Tag Archives: Boston

Lone Wolf

When I lived in Boston it was not at all unusual to bump into rock and roll legend Peter Wolf.

The former late night DJ and the longtime front man of the J. Geils Band lives in Boston and often walks its streets. Whether meandering down the famed, exclusive Newbury Street or perusing additions to his vast music collection in Boston’s few remaining used record stores, the man was, to put it simply, not hard to miss. Dressed always in his ubiquitous black, from head to toe, and never without a chapeau of some sort, the slight and perennially pale Peter Wolf pretty much kept to himself. Pity the poor soul who chanced to approach him. The result was inevitably a disappointingly brief conversation consisting of a few brief words. So people would most usually leave him alone. He may have been the wild man of Borneo on stage or a mad gabber jabber on alternative radio all those years ago (“Wolfa Goofa Mama Toffa” was his nickname), but out in public and away from the spotlight, Peter Wolf is a man of very few words.

It’s really no wonder. The man born Peter W. Blankfield seems tailor-made to keeping his thoughts to himself. His own musical cohorts and influences, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, both make it a habit to speak in riddles and rhymes when they speak at all. The Chicago and Delta blues men who Wolf holds in the highest of esteem were men who spoke little and let the music do the talking.

Wolf’s history is a fascinating one. Once arrived in Boston in the 1960’s to attend art school, he was scooped up by recently acquired “progressive rock” radio station WBCN. Wolf said in a recent interview on NPR that he was offered half ownership in BCN for just $10,000. But Wolf, at the time was barely eking out an existence and says he barely had ten dollars. What Wolf did have was an incredible musical library, both LPs as well as an incredible variety of his beloved 45’s or singles. And so BCN, hoping to get their hands on all that music, offered him the overnight shift on the air. Wolf was on from Midnight until 7:00 a.m. and in addition to playing his own favorite mix of rock, blues and rhythm and blues, he also played requests. The program was a huge underground sensation and Wolf found a comfortable place behind the microphone where he discovered he had, well, the gift of gab.

But Wolf was not long for that vampire radio shift, which brings many men and women to their knees, and in 1966 Peter Wolf became part of a popular Boston-based band, The Hallucinations. A year later he went to see a performance by the J. Geils Band and quickly joined that group, becoming the hopscotching, fast on his feet, charismatic front man. That band lasted from 1967 to 1983. They played both blues standards and originals and they had a legendary live show, captured on three different live albums, all recorded in Detroit Rock City. Geils, as they were sometimes called, were soon one of the hottest rock bands in the country, playing to packed theaters, auditoriums and arenas from coast to coast and even garnering the coveted cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

I had a chance to see Wolf at his most outrageous, two times and both in Syracuse, New York. The first time was at the cozy Landmark Theater, where Wolf and the rest of the J. Geils band nearly blew the roof off the place. At one point during the climax of the show, Wolf left the stage and danced and weaved his way up and down the aisles of the theater “high fiving” with his fervent fans. The second time I saw him, he looked like a different man in 1982 when the band was on top with huge hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.” Wolf had shed his long locks of hair and streamlined his stage show. But behind the scenes the band was, unknown to many, ready to implode because of “artistic differences” between Wolf and keyboard player and fellow songwriter, Seth Justman.

I worked at a rather large local college radio station I remember foolishly going backstage after the show. “Oh Jesus,” I remember thinking in the middle of the clumsy introductions, “what in God’s name am I doing here.” Wolf politely shook our hands staring blindly into the distance, barely even there. He seemed ten million miles away. And I felt bad for his discomfort.

With the band no longer a going concern, Wolf was left to retreat into the blackness of the Boston night, showing up here and there at bars and occasionally joining in to jam. I remember seeing him take the stage many nights in Boston with his pal Bruce Springsteen, but he never seemed comfortable in the guest spot, especially at larger gigs. He used to rule that city and now he seemed a drifter and a stranger in a strange land. Wolf eventually teamed up with some local musicians and made a series of solo records, none of which seemed to click until he finally found his way on 2002’s excellent solo album, “Sleepless.” It was ranked on Rolling Stone Magazines, “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.” Meanwhile, with rumors all the time of a J. Geils reunion, Wolf stayed silent on that subject, instead seeming comfortable to perform with his own group of new musicians and living off royalties.

During the 1990’s and into the new Millennium, Wolf continues to be seen around town. I would often be surprised when I got to a show early, only to see Wolf already seated, by himself, and waiting for the show to begin. I began to feel bad for him. Was this a chosen land of exile or did it reveal some deep loneliness. Nobody knew but Wolf and he wasn’t talkin’.

One night I went to see Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. I bought a ticket from some guy about ten minutes before the show and it was in the very last row of the theater. During the opening acts, I was scouting an empty seat closer to the stage and out of the corner of my eye I spied one next to the soundboard. I asked a very attractive young lady if the empty seat was taken, she said no and invited me to sit down. It wasn’t until after I had taken off my coat that I realized that I was two seats away from Peter Wolf and the attractive young woman was his date.

During intermission, I introduced myself to this woman and to Peter Wolf and he greeted me with a thin smile and handshake. I had just happened to have finished reading a book about rock and roll called “Mansion On The Hill,” in which he was quoted extensively. So I asked Wolf about his impressions of that book. Speaking softly he told me he thought it was “just okay.” Conversation over? Not quite. Wolf actually surprised me by asking me what I thought about it. I told him I believed the author was too critical of Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, who Wolf knew from days long ago in Boston. Wolf responded saying he thought it was too critical of a lot of people, including his friend Bruce. Then he got up and went backstage alone, ostensibly to say hello to Dylan, leaving me to have the most pleasant conversation with his knockout beautiful date.

I stayed and watched Dylan’s entire set sitting next to Wolf, looking over occasionally to see a man deep into the music. I left the theater, with the nice buzz that comes after a great show. But I was also happy to see that Wolf was not alone on this particular night.

After all, one can’t remain a lone wolf forever.

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Bruce Springsteen And Me On The Streets of Philadelphia

September 19, 1988. A warm autumn day and cool night that I will never forget. It was my first real close encounter with Bruce Springsteen. And it all took place during the Human Rights Now! tour stop in the city of Philadelphia.

I was working for a radio station just outside Boston and it was a big enough radio station to secure me press credentials for the Human Rights Now – Amnesty International tour stop in the city of brotherly love, about eight hour train ride from Boston.

I have relatives who live outside Philadelphia with whom I spent an evening. The next morning I took commuter train downtown and found my way to the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Phlly. That would be the location of an early afternoon Amnesty International press conference and with nothing else to do, I made sure to get there nice and early.

In fact, I was one of just a few folks on the second floor lobby of an over-sized ballroom when I arrived around 10:00 a.m. Indeed it was quite fortuitous that I was there so early, as I would end up with a seat in the front row in that big old ballroom, which by the time the press conference began would be packed to the rafters. But not quite yet.

I had been looking forward to this day in September for quite some time, not only because it would be the occasion of a monumental, historic concert, but perhaps even more importantly because I was a card-carrying member of Amnesty International. Meaning that I believed fervently in their mission and had pledged to do what I could to advance their cause.

I was also excited because I has passes to the pre-concert press conference. And there was an extremely slim chance that I might be able to ask, Bruce Springsteen, my favorite Rock and Roll musician a question at the press conference.

Once arrived I was offered a cold, refreshing glass of orange juice and I showed the kind Amnesty International hosts the credentials from my radio station. They checked off my name and gave me a bevy of press passes, stickers and lanyards, as well as a concert ticket for that night and some reading material in the form of a huge pamphlet about Amnesty International and the Human Rights Now!

A brief time later, they opened the doors to the ballroom where the press conference would take place. There was an long table at one end of the ballroom where the Amnesty International organizers and concert performers would “meet the press.” The only slight problem problem was that nobody had placed name tags on this monster of a table, so I had to guess where to possibly get a chance to ask Bruce a question. Not an easy task considering the length of the table, but as you’ll see, luck was on my side.

Then came The Long Wait. It seemed like days, but it was probably three or four hours. During this time I had an opportunity to read the material I was given three of four times over, get to know a very nice young lady who was seated to my left. She was very sweet. Eventually it was time for the press conference to begin and I was shocked when I looked behind me to see the room filled to capacity, but also were more still and television cameras than I had ever seen in once place before. It reminded me of Sting’s line, “Too many cameras and not enough food.” I felt like the whole world would be watching. Imagine this and multiply it by fifty.

Finally all the Amnesty organizers and performers filed into the room single file to bits of applause. Bring up the rear of the parade were Peter Gabriel, Sting and Bruce.

You can imagine my delight and Bruce proceeded to sit directly in front of me, with Sting and Peter Gabriel to his immediate left. Now I had been to my share of Bruce Springsteen concerts in my life and once of twice I had been fairly close to the stage, but this was the closest I had ever been to the man, Bruce Springsteen. If you’re a fan and never been up close and personal, I can only say it is a surreal feeling. However, I tried to remain cool, especially since I was on assignment as a journalist and I did my best to listen and not stare at Mr. Springsteen, who looked like he was still shaking the cobwebs out just five feet away. You think it’s easy? Try it sometime.

But seriously the press conference was both very informational and inspiring; each person at the table introduced themselves and talked about why they were involved. There were tragic stories of Human Rights abuses around the world as well as heroic stories of those individuals who had dedicated their lives to expose and eradicate these kinds of abuses. There were videos shown. And everybody at this long table formally signed a Declaration of Human Rights, in show of their solidarity to this cause.

Then it was time for questions from reporters. I really hoped to ask Bruce a question and now that I was so close, my odds had improved three fold. I had three good ones prepared, just in case somebody else beat me and asked one of my questions before I could. The tension mounted.

I was about to raise my hand, grab a nearby microphone and with hundreds of people watching, listening and taking notes (not to mention all those cameras) ask my personal hero a question. I had no idea whether I would sound like Daffy Duck or Minnie Mouse when I opened my mouth, or if I would lose my nerve completely. But I had the advantage of being in the front row. (Tip to young reporters: Try to always sit in the front seat.) So up went my arm and I was called on and handed a microphone. I had to say my name and where I was from and address the question to a particular person. So with slightly shaking voice I said:

“Bruce, you’ve played some incredibly emotionally moving concerts over the years. Looking back, how do these Human Rights Now shows compare to all of those others over the years?”

Bruce looked at me, gave me a brief obligatory answer, then paused a bit, shifting in his seat. And then he really got into a more sustained answer, giving examples of some of the really incredible moments on the tour to date and saying that on several occasions he was moved to tears during performances. I could be wrong but I think he intuitively knew that I was hoping for a good long answer, not just a short three word response, and he delivered. What a guy.

The rest of the press conference was a blur, except I remember going up to Bruce Springsteen when it was over. Bruce was gathering up some papers and I asked him if he would sign my Declaration of Human Rights pocket book, which he did, and then I shook his hand thanking him for his music. Bruce looked up, signed a few more autographs, and softly said, “I gotta get outta here.” And then did.

As I tell everyone who I tell this story to the concert that night at the now demolished JFK stadium in Philly was icing on the cake. It was a gigantic place and as the crowd trickled in I knew it was going to be a night to remember.

When he hit the stage Bruce Springsteen was absolutely on fire, but that was no real surprise to anyone.

Bruce and the band delivered what one critic called, “a scorching set of music,” with Springsteen pulling the song “Jungleland” out of his hat, after a long absence from his sets. Max later said that he wishes he had a picture of Clarence’s face when Bruce called for that song. Sting took a verse of “The River,” with David Sancious on keyboards, a mini-reunion of sorts. Nobody could have know that night in JFK stadium that these Human Rights Now! shows would be the last shows Bruce Springsteen and The E Streeters would play for more than a decade.

And at the end of the concert, the headlining musicians performed an rendition of “Get Up, Stand Up.”

And we did. We got up, straggled home exhausted but inspired, and many of us that were there that night, myself included, continue to fight for Human Rights for everyone, now!

I hope that having heard this story, you will too.

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My Friend Don Meineke – NBA Legend

One weekend last summer, I had occasion to visit my fiancee Janet’s hometown of Centerville, a sleepy and sultry suburb of nearby Dayton, Ohio – the town where the Wright Brothers grew up and first dreamed of flying. On that warm late summer weekend, I had the thrilling experience of meeting, among a group of Janet’s parents friends, a very tall, unassuming gentleman named Don Meineke, who is not only one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but as it turns out, was also was the first man ever to be named NBA Rookie of the Year.

As it happened, Janet and I were in Centerville that weekend last summer, visiting her parents and my future in-laws, and we were invited to an old-fashioned neighborhood shindig. It seemed her neighbors, the Walshes, were having an outdoor patio party, the kind of thing that was popular back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s in close-knit neighborhoods. Back in those days it was commonplace for families who lived within spittin’ distance of each other to get together for no particular reason and have a dandy of a time, just talkin’, drinkin’ beer and wine; in other words celebrating life. I suppose this kind of thing stopped happening quite a while ago in most towns when people began locking their doors at night and stopped getting to know their neighbors.

But in Centerville it still goes on. (Although I’m pretty sure they lock their doors at night.)

I went along, looking forward to meeting some of my future in-laws’ good friends and enjoying a nice summer night, as well as meeting my in-laws’ best friends and neighbors never expecting to meet and talk half the night away with Don Meineke. When we arrived, Don was sitting completely contentedly next to his equally hospitable and kind wife, Mary Jane. After the introductions, and after being told that Don had not only been a college basketball standout for the University of Dayton Flyers, where he is still held in great reverence, but also a star for the former Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons), I moved to the closest chair near Don so I could listen and learn more. He looked like a guy with a few stories to tell and that night, Don didn’t disappoint.

Having personally been a tall teenager and an aspiring basketball player myself, and someone who still has a keen interest in the game, I was anxious to hear about what it was like to play “old school” basketball in the 1950s. Don regaled me with countless stories of his days playing, first college and then NBA basketball. He told stories of the low pay and big men he played against, including one of my heroes, Bill Russell and all the miles he traveled to get to the next city and next game – Syracuse, New York, Boston, etc.

But perhaps most fascinatingly, Don told me of his association with fellow Fort Wayne Piston star Jack Molinas, a man whose life has been chronicle’s in a book titled, “The Wizard Of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed The Game Of Basketball.”

According to author Charley Rosen, and confirmed by Don Meineke as I sat next to him in complete awe, Molinas was a guy with a tremendous amount of talent who threw it all away by fixing a bunch of basketball games. Don told me he was questioned by the team owner and the commissioner of the NBA, but they had nothing on him. For Molinas though, his criminal activities connected to basketball landed him in jail, then after he was suspended from the game, in the company of mobsters which led to, according to Rosen, “a gruesome and mysterious murder.”

Wow! Suddenly Don Meineke was telling me his story and the sad, but inevitable fall of Jack Molinas and I was more than a little intrigued. Don had other stories as well, about other records he set, and his years after he retired from the NBA and I sat and listened with rapt attention until it was late and Don and his wife had to call it a night. I spoke to Don again last December I went to a University of Dayton basketball game where Don and a number of other former stars were honored. (The team is quite competitive, winning the NIT championship last season by defeating North Carolina in the final game.)

I spent some more time at yet another party speaking to Don Meinike on my most recent trip to Centerville, I went to a Fourth of July gathering and Don and I posed for pictures together and talked some more. It’s not every day, after all, that you get to hang out with an NBA legend.

I hope that Don Meineke will always be my good friend.

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