Musician Jim Seals is 80, and alive

Brother of England Dan

Jim SealsI noticed that Jim Seals, most famous as half of Seals and Crofts, was turning 80. I was not going to write about him since I had discussed my recollections of the duo three years ago here.

But I changed my mind for a couple of reasons. One was the 2013 headline in That Nashville Sound that I Googled. “Singer-Songwriter Jim Seals Passes Away.” Except that, as the first sentence notes, “Country artist Jim Seal passed away April 17 [2013] at his home in Nashville. He was 68.” A different guy.

The other was an extensive article in Texas Monthly in February 2020 entitled The Secret Oil Patch Roots of ‘Summer Breeze’. “The incredible true story of two brothers raised on the hardscrabble country music of rural West Texas who dropped out, tuned in, found God, and helped launch the seventies soft-rock revolution.” It is behind a soft paywall, meaning you can get two free articles; this should be one.

“Wayland [Seals] followed his father into the oil fields. He married young, and he and his wife, Clodell, had a son, Eddie, in 1937. But Clodell died three years later, and the boy was taken by her parents, who raised him in Stephenville. A few years later, Wayland married a woman named Susan, and in 1942 their son Jim was born.”

This is an odd error in that EVERY other source, from my Billboard books to  Wikipedia and NNDB has his birth on October 17, 1941. Still, there are lots of useful details to come.

Oil and music

“When Jim was four, the family moved to Iraan, a recently founded boomtown. Wayland worked for Shell—first as a roustabout, digging ditches, and then as a pipeliner—and he and his family lived in a modest company house surrounded by derricks that stood like trees in a forest…”

“Wayland… loved going to work, and he loved coming home at the end of the day and pulling out his guitar, playing country and western songs he heard on the radio and songs he had written. Sometimes he hosted casual jam sessions and sing-alongs in his living room. Neighbors would stop by, bringing dinner and cakes, and everyone—including Susan, who played the Dobro—would sing, sometimes long after dark.

“Jim, a shy, sensitive boy, was five or six when a fiddler named Elmer Abernathy visited the Seals home. The boy was mesmerized by the man’s instrument, and the next day Wayland, who’d always wanted a family band, ordered him a fiddle from the Sears catalog. When it arrived, Jim tried to play it but couldn’t figure out where to put his fingers or how to draw the bow, so he slid it under his bed.

“One night a year later, Jim had a dream that he was playing his fiddle. ‘It was the most beautiful music,’ he said. ‘I could play anything. When I woke up, I remembered the position of my fingers in the song and pulled out my fiddle. I played the song from my dream, and it wasn’t as good as the dream, but it was a start.’”

Ruby Jean

“Neither Jim nor Dash [Crofts] had grown up particularly religious, but they felt that in Baha’i they had found a modern faith that spoke to them. In 1967 they converted, first Dash (who had married… Billie Lee), then Jim. “It was the first thing I heard in my life that made sense,” Jim said. His connection to his new faith grew even stronger when… he met a fellow Baha’i named Ruby Jean Anderson… Ruby was African American, and even in L.A. in 1969, dating across racial lines was a daring move. But the two fell in love, and the Baha’i community openly welcomed their relationship.

“Soon, Jim asked Ruby to marry him. She said yes, but there was one obstacle: before a couple who were members of the Baha’i faith could get married, they were required to obtain the permission of their parents. Ruby’s mother and father gave their blessing to the union, as did Susan.

“But Wayland had been around few black people in his life, and he carried the sort of prejudices that were common among men of his time and place. No, he told Jim in a letter, he would not give his permission. Jim, disappointed and genuinely distraught—there was no way around his religion’s stipulations—replied with a letter that addressed his father with an emotional honesty that was uncommon between the two men. ‘You raised me to believe that we should have love in our hearts for everybody. Has that changed?”

Anyone who owned the Diamond Girl album knows the answer. The second song is Ruby Jean and Billie Lee, and the women are pictured on the back cover, holding their babies Joshua and Lua, who are namechecked in the song.

England Dan

There’s a lot about Seals and Crofts in the article, about whom I know a lot. But there is also a bunch about England Dan and John Ford Coley; them I only recognize by name. Dan Seals was Jim’s younger brother who loved the Beatles and often spoke in a British accent growing up. Then Dan had a successful solo career as a country artist. For a time, the brothers performed as Seals and Seals. Dan died in 2009 from lymphoma.

Jim and Ruby Jean have lived on a coffee farm in Costa Rica periodically since 1980. They also reside in Nashville and southern Florida.