Son Seals, R.I.P.

Another blues man reaches the end of the line

Son Seals, whom Guitar World described as "a grainy-voiced avenging angel", died in Chicago on December 20 at age 62. The cause, according to his record label, Alligator, was complications from diabetes.

A selected Son Seals discography:

The Son Seals Blues Band
(1973, Alligator)

Midnight Son
(1977, Alligator)

Bad Axe
(1984, Alligator)

Lettin' Go
(2000, Telarc)

Deluxe Edition
(2002, Alligator)

Born in Osceola, Arkansas, a small town across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Seals began his musical career on drums, which he had mastered by 13; then with direction from his musical father, Seals switched to guitar and became a bandleader before he was old enough to legally drink.

After moving to Chicago in 1971, Seals emerged as a fixture on the Southside blues scene, performing with legends Hound Dog Taylor, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy. He released 11 albums, most of them on the Chicago-based Alligator label, including the blazing Live: Spontaneous Combustion in 1996. During his 30-year career, Seals won three W.C. Handy Awards, blues music's highest honor, and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1980 for his participation in the live compilation, Blues Deluxe.

Seals' childhood proximity to Memphis manifested itself in the funk, soul, and R&B that emerged in his blues work: The chunka-chunka rhythm guitar, fat horns, and swirling B3 grooved through several cuts on 1984's Bad Axe, including the upbeat "Friday Again" and the solemn "I Can't Stand to See Her Cry," which pairs Seals' emotive fretwork with barrelhouse piano. Lettin' Go, one of his few non-Alligator releases, featured Al Kooper on Hammond B3 and Phish's Trey Anastasio on the infectious "Funky Bitch."

Apparently, Seals did make time for a few other pursuits besides the blues; his survivors include 14 children.

Lisa Sorg

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