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

Alan Bryson By

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"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."

"Surging beneath their music like a powerful undertow is a strong jazz impulse. A tune like "Ridin' Thumb," [a Seals & Crofts composition covered by Ray Charles and King Curtis] with its riff like vamping and extended solos, swings with a subtle rhythmic intensity rare in rock. Even Jim Seals"s hoedown fiddle playing has the bite of a musician who hears his music in the articulations of jazz." "'Year of Sunday,' an extended work that describes the duos worldview religious beliefs, was a bit knotty for listeners who were principally concerned with clapping their hands and bouncing around the aisles; but it was a stunning musical accomplishment. It was a fine example of their attempt to build a truly diverse repertory."

Recordings

Fast forward five years to 1974. In each of their first five years the duo released an album of original music. In broad strokes, these first five recordings were solid and stand the test of time very well. By their third album they had signed with Warner Brothers, and Louie Shelton was made producer. As a result, the production quality was then commensurate with the music—although the cover art for their first Warner Brothers album belongs in the what-in-the world-were-they-thinking category. Their fourth and fifth albums, Summer Breeze 1972 and Diamond Girl 1973 are masterpieces of popular music. Producer Louie Shelton's was able to thread the needle by remaining true to the sound and feel for which the artists were known, while using his knowledge and connections to bring their music to life and achieve commercial success.

For example, they recorded "Hummingbird" with strings, arranged by the legendary Marty Paich, yet they were able to convincingly perform that hit single on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on Feb. 6, 1973 in the guitar, mandolin, bass formation.

Louie Shelton also had a great ear. In his interview here on All About Jazz he shared this, "For an album to be successful, you had to have singles on the radio. That's what was missing on their first album, not that they didn't have them, but for some reason the singles didn't make it. It's funny, they had "Summer Breeze" and had played it for the guy who produced their first album. He didn't like the song. So when we were getting ready to start what became the Summer Breeze album, Jimmy said, 'Well, I don't really have any songs, I've got this one, but nobody likes it.' So he starts playing "Summer Breeze," and I about flipped. I said, "Are you crazy? That's a hit song." It was the same with "Diamond Girl."

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