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Obituaries

Son Seals, 62; Guitarist Helped Keep Chicago Blues Style Alive

December 23, 2004|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Son Seals, whose stinging, fluid guitar lines, gruff vocals and engaging stage persona made him a leading figure in Chicago's blues scene since the early 1970s, has died. He was 62.

Seals died Monday of complications from diabetes at a nursing home in suburban Chicago.

He had been in failing health for several years but continued to perform until October, when he played club dates in California, including appearances in Los Angeles and Merced.

Seals won three W.C. Handy Blues Awards for accomplishments in performing and recording and was nominated for a Grammy for his performance on the 1981 compilation album, "Blues Deluxe."

One of 13 children, Son Seals was born Frank Seals in Osceola, Ark., on Aug. 14, 1942. His father, who was also a blues musician, owned a leading juke joint in Osceola called the Dipsy Doodle Club, which booked some of the leading blues players of the day, including Sonny Boy Williamson and Albert King.

Son Seals learned several instruments from his father and was an accomplished drummer by the age of 13. By 18, he was leading a band in Little Rock, Ark., but had switched to guitar.

"My father taught me everything from the start," Seals said in an statement on the Alligator Records website. "Tuning the guitar, fingering. Where I wanted to be riffing around all up and down the neck right away, he'd keep me on one chord for hours, until I could feel it in my sleep. I'd get up in the morning, grab the guitar and I'd be right on that chord."

Seals moved to Chicago in 1971 and began playing in some of the city's leading clubs alongside noted blues players such as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. He recorded his first album for Alligator Records in 1973 and recorded several more for Alligator and Telarc. In the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, Seals was a popular attraction at blues clubs and festivals around the country and in Europe.

In assessing a performance by Seals in Los Angeles in 1980, Times reviewer Don Snowden called it "consistently exciting" and noted that Seals "will have no difficulty keeping the Chicago blues tradition alive and well."

Over the last few years, Seals gained attention with a new generation of listeners when the rock band Phish recorded his material and appeared with him on a Telarc album. He performed at the White House for President Clinton in the 1990s.

Seals suffered multiple health problems. He lost part of his left leg to diabetes in 1999. In 1997, he was shot in the jaw and neck area in a domestic dispute with his wife at the time, and a 1995 automobile accident severely injured his left hand, requiring surgeries and rehabilitation.

He is survived by 14 children and a sister, Katherine Sims.

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