Jimmy Seals - vocals, guitar, violin, alto sax; Dash Crofts - vocals, guitar, mandolin, keyboards; Louie Shelton - lead guitar, bass, vocals; Bobby Lichtig - bass, vocals; David Paich - piano, keyboards; Jeff Porcaro - drums; Jack Lenz - flute, synth strings; ?- percussion; ? - sax; ?- trumpet; Guests: England Dan & John Ford Coley - vocals
When the music industry and listeners became enamored with sensitive singer-songwriters in the early 1970s, few would become more successful than Texans Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts, better known as the soft-rock duo, Seals & Crofts. By the time of their first album in 1969, both were experienced singers and multi-instrumentalists, having worked together since 1957, when they were still in junior high school.
Their big break came in 1971, when the duo signed with Warner Brothers Records. Although their first album for Warner never charted, the follow-up album, "Summer Breeze" would produce two big hits the following year; for the next several years, the duo would experience monstrous success with a string of hit singles and albums. With Seals on guitar, saxophone and violin, and Crofts on guitar and mandolin, the duo created an extremely original sound. To quote from an early interview with Jimmy Seals, "We worked out counterparts on the mandolin and guitar, and also on the vocals, and then we tried to work it out sometimes where we would sing two parts, and play the other two harmony parts on the instruments."
This approach to singing and instrumentation would be a key to their success, but what made them quite different from the early 1970s pantheon of singer-songwriters was their deep religious faith, which dominated their songwriting. Their radiant harmonies and always positive lyrics were a direct reflection of their commitment to the Baha'i religion, which began in Persia, based on the teachings of the prophet Baha'u'llah, who died in 1892. Throughout their career, Seals and Crofts never wavered in their commitment to advance the Baha'i faith through their music. Although they stopped short of directly proselytizing on-stage, at the peak of their popularity, they held post-show "firesides," where they would return to the stage and chat with anyone who cared to hear more about it.
The basic tenets of the Baha'i faith are love, tolerance and equality, with an emphasis on worldwide unity, which for obvious reasons was appealing and fueled much of Seals' lyric writing. However, the Baha'i religion also forbids homosexuality and more significantly to Seals and Crofts career, forbids abortion. When Seals and Crofts issued their 1974 album, Unborn Child, and the title track as it's lead-off single, they crossed the line that separated their music from their religious beliefs. After such sweet and singable pop hits like "We May Never Pass This Way Again" and "Diamond Girl," this disturbing anti-abortion song alienated both fans and critics alike and began the decline of the duo's career.
Presented here is Seals & Crofts at their absolute peak, just prior to that pivotal moment in their career, performing before an enthusiastic audience at Carnegie Hall a few months prior to the release of the Unborn Child album. Here Seals and Crofts front the most impressive touring unit they ever had, which not only featured Louie Shelton on lead guitar (also their producer) and longtime collaborator Bobby Lichtig on bass, but future Toto members David Paich on keyboards and Jeff Porcaro on drums, plus a four-piece horn section.
This lineup was able to recreate the lush arrangements that made Seals & Crofts' big hits so compelling. This is immediately apparent as the recording begins with the unison riff of Dash Crofts' mandolin and Bobby Lichtig's bass kicking off "Summer Breeze." A celebration of home and hearth that typifies Seals and Crofts' melodic and harmonic gifts, this is the song that catapulted their career two years prior. The harmonies, especially Dash Crofts' high vocal inflections, are undeniably superb and it's no wonder this would become the group's signature song, beginning and ending this night's performance.
The more stripped down "Not To Be Found" follows, a haunting track from the duo's debut album. With just percussion and bass accompaniment, this showcases the core sound of Seals & Crofts' harmonic vocal blend and their lovely acoustic guitar and mandolin work. Both singles from their Diamond Girl album follow, beginning with "We May Never Pass This Way Again." Both numbers contain lyrics directly inspired by the Baha'i faith, with the former encouraging one to learn all one can in this lifetime and the infectious title track skillfully depicting the love for a woman or a commitment to God, depending on how one interprets them. The same applies to much of the group's output during this time.
The controversial title track from their forthcoming album is next, with "Unborn Child." Written in response to the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States (which had just been handed down at the time), this features lyrics from a poem written by Lana Day Bogan, the wife of the group's recording engineer, Joe Bogan. At her suggestion, Seals and Crofts put her poem to music. Written from the viewpoint of an unborn child, with lyrics like " Oh, little baby, if you only knew. Just what your momma was planning to do," this song is well received by the audience, but upon release would seriously damage the duo's reputation.
The next three numbers, which serve as the centerpieces of this set, are perhaps the most intriguing. The first two, "High On A Mountain" followed by the unreleased instrumental, "The Gate," both veer into jazzy territory and feature outstanding musicianship from everyone involved. The electric mandolin solo by Dash Crofts in the former song is of particular note and on "The Gate" listeners get the opportunity to hear Jimmy Seals leading the way on alto sax. An unrequited love song, "Standin' On A Mountain" is a straightforward rock and roll number written by Seals ten years prior. This provides listeners with a glimpse of Seals & Crofts' early roots, dating back to the duo's tenure in the early 1960s group, The Champs.
At this point, Jimmy Seals introduces another of their biggest hits, by way of explaining to the audience that it's the eve of the 130th anniversary of the beginning of the Baha'i religion, which is celebrated as The Day of The Covenant. This prefaces a lovely performance of the ballad "Hummingbird," which quotes directly from the Baha'i Scriptures.
The performance is capped off by Seals & Crofts inviting their openers, England Dan (AKA Dan Seals - Jimmy Seals' younger brother) and John Ford Coley to the stage to join in on the final number. They lend their voices to the extended romp introduced as "Foot Stompin', Hand Clappin', Hog Callin' Music." Essentially a medley of acoustic fiddle tunes, this is a high-energy exercise that concludes the set on a note of pure fun, before the musicians segue into a quick instrumental reprise of "Summer Breeze" to bookend the set.
This set makes it obvious why Seals & Crofts were so successful. They not only had serious craftsmanship, arranging skills and an undeniable gift for melody and harmony, but they also had the ability to write deeply spiritual lyrics based on their own strong beliefs while making them seem universal. This was exactly what countless listeners growing up in the tumultuous late 1960s were looking for at the time. In terms of acoustic-based singer-songwriters and thoughtful lyric writing, Seals & Crofts leave behind one of the more impressive legacies of the 1970s.
-Written by Alan Bershaw