Son Seals, One of a Kind
by Bob Putignano
Goldmine Magazine 01/25/05
I had seen Son Seals perform dozens of times for a period of about twenty years prior to 1999, which was the first time I interviewed Seals. The raw energy and tough grit he emitted on stage was such that I was actually scared to be in the same room with him. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised as he turned out to be one of the kindest human beings I had ever met. Thinking back, I would even say he was soft spoken, which is pretty bizarre when you consider depth and power of his on stage vocals.
Son Seals in many ways was not your ordinary blues man, he was also a businessman who invested his hard earned money in real estate, and ran the business with his son. He told me he was a successful investor and wanted to smartly hedge his bet on the music business, so that his family would have something extra to fall back on should his blues touring and recording experience a down turn.
The Vivino Brothers and about three quarters of the Conan O'Brien Band were often the band of choice when Son Seals would play Chicago Blues here in NYC. Those performances were perhaps some of the most intense blues shows I have ever seen. Three sets of non stop, balls to the wall jam sessions, which had the crowd cheering for more, no matter what time of the morning it was. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino was the perfect accompanist for Seals, as Vivino constantly pitched complex chord changes, which fueled Son's solos. I will never forget those nights, especially those ten-minute versions of one of Son's signature songs "Funky Bitch." Speaking of "Funky Bitch" on Son's last recording "Lettin' Go" (2000, Telarc-produced by Vivino), the jam band Phish backs Seals on one track- the aforementioned classic track "Funky Bitch." And speaking of Phish, the second and last time I interviewed Son, they were performing at Madison Square Garden that same night, and Son was invited by Phish to play the track they recorded together. During the interview, I had told Seals that "Funky Bitch" was one of my favorite songs, and he looks at me says, "come with me to MSG." What a night! Seals went on to be a guest of Phish for 10-15 shows that year, as Trey Anastasio adored Son Seals playing.
If you had to good fortune of seeing Son Seals perform you already know what a powerful musical force he was. I am honored to say that I had the opportunity to know him, and I will miss Son Seals dearly.
President NY Blues & Jazz, and radio
host @ WFDU’s, “Sounds of Blue”