Jim Seals, one half of Seals & Crofts, a soft rock duo who had a string of hits in the 1970s including Top 10 singles “Summer Breeze” and “Diamond Girl,” died Monday night at his home in Nashville. He was 79.
His wife, Ruby Jean Seals, said the cause was an unspecified “chronic ongoing illness.”
Mr. Seals and his musical partner Dash Crofts were still teenagers when they were asked to join an instrumental group, the Champs, who had a #1 hit with 1958’s “Tequila.” By the mid-1960s they were fed up with the band and the loud, sometimes angry sounds that permeated hard rock of the time.
Being followers of the Bahai faith, they tried to make a calmer music, mixing folk, bluegrass, country and jazz influences and performing their lyrics in close harmony.
“Jim Seals plays acoustic guitar and fiddle,” Don Heckman wrote in the New York Times in a 1970 brief review of their second album, Down Home, “and Dash Crofts plays electric mandolin and piano; together they sing coolly intertwined and quite colorful vocal harmonies.”
The two rose to international fame with the upbeat, nostalgic single Summer Breeze, released in 1972. They had amassed a modest following, but this song changed everything, as they found out when they arrived in Ohio to play a show.
“We had kids waiting for us at the airport,” Mr. Seals told Texas Monthly in 2020. “We had a record crowd that night, maybe 40,000 people. And I remember people throwing their hats and coats at the moon as far as the eye could see.”
The song the two men co-wrote featured the kind of chorus that gets stuck in the brain:
“Summer breeze, feels good / blows through the jasmine in my head.”
The single peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a follow-up, “Hummingbird”, made the top 20. “Diamond Girl” peaked at number 6 in 1973. “Get Closer” also peaked at number 6 in 1976.
But the duo’s hit streak basically ended when the decade ended, and they called it ended for a while.
“Around 1980 we were still drawing 10,000 to 12,000 people at concerts,” Mr. Seals told the Los Angeles Times in 1991 when the two revived the act. “But we could see that those days were numbered as this shift came where everyone wanted dance music.”
Six years earlier, however, the couple had begun to fall out of favor with some listeners and critics for their sixth album, Unborn Child, which was released in 1974 not long after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade on Abortion Rights. The title track urges women considering abortion to “stop, turn around, go back, think about it.”
In a 1978 interview with The Miami Herald, Mr. Seals acknowledged that the record harmed the duo’s careers.
“It completely killed it for a while,” he said. Radio stations refused to play the record. Pickets were set at some Seals & Crofts concerts, although there were also hundreds of letters of support. In a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Seals said the couple never intended the song to be a lightning rod.
“It was our ignorance that we didn’t realize that something like this was simmering and simmering as a social issue,” he said. “On the one hand, people sent us thousands of roses, but on the other hand, people literally threw stones at us.
“If we had known it would lead to such disagreements,” he continued, “we might have thought twice about doing it.” At the time it overshadowed all the other things we were trying to express with our music.”
James Eugene Seals was born on October 17, 1942 in Sydney, Texas to Wayland and Susan Seals. His father worked in the oil fields, and Jim spent much of his childhood in Iran, a boom town in southwest Texas.
“There were oil rigs as far as you could see,” Mr. Seals told Texas Monthly. “And the stench was so bad you couldn’t breathe.”
His father played a little guitar and his mother played dobro, so informal jam sessions were a common way to pass the time around the house. When a violinist came by one night, young Jim was taken with the instrument, and his father ordered him one from a Sears catalogue.
He later took up the saxophone, which led to an invitation to join a rockabilly band called the Crew Cats, which performed at dance events and local clubs. The band’s drummer quit just before a junior college show, and another band’s drummer sat on the bill – Darrell Crofts, known as Dash.
The two became friends and played with the Los Angeles champs for several years. Both mastered other instruments, including the guitar. Making it big as a duo, they knew the image they wanted to project and tried to stay true to it. In 1973, while they were planning a tour of England, Mr. Seals told a reporter that they had pulled out of a previous European engagement.
“We wanted to tour there earlier, but we had a different opinion at the last minute when we found out we were going to play with Black Sabbath,” he said. “I’m sure they’re a good band, but I’m not sure if the audience would be right for us.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Seals is survived by his two sons, Joshua and Sutherland; a daughter, Juliet Crossley; and three grandchildren. A sister, Renee Staley, and a half-brother, Eddie Ray Seals, also survive. His brother Dan Seals, a singer who found success in the late 1970s as a member of another soft rock duo, England Dan & John Ford Coley, died in 2009. The two brothers toured together with The Two Sons for several years prior to Dan Seal’s death Jim Seals sometimes play with them.
Maia Coleman contributed reporting.