40 Years Ago: J. Geils Band Singer Peter Wolf Marries Actress Faye Dunaway
Before Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, before Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli, before Bruce Springsteen and Julianne Phillips, J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf made worlds collide (and gossip columnists’ heads spin) when he married critically acclaimed Hollywood star Faye Dunaway.
The glamorous Dunaway, already Oscar-nominated for her work in 1967′s ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ — and soon to pick up her second nomination, for 1974′s ‘Chinatown’ — may have seemed like an unlikely match for Wolf, a harmonica-toting blues belter whose sweaty antics as the J. Geils Band’s one-of-a-kind frontman had helped the group earn an ardent live following even as their record sales struggled. But whether or not anyone in the press thought their relationship made sense, it worked for the newlyweds. For awhile, anyway.
“We were there for each other, without an effort,” Dunaway wrote in her 1998 memoir, ‘Looking for Gatsby.’ “We were like two warriors standing shoulder to shoulder. That’s how we used to think of ourselves. There was no ego clash between us, though we were always ambitious. If he needed something, I would help him with it. And if I needed something, he would help me with it. … With Peter, I never had to worry if he loved me. He simply did.”
Of course, given the demands of their divergent careers, time for standing side by side came at a premium. While Dunaway’s acting career continued to take off, Wolf was in the middle of an exhausting run with the J. Geils Band, who’d release 10 albums in the eight-year span between 1970-’78 while honing their renowned live show with a grueling touring schedule. They dated for two years before tying the knot on August 7, 1974, but the wedding happened in a blur. The couple reportedly tied the knot just one day after getting engaged.
“My life now is such that I could get hung up on a lot of diversions if I wanted to, but I don’t,” Wolf told Sounds in 1976. “The J. Geils Band is the thing I love and wanna do. I could spend by time party-hopping with an impressive list of people, but that list of people has nothin’ to offer me, and I probably have nothin’ to offer them. I ain’t got the time to waste.”
For awhile, the effort of juggling their professional obligations wasn’t too much of a strain. In her autobiography, Dunaway writes of feeling “a sense of the infinite promise of life” during the early days of their marriage, and although the J. Geils Band’s annual album releases seemed stuck in the mid-to-lower reaches of the Top 40, their profile certainly wasn’t hurt by Wolf’s association with Dunaway, who won her first Best Actress Oscar for 1976′s ‘Network.’
Eventually, however, the strain started to show: as Dunaway wrote in her book, “time, life, and the world kept wearing away at our relationship.” They separated in 1978, and their divorce was finalized in 1979 — the year before the J. Geils Band scored its highest chart showing in nearly a decade with the (allegedly) coincidentally titled ‘Love Stinks.’ The band finally notched a No. 1 record the following year with ‘Freeze Frame,’ but by 1983, Wolf had to face the reality of another severed union, as he parted ways with his bandmates to pursue a solo career.
“There were dark moments … valleys and plateaus,” Wolf admitted in an NME interview published in May of 1979. “The band was affected by the personal snooping, the trials and tribulations, motions and commotions.”
Painful as those splits had to have been, they weren’t entirely irrevocable. Wolf and Dunaway have remained on friendly terms over the years, and after more than 15 years apart, the J. Geils Band came together for the first of an ongoing, sporadic series of reunion gigs in 1999 (although the group has more recently found itself in court with its exiled guitarist/namesake). During a 2010 interview with No Depression, Wolf stressed equanimity with all of his famous former partners.
“We were in a romance, she worked hard and was very dedicated to her work. I worked hard and was very dedicated to my work,” Wolf recalled when asked about his relationship with Dunaway. “We both shared each other’s worlds and we both respected the work. And, I might say, we made it a very assertive attempt not to become a celebrity couple. We turned down all these Barbara Walters-coming-to-the-house kind of things and yak, yak, yak. It was something that we really — I think — wisely avoided.”
He offered a similar show of respect for the J. Geils Band, saying, “When we were together making music, it was a deep bond and we worked hard night after night because putting on a J. Geils show required — it wasn’t just standing there and doing the music. You had to do it body and soul. And so we were there, and unfortunately it dissipated. And every now and then, we get together and celebrate what we accomplished as musicians as far as a body of work.”