You could argue this all day long and not come up with a definitive answer, but if you were putting together a musical Mount Rushmore for Boston's greatest musicians, it's not a stretch to say Peter Wolf would be on it (along with perhaps Steven Tyler, James Taylor and Donna Summer).
Tyler's on tour with Aerosmith, Taylor's headed to Europe for a fall tour and sadly Summer passed away two years ago, but we get Wolf, the iconic frontman for local heroes J. Geils Band as well as a successful solo singer, all to ourselves.
He's coming to Boarding House Park on Friday night as part of the Lowell Summer Music Series and he recently chatted with The Sun in a lengthy interview about the show, his forthcoming album and his place among Boston's music royalty.
The new album is Wolf's first since 2010's Midnight Souvenirs, which reached No. 45 on the Billboard 200 album chart, a pretty impressive feat for a guy who hadn't released any solo material since 2002's Sleepless and his much better known for his work with the J. Geils Band.
"My way of making records is the traditional classic way that records I love used to be made. You start with what you hope are good songs. It's like putting together a movie. You start with a screenplay, get a good producer and director, get the finest actors and musicians, and put them all together. I like to have musicians that contribute rather than just read the lines. That's really where it happens.
"I work until I feel I've got a body of work to put down and I gather a crew that excites me, find a good studio, lay it down and go to work. This is the tradition that many of the Otis Redding records, early blues records, early Rolling Stones records and early Beatles records were made. People go in, cut the song, and keep going until they had a full album's worth."
Wolf is proud of the musicians who play on his albums.
"The process is, I have a batch of songs and try to get best musicians available, and I have a brotherhood because the band I've been working with, we've been working many years together, not unlike if you look at early Stax records, early Muscle Shoals records or Chess Records, a lot of musicians play on all those records."
Of course, there's an argument to be made that artists with extensive catalogs such as Wolf don't need to release new music, and he acknowledges the point.
"I asked myself over and over again, 'Why am I doing this?' Basically, the reason I made albums is because I enjoyed the process and the artistic process, then I would hope that maybe people would hear it and hopefully like it, but the main incentive was to create something, not unlike a painter who is painting a painting. The intention is to make the painting.
"What's very discouraging is that what happens is you invest a large amount of time, energy and money to produce something and it ends up becoming vapor or just being taken for free, not unlike being in the restaurant business, where the customer comes in, you spend the energy to make a great meal, the customer enjoys it, and when you hand them the check, they say, 'No thanks, I'm out of here.' That means the restaurant is not going to be able to stay open much longer. You don't do it necessarily for sales, but what's important for me is whatever the records did sell, it just helps you be able to continue making more."
Wolf is passionate about the subject, adding, "The records I've made, the main impetus and motivation was not to put together something that would make money. It was to produce a new body of work that got me excited. The disappointing thing is that so much of a musician's work these days has been devalued and since that really hurts newer bands, it decreases their opportunity to continue progressing making music. You can see an artist like Beck or Tom Petty release a record, and the next day, you can listen to the whole thing online. It devalues it, not the monetary aspect, but that process devalues the continuation and makes it more disposable. When somebody really wants something, and they invest the time and energy to get it, they value it more.
"When you turn on the radio, you hear music, but there are advertisements to keep the radio station going, and the songs on the radio are to promote and get people to purchase the record or go out and see the show, which helps them be around for more than six months."
Wolf enjoys the duality of his solo career and his status as front man of the J. Geils Band.
"As time moves on, there's a certain freedom in being a soloist," Wolf said, adding that the J. Geils Band might be embarking on a fall tour. "I enjoy being part of that. It gives me an opportunity to revisit a lot of the material I helped create."
Of course, there's the much publicized rift between founding member J. Geils and his bandmates, who have chosen to perform and tour without him in the band that bears his name.
When The Sun spoke to Geils a few years ago, during a hiatus for the J. Geils Band, Geils said he had moved on musically and his passions were in his jazz and blues bands, but that the J. Geils Band would get together from time to time when a promoter could entice them.
"Some of us have moved on to other things," Geils said in 2011. "I know I have, but there are no plans. I'm not even in touch with the guys hardly at all."
Then the band decided it would get together without Geils, and lawsuits ensued.
"The last time we played, we played without J.," Wolf said. "J. has gone other ways, focusing on another kind of music, not unlike Bill Wyman with the Stones.
"The incentive to wanting to do something because someone is waving money at you is problematic if you are in a band like J. Geils Band, which requires full commitment, not just a physical commitment. Maybe the Eagles or Crosby, Stills and Nash can sit on stools and spend the evening performing. This requires a huge commitment."
As for the set list here in Lowell, Wolf said he'll cherry-pick songs from his solo albums as well as classics of artists such as Muddy Waters or other R&B artists that he enjoys playing. "Also, because J. Geils has been part of my life and I know that many of the audience might enjoy J. Geils, I'll play several Geils songs that I feel reflect part of my history and what I've done.
"I was a member of the J. Geils Band. I helped found the J. Geils Band. I was the manager of the J. Geils Band. I was the frontman of the J. Geils Band. I was the promoter of the J. Geils Band. If I was coming to a Peter Wolf show, I would hope to hear some J. Geils. To ignore it would be disrespectful to the musical legacy I've helped build."
That legacy has helped Wolf earn a certain status among his peers. If you go to a rock concert in the Boston area, whether it's Bruce Springsteen, Kid Rock, Aerosmith or U2, there's a good chance Wolf will be asked to come onstage to perform with the band.
"There's a certain sense of gratitude one feels because when you're backstage with Springsteen and he says, 'Hey, Pete. How about one number?' I don't go down prepared for that. I start getting nervous. It's certainly something I never take for granted, but I feel very honored that they would ask me to come up and do a number. I'm primarily just going as a fan to check out music. I love to cover the waterfront, as they say. I enjoy seeing bands old and new, but somebody like Springsteen, I've known since the beginning of his career. Somebody like the Stones, who I've played with, hung with and known since the late 60s or early 70s. I was very honored when Mick Jagger sang on Sleepless, or when Keith did a number. It just means a lot to me when I'm sitting there in the audience and I hear Bono dedicate a song to me. It's a good feeling and it always surprises me."