Son Seals - lead guitar, vocals; Lacy Gibson - rhythm guitar; Snapper Mitchum - bass; Tony Gooden - drums; Guest: Johnny Winter - guitar, vocals
Performing professionally since the age of 13, Frank "Son" Seals began as a drummer before taking up the guitar. His father ran the Osceola, Arkansas juke joint, the Dipsy Doodle Club, where Seals was first exposed to Sonny Boy Williamson and two of his early mentors, Robert Nighthawk and Albert King. By age 13, Seals began drumming for Nighthawk, but by the end of the 1950s, he began fronting his own band in Little Rock and had switched over to guitar. Over the course of the next 10 years, Seals honed his chops with the likes of Earl Hooker and Albert King, developing a penetrating style that synthesized the grit and emotional pitch of the early blues with elements of rock, R&B, swing, and funk. Seal's unique style reflected his background as a drummer, with his dense biting leads incorporating strikingly original percussive elements.
Following the death of his father in 1971 Seals relocated to Chicago, where his career began taking off. He began jamming around town with Hound Dog Taylor and Howling Wolf Jr. and played with blues greats like Buddy Guy, James Cotton, and Junior Wells, before leading his own band, establishing a reputation as one of the hottest guitar players around. It was during this time that he caught the ear of Bruce Iglauer of the blues label Alligator Records, while performing at the Flamingo Club. Seals' debut album, The Son Seals Blues Band, was released in 1973 to widespread critical acclaim and it, along with the 1976 follow-up, Midnight Sun, remain two of the greatest albums ever released by the label.
This remarkable performance, recorded at New York City's Bottom Line, when Seals opened a series of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells dates, captures the guitarist in incendiary form, several months before he expanded his quartet lineup to record his acclaimed live album, Live And Burning. Seals' slashing guitar work is all over this recording, which focuses on many of the best songs from his first two albums. During the fourth song of the set, Seals delights the audience by introducing legendary Texas guitar-slinger Johnny Winter to the stage. For the next half-hour, Winter joins the group, taking it to another level for the remainder of this blistering performance.
The set kicks off with a double dose of originals from the Son Seals Blues Band self-titled debut, with the slow burning blues, "Sitting By Window," followed by the swinging groove of "Look Now Baby." Seals' guitar playing immediately burns with a fiery intensity that rarely lets up for the rest of the set. They continue with two songs from the group's second album, Midnight Sun. Returning to the slow blues form, Seals delivers "Telephone Angel" followed by "On My Knees," both showcasing his jagged, uncompromising guitar riffs and gruff vocals very effectively. After tearing it up on "On My Knees," Seals and the band begin to vamp as he begins chatting with the audience. Much to their surprise, Seals informs them that Johnny Winter is in the house and they plan to jam. To enthusiastic applause, Winter plugs in and the two guitarists ease back into "On My Knees," Winter taking the first solo. Seals picks up where Winter leaves off and then they trade a few riffs to close this warm-up exercise. Next up is a relaxed burn through "Stormy Monday," with Winter adding some trademark slide work and enthusiastic "yeahs!" Seals' rhythm section of Gibson, Mitchum, and Gooden are superb throughout, providing a tough forceful backing that allows both lead guitarists to truly shine.
On the set-closing "Mother-In-Law Blues," things seriously take off. Another highlight of the first album, this is a perfect vehicle for Winter's blazing fretwork. These two guitar players obviously have a chemistry and respect for each other as they avoid stepping on each other's toes. Winter takes the lead vocal as well, which allows Seals to peel off one scorching line after another. His raw, uninhibited leads are strikingly emotive, closely in tune with the beat and generally tougher sounding than any blues guitarists of the era.
The New York City audience has no intention of letting them go without an encore. Everyone, including Johnny Winter, returns to the stage and sends the crowd into blues heaven with a tasty three song medley of B.B. King numbers. This begins with "Sweet Little Angel," with Winter taking lead vocals while Seals burns on guitar. Two minutes later, Seals takes over for "The Woman I Love," a song that would turn up on his live album later in the year. Winter takes a particularly biting solo toward the end, before the group suddenly shifts into the classic "Everyday I Have The Blues." This more up-tempo closer has Winter egging Seals on as he rips into one last solo. Trying to make the fun last as long as possible, Seals hands the reins back over to Winter, who takes the vocal duties on the final verse and one last scorching solo before they bring it to a close.
A remarkable conclusion to a powerful set, it is incredible that this was only the opener that night, leaving the audience truly pumped up for the Buddy Guy and Junior Wells set soon to follow.