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

Alan Bryson By

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In 1983 an intrepid reporter from the Galveston Daily News drove to West Texas to interview Wayland for an article that appeared in the Sunday edition on January 1, 1984. Why? Wayland Seals is the father of two major recording artists, Jimmy Seals, half of the legendary '70s duo Seals & Crofts, and Dan Seals. Dan, under the name England Dan, was part of moderately successful pop duo, and later under his own name he was a highly successful Country artist—with eleven #1 hit singles.

Wayland at the time of the interview was 71 years of age, and told the reporter he still loves to play his Gibson flat top guitar, but his arthritis made fretting difficult, saying, "I'm not near as slick as I used to be. But it's like riding a bicycle. You always remember how to stay on the thing, once you learn, but as you get older you just can't pedal as fast."

Jimmy and Dan's older half-brother was a real estate investor who did not pursue a career in music, but he was also musically gifted. In Wayland's words, "That oldest boy of mine, Eddie Ray, he can flat play a guitar. He's always done his own show, up in Dallas, out in Las Vegas or now in Nashville. I had an old Gibson guitar with red rosewood sides and a yellow sunburst top. My daddy gave it to me in the 30s. I wore it out, had it fixed and wore it out again and had it fixed again. Then I gave it to Eddie Ray. He still has it, and he still plays it, too."

They played anything they could get their hands on. Jimmy started out on guitar at the age of four. They bought him a fiddle from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue and by the age of nine he had taught himself to play and won the Texas State Fiddle Championship. Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts met in junior high school, and Dash became part of the Seals family music circle. Dash was the son of a Texas rancher, a dapper gentleman named Sutton Crofts. Dash, he's actually named Darrell, grew up in Cisco, Texas, a small town, but probably five times the size of Jimmy's hometown. He has a twin sister, Dot, short for Dorothy, thus they became Dash and Dot. In the 1950s Dash appeared with the Seals family on local television as recounted by Wayland:

"Back then, the youngest, Danny, used to play a big ol' bull fiddle with the rest of us. We all played on a television show one time in the '50s and people in the audience got the biggest kick out of watching Danny. He was so little that he'd have to jump clean off his feet to reach some of them low notes way up on that fiddle neck. He was only 4 or 5 years old then."

When you think of the barren isolation of their hometown, it's easy to imagine that the Seals household must have been the place to be in Rankin, Texas. That is reflected in these lines Jimmy Seals penned for the song, "29 Years from Texas":

"Come a long, long way from Rankin, Texas
And the days when Dash and my daddy played
People would come from miles around
Bring the food and just stay and stay"

"And every time I think of the days gone by I can't help but feelin' a little sad
'Cause I think of all the years and miles and the tears
And I hear the voice of my granddad"

"Good country picking going down every night
Good clean living underneath the starry skies
I'm 29 years from Rankin, Texas
But I really haven't gone anywhere at all"

Eventually after guitar and the fiddle, Jimmy Seals added another important tool to his musical toolbox when he taught himself tenor saxophone. By the time he was 15 he had already recorded a single on sax, "Sneaky Pete" released by a regional label operated out of Slim Willet's garage. Willet was a radio personality in Central and West Texas, a singer, and an all around music impresario and entrepreneur. He also happened to manage a band, fronted by a pianist, that included young Dash Crofts on drums and Jimmy Seals on saxophone.

Opportunity Knocks

You'll recall, Dave Burgess of the Champs was desperately looking for a replacement saxophonist and drummer. He spoke to a friend who reached out to Slim Willet, who then sent him a copy of Jimmy Seals' "Sneaky Pete" single. After Burgess heard "Sneaky Pete" he let Slim Willet know he wanted Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts to join the tour. Long story short, it clicked extremely well, they finished the tour and were then invited to join the band.

Wayland was reluctant to let his 16 year old son leave home and move to California. Based on Wayland's interview it appears Slim Willet played the Gene Autrey card, giving Wayland the impression it was the legendary star and label owner himself who wanted Jimmy in the Champs. Also of note, the following year an unknown guitarist from Arkansas joined the Champs, it was none other than Glen Campbell. He would of course go on to be a legendary session guitarist, star of his own television variety hour, movie actor, and platinum recording artist.



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