It all started with a phone call from Wesley Race, who was at the Flamingo Club on Chicago's South Side, to Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer. Race was raving about a new find, a young guitarist named Son Seals. He held the phone in the direction of the bandstand, so Iglauer could get an on-site report. It didn't take long for Iglauer to scramble into action. Alligator issued Seals' eponymous debut album in 1973, which was followed by six more.
Son Seals was born Frank Seals on August 13, 1942 in Osceola, Arkansas. His dad operated a juke joint called the Dipsy Doodle Club in Osceola where Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, and Albert King cavorted upfront while little Frank listened intently in back. Drums were the youth's first instrument; he played them behind Nighthawk at age 13. But by the time he was 18, Son Seals turned his talents to guitar, fronting his own band in Little Rock.
While visiting his sister in Chicago, he hooked up with Earl Hooker's Roadmasters in 1963 for a few months, and there was a 1966 stint with Albert King that sent him behind the drumkit once more. But with the death of his father in 1971, Seals returned to Chicago, this time for good. When Alligator signed him up, his days fronting a band at the Flamingo Club and the Expressway Lounge were numbered.
Seals' jagged, uncompromising guitar riffs and gruff vocals were showcased very effectively on that 1973 debut set, which contained his "Your Love Is like a Cancer" and a raging instrumental called "Hot Sauce." Midnight Son, his 1976 encore, was by comparison a much slicker affair, with tight horns, funkier grooves, and a set list that included "Telephone Angel" and "On My Knees." Seals cut a live LP in 1978 at Wise Fools Pub; another studio concoction, Chicago Fire, in 1980, and a solid set in 1984, Bad Axe, before having a disagreement with Iglauer that that was patched up in 1991 with the release of his sixth Alligator set, Living in the Danger Zone. Nothing But the Truth followed in 1994, sporting some of the worst cover art in CD history, but a stinging lineup of songs inside. Another live disc, Spontaneous Combustion, was recorded at Buddy Guy's Legends club and released in June of 1996. Over the years, Seals had his share of hardship, bad deals, unemployment, and rip-offs that go on in the music business. However, his personal life took two devastating blows in the late '90s. On January 5, 1997, during a domestic dispute, Seals was shot in the jaw by his former spouse. He miraculously recovered and continued touring. Two years later he had his left leg amputated as a result of diabetes. What would have surely forced most performers into retirement only made Seals more dedicated to his music and audience. He came back in 2000, signing with Telarc Blues, and recorded Lettin' Go. Seals preferred to remain close to his Chicago home, holding his touring itinerary to an absolute minimum. Virtually every weekend he could be found somewhere on the Northside blues circuit, dishing up his raw-edged brand of bad blues axe to local followers. The blues ended for Son Seals on December 20, 2004; he passed away due to diabetes related complications. ~ Bill Dahl & Al Campbell