He Will Never Pass This Way Again: Remembering Jim Seals

One half of the hit-making duo Seals and Crofts dead at age 80

Rest In Peace, Jim Seals (Image: Discogs)

To some, the duo known as Seals and Crofts were known simply as purveyors of soft folk rock harmonies and songs that made an emphatic imprint on the top 40 charts.

However, for those that relished those winsome melodies, they became an indelible part of a past when radio was the source of new music. It was a time when streams, downloads and all the other platforms we depend on today had yet to filter into the public’s collective imagination.

Consequently, the June 6th passing of Jim Seals, a keynote collaborator with Dash Crofts in that hit-making duo, adds an extra measure of sadness. Indeed, songs such as “Summer Breeze,” “Diamond Girl, “Get Closer,” “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” and “Ruby Jean and Billie Lee” helped provide the soundtrack for a more innocent era when sweeping sentiment and voices thoughtfully entwined were all that was needed to lift one’s spirits and provide wistful reassurance.

 

AUDIO: Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze”

Those sentiments were hardly surprising. Both men belonged to the Baha’i faith, carrying those peace-loving precepts so prominent in the ‘60s forward to the ‘70s and beyond, when cynicism and sarcasm often overrode them.

Crofts became fascinated with music early on. A Texan by birth — his dad was an oilman — he got his first instrument, a fiddle, from the Sears catalog when he was only five or six, and only a few years after that, won his first fiddle competition. He then took up the saxophone at age 13 and joined a local group called the Crew Cats during the dawn of the rock and roll era in the mid ‘50s.

His first collaboration with his future partner Crofts occurred when they played together in the band The Champs, mostly known for their sole hit, an instrumental titled  “Tequila.” Afterwards, the duo relocated to L.A. and performed in a band called the Dawnbreakers, which was notable for having Glen Campbell as its frontman prior to Campbell’s solo stardom. Eventually, Seals traded in his sax for a guitar and Crofts, a former drummer, took up mandolin. Now known as Seals and Crofts, their first three albums floundered until “Summer Breeze” became a surprise hit and made them superstars. A string of radio-ready chartbusters soon followed.

Still, the duo were no strangers to controversy. Their anti-abortion song, “Unborn Child,” included as an album track in 1974 in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision, was released over the objections of their record label, Warner Bros.

Seals told the L.A. Times in an interview years later that the intent was merely to ask a question: “What about the child? We were trying to say, ‘This is an important issue,’ that life is precious and that we don’t know enough about these things yet to make a judgment. It was our ignorance that we didn’t know that kind of thing was seething and boiling as a social issue. On one hand we had people sending us thousands of roses, but on the other people were literally throwing rocks at us. If we’d known it was going to cause such disunity, we might have thought twice about doing it. At the time it overshadowed all the other things we were trying to say in our music.”

 

AUDIO: Seals and Crofts “Unborn Child”

Though it had nothing to do with the decision to share the song, the pair broke up in 1980. They reunited briefly in the early ‘90s and early 2000s, yielding only one album in all that time, 2004’s largely ignored Traces. In that same interview with the L.A. Times, Seals explained the reason for their split.

“Around 1980, we were still drawing 10,000 to 12,000 people at concerts. But we could see, with this change coming where everybody wanted dance music, that those days were numbered. We just decided that it was a good time, after a long run at it, to lie back and not totally commit ourselves to that kind of thing because we were like (fish) out of water.”

Seals moved to Costa Rica with his wife, Ruby, and it was there that they raised their three children. He eventually moved back to Nashville but remained largely retired, having suffered a stroke in 2017. However he did make occasional forays back into making music when he joined forces with his brother Dan Seals of England Dan and John Ford Coley fame, and subsequently toured as Seals and Seals. 

On hearing of Seals’ passing, Coley wrote on Facebook, “This is a hard one on so many levels as this is a musical era passing for me. And it will never pass this way again, as his song said. I spent a large portion of my musical life with this man. He was Dan’s older brother, (and) it was Jimmy that gave Dan and me our stage name. He taught me how to juggle, made me laugh, pissed me off, encouraged me, showed me amazing worlds and different understandings on life, especially on a philosophical level; showed me how expensive golf was and how to never hit a golf ball because next came the total annihilation of a perfectly good golf club, and the list goes on and on. We didn’t always see eye to eye, especially as musicians, but we always got along and I thought he was a bona fide, dyed-in the-wool musical genius and a very deep and contemplative man. He was an enigma and I always had regard for his opinion.”

Steve Miller added his thoughts, tweeting, “RIP Jim Seals So long pal, thanks for all the beautiful music. – Steve.”

Jim Seals was 80. No cause of death was immediately disclosed.

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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