Jim Seals of Seals & Crofts Dies at 79: A 'Bona Fide, Dyed in the Wool Musical Genius'

·6 min read
Jim Seals
Jim Seals

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Jim Seals circa 1973

Jim Seals, one half of Seals & Crofts, the soft-rock '70s duo known for hits like "Summer Breeze," has died. He was 79.

The musician died on Monday at his home outside of Nashville with his family by his side, CBS News reported. His wife Ruby told The New York Times that Seals died of an undisclosed but "chronic ongoing illness."

"We are forever inspired by his selfless life of service and his pure and kindly heart that touched all who crossed his path," Seals' family said in a statement to CBS. "We extend our gratitude for the outpouring of love and support we continue to receive from around the globe by those who have been touched by his life and music."

Alongside singer and mandolinist Darrell "Dash" Crofts, Seals released more than a dozen albums, including their 1972 breakthrough fourth record Summer Breeze and Greatest Hits in 1975, both of which sold 2 million copies at the time, according to Rolling Stone.

Seals & Crofts
Seals & Crofts

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Seals & Crofts

Born in Sidney, Texas to oilman and musician Wayland Seals, the rocker was a fiddle champion in his youth, and later took up the saxophone.

He and Crofts, who both taught themselves to play music, joined the Champs together (best known for their hit "Tequila," though neither played on the track), but upon its dissolution, gave it a go with several other bands before breaking off as a duo.

They were twice nominated for a Grammy thanks to their peaceful harmonies on hits like "Diamond Girl" and "We Will Never Pass This Way (Again)," and Seals said in 1971 that their unique sound was a blend of global influences.

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"I think our music is a combination of the Eastern part of the world and the Western," he said, according to RS. "We've had people from Greece, Israel, England and France, China, everywhere, listen to our music and say, 'Oh, it's music from the old country.' And it really seemed strange to us because we didn't realize it ourselves until we started comparing our work with, for example, Persian music, which, when you listen to it, is really very close to ours. And we had no knowledge of this at all beforehand. So it's just something that happened."

Despite their success, they hardly lived life in the fast line like some of their peers; a 1976 PEOPLE story dubbed them "the straightest arrows on the rock road."

Both Seals and Crofts were public supporters of the Bahá'í Faith, which Seals told PEOPLE was akin to puppy love.

"We don't intentionally write Bahá'í songs all the time," he said. "A constant barrage of unity and love would be the quickest way to turn people off. But being a Bahá'í is like being in love with a girl. You think about it all the time, and the message, sometimes inadvertently, comes out in our music."

Jim Seals
Jim Seals

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Jim Seals circa 1970

Their religious beliefs did occasionally bleed into their music, though. In 1974, the group released the controversial anti-abortion single "Unborn Child" shortly after Roe v. Wade made waves, prompting protests and a ban from select radio stations.

Seals reportedly told the Los Angeles Times years later that the duo were simply "asking 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," he said. "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."

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Though Seals & Crofts had a hit in 1976 with "Get Closer," they struggled to follow its success, and were eventually dropped by their label in 1980, according to RS.

They reunited more than a decade later, and their final album Traces, which featured remakes of their classics, was released in 2004.

In his later years, Seals ran a coffee farm in Costa Rica, and retired from performing following a stroke in 2017.

His death prompted a flood of tributes from musicians including John Ford Coley, who sang with Seals' older brother Dan in the '70s duo England Dan and John Ford Coley.

"Wow. Don't even know where to begin. Jimmy Seals passed away today. I spent a large portion of my musical life with this man. We toured together, he and Dash invited us to sing on Seals and Crofts records, and we played with him for years," he wrote in a lengthy statement.

"He was Dan's older brother, 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 continued, in part: "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. He belonged to a group that was one of a kind. I am very sad over this but I have some of the best memories of all of us together. Rest In Peace Jimmy. You and Dan finally get reunited again. Tell him and your sweet momma hi for me."

Brady Seals, a cousin who is also a musician, also paid tribute on Facebook.

"I just learned that James 'Jimmy' Seals has passed," he wrote. "My heart just breaks for his wife Ruby and their children. Please keep them in your prayers. What an incredible legacy he leaves behind."

He is reportedly survived by his wife Ruby and their children Joshua, Juliette and Sutherland.