Blues guitarist Frank “Son” Seals, one of the genre’s few musicians to make an impact in the 1970s, died Dec. 21in Chicago of complications from diabetes. He was 62.
An aggressive guitarist, he debuted on Alligator Records in 1973. Unlike many of his peers, he wrote his own material and his forceful, viscerally charged approach to the blues earned him impressive notices in the New York Times and Rollling Stone soon after his early records were released.
Born in Osceola, Ark., his childhood home was a few rooms in the back of his father Jim’s juke joint, the Dipsy Doodle. As a child he heard legends such as Sonny Boy Williamson and Albert King performing as well as his father, who played piano, trombone, guitar and drums.
By the time he was 13, Seals was backing many of the artists who came through the Dipsy Doodle — on drums. At 18, he was leading his own band as a guitarist during the week and playing drums behind whomever was playing at his father’s club on the weekends. Seals toured with Earl Hooker in 1963, and soon after that as a drummer with King.
He moved to Chicago in 1971, building a reputation by jamming with the likes of Junior Wells, James Cotton and Buddy Guy. Seals took over Hound Dog Taylor’s weekend gigs at the Expressway Lounge on Chicago’s South Side, which led to his signing with Alligator, the label founded to record Taylor. His fans included blues musicians and the rock band Phish, with whom he performed in concert numerous times.
Seals made eight records for Alligator between 1973 and 1996, touring the world over. He lost a leg to diabetes in 1999, which slowed his career; he made only one record after that, a 2000 album for Telarc. A year later, he was shot in the jaw by an ex-wife, leading to months of reconstructive surgery.
He is survived by 14 children and a sister.