Friday, June 18, 2010

Essential Recordings: Son Seals - Live and Burning

This week, continuing FBF's look at Essential Recordings, we'll look at another classic live blues disc.  Son Seals' Live and Burning, from 1978, was a disc that absolutely blew me away from the first time I popped it in my truck stereo way back in the late 80's.

Live & BurningI first heard Son Seals on the Alligator Records collection, Genuine Houserockin' Music.  This was a budget set that the label released that featured the latest tracks from their roster of artists.  This set featured Seals, along with Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Mack, Albert Collins, Fenton Robinson, Roy Buchanan, Lonnie Brooks, James Cotton, and Hound Dog Taylor.  Seals' track was the immortal "Goin' Home (Where Women Got Meat On Their Bones)".  When I heard it, I was mesmerized by Seals' gravelly roar and his guitar, which sounded like it was being ripped in two.  I had to hear more from this guy. 

Unfortunately, at the time, blues recordings (other than B. B. King's) were pretty hard to find in your friendly neighborhood record store.  A couple of years later, I finally found an actual Son Seals cassette, Live and Burning.  This album was recorded at Chicago's Wise Fools Pub in the late 70's.  Basically, this was a home game for Seals, who was probably surrounded by friends and fans who were as familiar with him as he was with them. 

When I plugged the cassette in my truck stereo, this was what greeted my ears.

I had never heard this song before (Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out"), but I couldn't imagine that it was anything but a Son Seals original.  The absolutely manic guitar, along with Snapper Mitchum's thumping bass line, which was threatening to blow out my truck windows because I had it turned up so loud, made a believer out of me.  Talk about grabbing you by the throat from the very beginning.......this track did just that.

The next few tracks were even better.  Lowell Fulson's "Blue Shadows Falling" slowed things down a bit, but the mood was still sweaty and intense (despite the comically intoxicated fan sitting close enough to contribute a lengthy rebel yell to the proceedings).  Seals even tells one fan to leave him alone...."Can't you see me workin'?"  The next track, "Funky Bitch," eventually became a standard of sorts for Seals and was even covered by the band, Phish, in the late 90's.  Their version can't touch Seals' though, as he growls the vocals and lets loose with a blistering solo.

The breakneck pace never let up.  The next track, "The Woman I Love," was a slow blues.....well, as slow as Son Seals got, but it still had those incredibly raw vocals.  I was nearly breathless by the end of side one (cassette, remember).  The second side started pretty fast as well, with Seals being driven hard by Mitchum and sax man A.C. Reed on "Help Me Somebody."  The other tracks were just as good....."She's Fine" was a funky little number highlighting Mitchum on bass again, and the exuberant cover of Detroit Junior's "Call My Job" is almost as good as the original.  As things start to wind down, Seals raps to his appreciative audience, telling them not to forget about these blues, at the beginning of Little Walter's "Last Night." It's clear from Seals' easy banter with the crowd that the experience has been as rewarding for him as it's been for them.

"Hot Sauce" definitely was a Son Seals' standard. He played the blistering instrumental at most of his shows throughout his career. This high-speed version featured on Live and Burning could possibly cause smoke to rise from your CD player, and it closes the album on a high note. 

In addition to Reed and Mitchum, Seals' band included Lacy Gibson on second guitar, Tony Gooden on drums, and Alberto Gianquito on piano for "Last Night." Gooden was later killed in a train wreck in Europe during an Alligator Records tour with Seals.  Reed enjoyed a nice solo career highlighted by his wry song lyrics, which took a blues-based look at everyday life.  Lacy Gibson was a solid solo performer who also released a couple of discs as well.  Mitchum played with Seals for ten years, before striking out on his own.

Son Seals recorded a couple of other live discs, one for the B.L.U.E.S. label (live at the club, but now out of print and a definite collector's item) and a second set for Alligator.  While both were top notch, they didn't come close to capturing the raw energy and intensity of Live and Burning

We'll be showcasing a couple of other Son Seals recordings in future posts of FBF's Essential Recordings series.  For more on Seals, you can check out the recent DVD biography of his life called Journey Through The Blues: The Son Seals Story, an excellent, but brief study which features reminiscences from fellow musicians and family, along with, best of all, three live performances from various times in his career that give you a sense of how much he put into every one of his performances.  


Przemek Draheim said...

Dear Graham!

I am sorry for using the comment section of your blog but I couldn't find andy other way of contacting you.

My name is Przemek Draheim. I host two blues radio shows, one of them on public radio. I am also the editor in chief of - the oldest Polish on-line magazine about blues established in 2000 and available in English on facebook at: I also invite you to visit my personal website at:

I am writing you about Eddie Cotton "Live At The Alamo Theatre" CD as I know that you have reviewed it in the past. Do you happen to have an original CD release of this disc? If so, would you be interested in selling it? I would love to but it to feature it in my radio shows as my listeners keep requesting me for that title. As I work for a public radio I can't use downloaded music, I need a real CD. That's why I am trying hard to find it. Could you help me with that?

Please, let me know. Best wishes,
Przemek Draheim

Graham said...

Przemek, I will see what I can find for you and contact you at your website.