Blues Bytes


April 2017

Son Seals
Bad Axe
Alligator Records

Son Seals

It's been way too many years since I've visited the city of Chicago, but there was a period of time during the late '80s - early '90s when business took me to the Windy City once or twice a year. I always made sure to hit a couple of blues clubs on each visit. One of my primary targets to see live was the great blues guitarist Son Seals, absolutely one of the most captivating artists on the scene during that timeframe. I recall one magical night at Kingston Mines when Seals was on fire. Combined with the right amount of Old Styles to put me in the right mood, it was truly a memorable night of blues that still resonates in my musical memory bank.

While Bad Axe was released in 1984, which would have been five tor so years prior to that special evening, Seals played quite a few songs from that album. For that reason alone, Bad Axe has always been the defining album of his career for my tastes and it's one that I still listen to frequently, especially when I want to relive that magical night at the Mines.

"Just About To Lose Your Clown" ranks as one of ten blues songs that I'd want to have in my possession if left alone on a desert island. The raw emotion, energy, rough-hewn vocals and incendiary guitar solos on this song define Son Seals, as he reminds his woman that she hasn't been treating him right and he's headed for the door. If you don't have a copy of Bad Axe in your collection, my god, get it just for this song!

Equally good is "Going Home," on which Seals is ready to leave the big city and head back to the country, in this case his home state of Arkansas ... "I'm going home, where women got some meat on their bones ...." As for why he gave up what he had back home, Seals sings "... I left a fine young woman, spent all of my money, on nothing but skin and bones..."  Not surprisingly, Seals inserts a blistering guitar solo midway through the song.

Seals plays the martyr pretty darned well in his relationship with women, as heard on the opening cut, "Don't Pick Me For Your Fool." His vocals are raspier here as the desperation with his relationship has him at the end of the line, and it compliments the always frantic guitar work well. Continuing the theme of that hateful woman is "Cold Blood," a mid-tempo blues shuffle with a steady beat provided by drummer Rick Howard. Seals' guitar work gets a little more intricate here instead of the in-your-face power of earlier cuts, and Carl Snyder Jr. joins in with a nice piano solo towards the end of the number.

That standard Son Seals guitar lick opens the up-tempo shuffle "I Think You're Fooling Me," where once again the star of our show doubts that the woman in his life is being honest with him. When his voice doesn't sufficiently say it to her, his aggressive and confrontational guitar takes over.

Seals changes his point of view and his style of blues on "Can't Stand To See Her Cry," a funkier, jazzier tune with tasteful piano from Snyder Jr. In this case his woman's been true to him and he regrets the fact that he's hurt her and will probably do so again. Closing the album is a rousing version of "Person To Person," a mid-tempo shuffle on which he's asking that woman (perhaps the one he ran away from earlier in the album) to come on home to him. This time the guitar solo is a tad more subtle but very effective in this context.

Bad Axe is every bit as good as it was when it was released in 1984, and still affects me as much as when I heard these songs live with the big man standing just a few feet away from me. We miss you, Mr. Seals, but we'll always have your music to keep you in our memories.

--- Bill Mitchell



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