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Talent, Tenacity, Tequila & a Tale of Two Texas Teenagers

Alan Bryson By

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"We decided at the last minute we were gonna go to [tour] Japan. And he [Jimmy] waited until the last few days and said, 'Well, I've decided I'm not gonna go.' And we got in a big fight over it, and we even got into a fist fight and kind of tore up the club we worked in! And it was just one of the only fights that we ever had. And I said, 'You're betraying me, you're not going.' And so, we went on to Japan. And Jimmy and I didn't speak for awhile, 'cause we were in Japan and Jimmy was here. And when I came back, a month or so later, ah, I was called to do a recording session and I went there, and Jimmy showed up at the same session, and we were glad to see each other. We became friends all over again."

Mushrooms & Dawnbreakers

In 1962, 63, 64, and 65 Challenge Records gave Jimmy Seals, while still a member of the Champs, a chance to record some singles under his own name. It's clear he was listening to what was selling and was able to cover a wide range of styles. One single in particular "The Yesterday of Our Love," was a funky soul song that sounded like it had the potential to have been a hit in the '60s. He left no doubt he was capable of writing some funky music and putting down a funky vocal. It's a recording that will no doubt surprise those who know him only from Seals & Crofts.

In the thick of the flower power era, Jimmy and Dash were in a short lived band called the Mushrooms. Through that they developed an important relationship with a guitarist who would eventually become their producer and the electric guitarist for their Seals & Crofts recordings. That guitarist is the legendary session player Louie Shelton.

Dash, Jimmy and Louie left the Mushrooms and joined a band called the Dawnbreakers. They were often booked in Las Vegas and sounded a bit like a cross between the 5th Dimension and the Mamas and the Papas. The band was managed by Marcia Day, and three of her daughters sang with the band. The Day family were members of the Bahá'í Faith. In the above mentioned People Magazine feature on Seals & Crofts, Marcia Day's role was described this way:

"The stars themselves aren't in charge. Rather, it is a matriarchy managed by Crofts' mother-in-law, an aggressive 45-year-old former actors' agent named Marcia Day. All five of her daughters are active in the operation, as are Marcia's four other sons-in-law who play backup or production roles with the duo. Not surprisingly, S&C have their own soft-ball team and 17 Day grandchildren around the offices."

Less is More

After the demise of the Dawnbreakers, Seals & Crofts, according to People Magazine, holed up in the basement of the Day HQ, then a "decrepit five-bedroom house in Hollywood," and began writing the material that launched them as a duo. Dash Crofts and Louie Shelton each married one of the Day sisters. They were attracted to the Bahá'í teachings and eventually became Bahá'ís. Some months later Jimmy also became a Bahá'í. When speaking to the LA Times in the 1991 article mentioned above, Jimmy described that time in 1966 with Marcia Day and her family.

"She and her family were Bahá'í, and they'd have these fireside gatherings at their house on Friday nights. There were street people, doctors, university teachers and everybody there. And the things they talked about, I couldn't even ask the question let alone give the answer: the difference between soul, mind and spirit, life after death. We'd discuss things sometimes until 3 in the morning."

"It was the only thing I'd heard that made sense to me, so I responded to it. That began to spawn some ideas to write songs that might help people to understand, or help ones who maybe couldn't feel anything or were cynical or cold. Lyrically, I think music can convey things that are hard sometimes for people to say to each other. But through a song, through someone else's eyes, they can see it and it's not so much a confrontation."

When Marcia Day heard them she recognized they clearly had something special, and became the duo's manager. Their spiritual awakening gave their music and lyrics meaning, purpose, and heartfelt intensity. In a January 1971 interview with Stereo Review Magazine by Deborah Landau, Dash put it this way:

"Our awareness of our lives has changed, and therefore our music too. You start out writing songs like 'the leaves are green and the sky is blue and I love you and you love me' -very simple lyrics -but you grow into a much broader awareness of life, of love, and of unity. It's really great to be able to say something real in your music."

The big sound of the Dawnbreakers hadn't fit what they wanted to convey. Dash and Jimmy opted for intimacy and recognized that sometimes less is more, and the mandolin became Dash's primary instrument. Louie Shelton, his friend, producer, and brother-in-law at that time, shared this with me here on AllAboutJazz in an interview:

"Imagine, Dash's brother had a mandolin hanging on the wall at his place, so Dash pulled it down and learned how to play it, and that became the Seals & Crofts sound! At first it was totally acoustic, just the two guys and later they added a bass. So it was initially very sparse, but also very complex."

People who only know them from their radio hits aren't aware of the intricate guitar mandolin duets Jimmy and Dash played—they were, in their own way, somewhat reminiscent of what the Allman Brothers were doing with dual lead guitars at that time— of course Seals & Crofts were acoustic and more structured, but also more complex. It's all the more remarkable when you consider they had been touring for eight years as a saxophonist and drummer.

How Good Were They?

Many people who saw Seals & Crofts in concert during their early years, from 1969 though 1973, became ardent life-long fans. They were a tremendous live act. Two seasoned professionals who were unique in style, sound, and approach. They exuded sincerity and authenticity and somehow managed to create a cone of intimacy into which the audience was drawn. Dash Crofts (a fitting name, but Flash Crofts would have been perfect) was engaging, extroverted, and a flamboyant dresser, and Jimmy Seals was quiet and cerebral. Once a disc jockey jokingly asked Jimmy, "So you're Dash's dad, right?" Jimmy and Dash exploded in laughter. They complemented each other in terms of music, voices, temperament, chemistry, and personality. As is often the case with popular music partnerships, they had a synergy that somehow rendered the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

As a testament to how good Seals & Crofts were live, think of them playing venues like the Fillmore as an opening act for high energy bands like Chicago and Procol Harum. Young people can be vicious when it comes to substitute teachers and opening acts. Imagine walking out on stage as an opening act in front a rock crowd with two chairs, a mandolin, an acoustic guitar with nylon strings, and a bassist. Wimps could not survive something like that. Not only did Seals & Crofts survive, they thrived, and consistently won over audiences. They tenaciously kept at it and built a fan base, impressed critics, and caught the attention of bookers. They actually opened for Delaney and Bonnie and Friends with Eric Clapton at the Fillmore East two night in a row on February 6th and 7th 1970. It must have gone well because six month later they again opened for Delaney and Bonnie and Friends in New York's Central Park. The New York Times reported on Aug 7th, 1970:

"Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, a joyous soulrock gospel ensemble, played a long concert Wednesday evening at Wollman Rink in Central Park... The group was joined for the evening by Herbie Mann on flute, and Duane Allman, who was outstanding on slide guitar. On the bill, too, was a fine folk and bluegrass performance by Seals & Crofts."

(Interesting factoid: Delaney Bramlett, Dash Crofts, and Jimmy Seals were once bandmates. After relocating to Los Angeles to break into the music business, Delaney Bramlett did a brief stint as a guitarist with the Champs before landing a gig in the house band on the television music show "Shindig!" It would be interesting to know if that played a role in Seals & Crofts opening for them.)

How Good Were They? A Fan's Perspective

Here's a note posted on the concert experiences section of the Seals & Crofts website that captures what they were like from a fan's perspective:

"I went to the Fillmore to see Procol Harum many times, always in the front row balcony. While I can't remember the exact date, I'm sure it was the Saturday show. I remember these two scruffy looking scamps take the stage with two chairs, a guitar and a mandolin. They seemed out of place and expectations were low. Well, that changed FAST. The voices, the harmonies, the pickin' (especially Dash on the mandolin). I became an instant fan. I saw them again at another Fillmore show I think, but that first time ever remains a highlight of my concert-going life. Down Home remains one of my all time favorite albums."

For artists who were closer to them stylistically, they were formidable, here's another account from the Seals & Crofts website:

"We had heard of both Seals & Crofts and Kris Kristofferson but had little knowledge of their music. "The Celebrity" is a small theater in the round with a rotating stage, so every seat is a great one. Seals and Crofts opened for Kris Kristofferson. It was just the two of them, plus Bobby Litchtig on bass.  They blew us away, especially Dash on mandolin and Seals on sax! When Kristofferson came out with his band, the first thing he said to the crowd, referring to the S&C performance, was: 'I feel like Flipper following Moby Dick.'"

How Good Were They? A Critic's Perspective

Such praise wasn't limited to fans. Here's a New York Times review from Nov. 15, 1971 (prior to their first big hit "Summer Breeze") that documents the duo's performance:

"Program of Songs By Seals & Crofts Expands Its Range" By Don Beckmannov "It has taken them a while, but Jim Seals and Dash Crofts —Seals & Crofts—are finally hitting their stride... the duo gradually has built its repertory and expanded its instrumentation. At Philharmonic Hall Friday night they played a program that ranged from jazz to blue grass on an array of instruments that included guitar, mandolin, piano, violin and alto saxophone."

"The singing of Seals & Crofts is equally distinctive. Dash Crofts, who generally carries the higher parts, has a penetrating edge to his ringing tenor voice that is surely one of the most easily identifiable sounds in pop music. And the harmonies are unusually complex, with the two voices mingling and crossing in what is, at times, quite respectable twopart counterpoint."

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