singer told The Newtown Bee before the show that he probably slips in and out of so many prestigious social circles so easily because he has always been surrounded with talented, creative types.

A longstanding personal friend and confidant of folks from Bob Dylan to Muddy Waters to Van Morrison, Wolf also has a love for art. This passion, springing from a childhood obsession for drawing, may have been enflamed by a relationship he struck up with the artist Norman Rockwell after Wolf’s family relocated from the Bronx to southern Massachusetts when he was just 7 years old.

The Fuse Was Lit

As Wolf tells it, the fuse on his explosive musical career was lit when his older sister, Nancy, herself a dancer on DJ Alan Freed’s famous rock n’ roll television show The Big Beat, took Peter to his first concert.

The lineup for that show featured Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Chantels, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Ed Townsend, Buddy Holly, Jo Ann Campbell and Big Jay McNeely. After that evening, Wolf was never the same, being intensely influenced by the varied musical talents on that bill.

But it wasn’t until he – quite by accident – stumbled into a late night party in Boston years later and jumped in with the house band after its singer became too intoxicated to finish the set that Wolf realized he could cover the front man gig for a rock and roll band.

From there, he never looked back. A short time later the young talent convinced no less than John Lee Hooker to let the Wolf’s band serve as an opening act. That launched a domino effect that opened doors and secured opening spots with the likes of Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and Howlin’ Wolf.

His first band, The Hallucinations, also toured with The Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Young Rascals, The Byrds and The Shirelles. They also became the house band at the famed Boston Tea Party club, which featured the first American appearances of groups such as Led Zeppelin, Traffic, the Who, Jeff Beck Group and Fleetwood Mac.

After a rocky start, he became the lead singer for the J. Geils Band and later its business manager as well. While the band enjoyed a stellar reputation as a live act, their studio albums received lukewarm receptions, and it wasn’t until the live album Full House that radio audiences and concert followers really began snapping up and raving about J. Geils Band recordings, and the band’s high energy, jive-talking lead singer.

After the critically acclaimed and hugely popular Freeze Frame album, several staple MTV videos, and subsequent world tour, his fellow band members felt Wolf’s contributions were becoming too rootsy and R&B-based. Wanting to move in the Pop direction, The J. Geils Band moved on without him.

OK On His Own

But that barely slowed Wolf, and he went on to enjoy a highly respectable solo career, which produced hits including “Lights Out” and “Come As You Are.” His latest project, Midnight Souvenirs, is a spectacular effort, showcasing various rock offshoot genres, and leaning on support from Shelby Lynne, Merle Haggard and Neko Case.

Besides “Must Have Got Lost,” and the frantic “Lookin’ For a Love,” Ridgefield fans expecting to hear a raft of J. Geils tunes may have been disappointed, but anyone who enjoys great musicianship and songwriting had no choice but to wallow in ecstasy over the top flight performance of Wolf and his band, which included Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (guitar), Marty Ballou (bass), Marty Richards (drums) Mitch Chakour and Kenny White (keyboards).

Highpoints of the set included several numbers from Midnight Souvenirs including “The Green Fields of Summer,” “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Tragedy.” And one of the best songs from the night, “Riverside Drive,” showcased the kind of half-spoken, half-sung scat that made Wolf such a unique frontman both with the Geils band and as a solo artist.

In chatting with Wolf about his unique stage persona, the artist said he is as much a product of his upbringing in a household with entertainers including his father and grandmother, as he is a reflection of the may artists he has worked with over the years.

“You know, most young guys I know join bands to meet girls or something,” Wolf told The Bee. “But I joined a band because I wanted to meet other musicians, ‘cause I was such a fan of music. I was starting out as an art student, and once I met other art students who were forming a band, our first gig was backing up one of my heroes, John Lee Hooker. So at that point I felt that was it.”

Wolf said as he started meeting other great musicians, it became this intoxicating situation — even today.

“That’s why on some of the records, like on this latest record with Shelby Lynne, Neko Case and Merle Haggard, it was a great opportunity to meet and work with people I admire,” he said.

Wolf also admitted he can become easily distracted, so he finds it most inspiring, and productive to work with others both in the songwriting and production processes.

“It’s easy for me to drift, so when you are working with somebody you enjoy, or you go over to somebody’s place to write or finish up a song, and you get into a process not unlike the old days of theater with like Rodgers and Hammerstein,” he said. “That works better for me.”

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