Jim Seals, half of the Seals and Crofts soft rock troubadours, died Monday at age 80. No cause of death has been announced, but Seals’ cousin Brady Seals, a country singer, confirmed the singer’s death on Facebook.
“Just learned that James ‘Jimmy’ Seals passed away,” wrote Brady Seals. “My heart breaks for his wife Ruby and their children. Please keep them in your prayers. What an incredible legacy he leaves behind.”
When the soft-rock boom hit pop music in the early 1970s, Seals and Crofts, which also included singer and mandolinist Darrell “Dash” Crofts, quickly came to embody the era. With their often exotic musical instrumentation, vaguely philosophical lyrics and crying harmonies, Seals and Crofts singles like “Summer Breeze,” “Diamond Girl” and “We Will Never Pass This Way (Again)” fit equally on AM pop radio. and the most adventurous world of FM. Both your 1972 summer breeze and 1975 Greatest hits albums sold two million copies each at the time. “Summer Breeze”, featuring lead vocals and lyrics by Seals, would also be covered by many others, including the Isley Brothers and Type O Negative.
The seals did not follow the standard route for strumming troubadours. Born on October 17, 1941, in Sydney, Texas, Seals was the son of Wayland Seals, a Texas oil tanker and part-time musician. He started playing the violin at a young age, winning several violin competitions, but eventually switched to the saxophone. In a local band, The Crew Cats, he met Crofts, and the two later joined the Champs, known for their instrumental hit “Tequila”. (Seals and Crofts did not appear on the track.) As part of their tenure on the Champs, Seals and Crofts moved to California, where they also played or wrote music for a wide range of artists, including Monkees, Buck Owens, Gene Vincent, and Rick. Nelson.
For a short time, Seals and Crofts had their own band, the Dawnbreakers, but by 1969 they had become a duo. His first three albums were commercial failures, but his fourth, summer breeze, finally caught on after a DJ from the Northeast took a chance on the title song. That song finally landed them on the charts, and subsequent singles like the even softer “Hummingbird” and lounge-jazzier “Diamond Girl” continued their streak; the duo once bragged about the number of high school yearbooks they reprinted the lyrics to “We Will Never Pass This Way (Again)”.
Behind Seals’ goatee and cap and Crofts’ mandolin, what often set the duo apart were the exotic musical accents in their songs; despite Seals’ country music background, their music incorporated unusual tunings and time signatures beneath the duo’s high-pitched harmonies. “I think our music is a combination of the eastern part of the world and the western part,” Seals said in 1971. “We’ve had people from Greece, Israel, England and France, China, everywhere, listen to our music and say, ‘Ah , it’s old country music.’ And it really felt strange to us because we didn’t realize that until we started comparing our work with, for example, Persian music, which, when you hear it, is actually very close to ours. And we didn’t know about it beforehand. So it’s just something that happened.”
In the mid-1960s, both also converted to the Bahá’í Faith, a religion of Persian roots which, Seals said in 1971, “claimed that all religions sought the return of a messiah or world redeemer, and that He was the One.” (Added to Crofts, “The Bahá’í Faith teaches the unity of people of all races, creeds, religions, politics and truths.”) Seals’ song “Traces” told the story of ten Bahá’í women ‘is that were performed in Iran in the 1980s. But those same beliefs led to controversy with 1974’s “Unborn Child,” an anti-abortion song that was banned by some radio stations (while adopted by others). Bahá’í professes that life begins at the moment of conception,” said Crofts in 1975, “and it was written for mother and baby, not to take this life so lightly.”
In 1976, Seals and Crofts bounced back by switching to a plush pop-R&B sound for “Get Closer,” which helped usher in the yacht-rock era. But they were never able to successfully follow up on that hit. Subsequent albums were not as successful, and the shift from pop to disco and New Wave essentially doomed them. After one last album, 1980 the longest roadthey were dropped by their label, Warner Brothers.
Seals and Crofts reunited in 2004 for a new album, traits, which included remakes of their classics. By this time, Seals and his wife, Ruby, were splitting their time between Hendersonville, Tennessee, and Costa Rica, where Seals ran a coffee farm. Seals’ brother Dan, half of soft-rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, died in 2009 of cancer. In 2017, Seals suffered a stroke, which essentially ended his singing and touring portion of his life.