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DVD Review -- Son Seals



A Journey Through The Blues – The Son Seals Story

Vizztone/Sagebrush Productions SB102


by Tim Holek


As he says on the Live and Burning album, Son Seals used to wake up and say, “Blues.” The late, great guitarist had a uniquely aggressive Chicago sound as exemplified during the opening moments of this DVD. From there, the all too brief 30-minute documentary travels fast via a structured format. Born Frank "Son" Seals in Osceola, Arkansas in 1942, Seals is interviewed and reveals the bare essentials of his life and career. He discusses growing up in Arkansas and the influence of his father’s juke joint The Dipsy Doodle. Regarding why he chose a life of music, Seals says, “I wanted to do what I saw other people do.” In 1971, Seals moved to Chicago. Soon after arriving, he landed regular gigs on the South Side at The Expressway Lounge and the Flamingo Club.


            Other key figures such as Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records, Seals’ sister and son, Koko Taylor, and blues club owner Frank Pellegrino of Kingston Mines are interviewed. Producer Peter Carlson, who also made Don't Start Me Talking (The Junior Wells Story), has resisted using an all-interview format to tell Seals’ story. The film also features live performance clips, vintage photos, and music from several of Seals’ albums.


            The two had a business relationship, but most of all Seals and Iglauer were friends for over 30 years. While smiling, yet visibly distracted (with emotion for the deceased musician), Iglauer catches himself “talking about him [Seals] in the present tense. His performances are so alive to me.” Iglauer also reflects on the grueling life of a traveling bluesman. “Nobody gets rich playing the blues. If you’re lucky you end up with a middle class lifestyle. If you are unlucky, you end up a broke old man.” Whether or not Seals was lucky isn’t given clarified, but the documentary does confirm Seals lead a life of hardship. 


            He became diabetic in the ’70s. In 1997, a former spouse shot him in the face. Seals survived but the bullet permanently lodged itself in his skull. Emotionally, his sister reveals how he started to give up when a portion of a leg was amputated in 1999. Then he required dialysis treatments. He did them for a long time but decided to stop. Son Seals died in 2004. Throughout his career, Seals externally released his internal frustrations via his fierce music. Carlson suggests, “Son Seals took some of your pain and made it his own. And … at least you weren’t alone with it.”


            Commendably, the DVD presents the trials and tribulations of Seals’ life and career in chronological order. However, this documentary is so short it views like you are watching a music magazine’s feature story. Three bonus live performances, with poor video and audio quality, do not reflect the power and intensity of Seals in concert. Thus, this DVD may not entice new listeners to discover the ferocious electric blues guitar of Son Seals. Still, it gives a dramatic glimpse into the life that enabled Seals to create burning blues from deep within him. On Nobody Wants A Loser, Seals sang “The game of life is the hardest one to win.” Iglauer puts it all into perspective. “His life was a big fight and his music was his victory when he didn’t win other parts of that fight.”



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