.C. Handy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated master Chicago bluesman Son Seals, 62, died Monday, December 20 in Chicago, IL. The critically acclaimed, younger generation guitarist, vocalist and songwriter – credited with redefining Chicago blues for a new audience in the 1970s -- was known for his intense, razor-sharp guitar work, gruff singing style and his charismatic stage presence. According to Guitar World, "Seals carves guitar licks like a chain saw through solid oak and sings like a grainy-voiced avenging angel." Seals released 11 albums during his 30-year recording career and toured worldwide.
Over the course of his career, Seals was hailed as one of Chicago's great bluesmen and one of the city's most powerful live performers. Musician stated, "Seals delivers performances of the most profound emotion... one of the genre's most soulful exorcists." His most recent recording was an Alligator Records career retrospective, Deluxe Edition, in 2002. Among his many accolades, Seals won three W.C. Handy Blues Awards, one each in 1985, 1987 and 2001, and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1980 for his participation in the live compilation, Blues Deluxe.
Frank "Son" Seals was born in Osceola, Arkansas on August 14, 1942. He became an accomplished drummer by the time he was 13. By the age of 18, Son had put down the drumsticks and was leading his own band as a guitarist. He moved to Chicago in 1971 and began playing regular weekend gigs at The Expressway Lounge and other clubs on Chicago's South Side, regularly jamming with legends like Hound Dog Taylor, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy.
Son's 1973 debut recording, The Son Seals Blues Band, on the fledging Alligator Records label, established him as a blazing, original blues performer and composer. Son's audience base grew as he toured extensively, playing colleges, clubs and festivals throughout the country. The New York Times called him "the most exciting young blues guitarist and singer in years." His 1977 follow-up, Midnight Son, received widespread acclaim from every major music publication. Rolling Stone called it "one of the most significant blues albums of the decade."
On the strength of Midnight Son, Seals began touring Europe regularly, and even appeared in an Olympia beer commercial. A strong series of six more successful Alligator releases followed through the 1980s and 1990s (Seals also recorded two albums for other labels during this time), growing Seals' audience all over the world. Seals shared stages with a wide variety of blues stars, including B.B. King and Johnny Winter. Even the popular rock band Phish recognized Seals' talent and power, covering his song "Funky *****" on record and inviting Seals to join them on stage at many of their tour dates.