Dan Seals: Member of the soft-rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley
Wednesday 08 April 2009
The singer-songwriter Dan Seals was one half of the Seventies soft-rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. In Britain they had two hit singles, the yearning "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" (1976), and the gorgeous "Love is the Answer" (1979), and they had even greater success in the United States. The pair broke up in 1980 and Seals went on to a solo career in country music, topping the country charts 11 times, most notably with "Meet Me in Montana", a duet with Marie Osmond, in 1985.
As his easy-on-the-ear style went out of fashion in the mid-Nineties, he devoted more time to spreading the word about the Bahá'í Faith, and performed as far afield as Russia. "We're all members of the human race," he said in 1992. "If we were unified with each other, we could knock out the problems in the world a lot quicker." In 2002, after an impromptu guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville with his older brother Jim, of Seals & Croft fame, he began performing again with him as Seals & Seals, but he was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma two years ago.
Born Danny Wayland Seals in McCamey, in rural West Texas, in 1948, he came from a musical family. His father was a pipe-fitter on an oil field but also played with Jim Reeves and Ernest Tubb, and warned his three sons off a career in music. "He'd sit down and say, 'Alcohol, dope and fast women killed every country singer there ever was,'" Seals recalled. Nevertheless, Dan, his two brothers, and several relatives became professional musicians or songwriters. As a child, Seals wasn't tall enough for the family's stand-up bass so he stood on an apple crate to reach it. "I've loved to play and sing from the moment I knew what it was," he said.
His parents separated and he moved to Dallas in 1958, where he met Coley and gigged with him in a succession of high-school bands with names like Playboys Five, Theze Few and The Shimmerers. During the British invasion, Seals began affecting an English accent which earned him the nickname of "England Dan". Seals and Coley wound up fronting Southwest F.O.B. ["Freight On Board], a psychedelic group. In 1968 the group released "Smell of Incense" which reached 56 on the US charts, and the band made an album and even supported Led Zeppelin in 1969, but Seals and Coley eventually left to form an acoustic duo.
In 1970, they relocated to California where Jim Seals and his friend Dash Crofts had just signed to Warner Brothers, and got themselves a deal with A&M. However, while Seals & Crofts arguably started the phenomenon that became soft rock, England Dan and John Ford Coley struggled to achieve any kind of breakthrough. They supported Elton John in the UK and the following year they scored a hit in Japan with "Simone", but A&M didn't pick up their option after two unsuccessful albums. Broke but determined, the duo carried on. For a while, the left-handed Seals even played a right-handed 12-string guitar that only had eight strings. "Upside down, and backwards," he was fond of saying.
In the mid-Seventies, they decided to try something different and demoed a Parker McGee composition, "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight". Doug Morris at Big Tree Records liked what he heard – apparently through an adjoining wall at his offices in Nashville – and offered them a deal. They went to Lee Hazen's Studio By The Pond in neighbouring Hendersonville and polished up the hit version of the song which made No 2 in the US and sold 2m copies around the world.
Seals and Coley were capable tunesmiths, and explored themes like the Vietnam war and their Bahá'í Faith on their fine albums, but their big hits were mostly penned by other writers, Todd Rundgren in the case of "Love is the Answer". When the duo split up in 1980, bad management left Seals facing a pile of debts and tax demands. The Internal Revenue Service seized his assets and he was declared bankrupt.
For a while, Seals was reduced to sleeping on friends' couches and under his manager's piano. The first two of his 13 solo albums flopped but in 1983 he signed with Liberty in Nashville and began to make headway. He wrote or co-wrote many of his country hits, in particular "God Must be a Cowboy" (1984), "You Still Move Me" (1986), "Three Time Loser" (1987), but was most proud of "They Rage On", which introduced the theme of interracial romance to a notoriously conservative field. "When we record, we take chances," Seals commented at the time. "We feel we are on the cutting edge of what we can do."
Seals was an easy-going, gentle soul who enjoyed fly fishing. He took the diagnosis of mantle cell lymphoma with typical fortitude, allowing doctors and researchers to experiment with various treatments in order to better understand this rare condition, before eventually dying at his daughter's home.
"Dan had one of the finest voices I've ever heard," Coley said in tribute. "He could sing R&B, sing the rock things, and sing soft ballads, always with his own style. He was a phenomenal sax player. And when he played guitar, he played it upside down and could make chords I couldn't begin to make. I was really proud of Dan because he went off and made a career of his own in country music," Coley added. "I told him that many times. I knew he was destined for other things, that England Dan and John Ford Coley wouldn't be the end for him. We talked before he passed away. We were able to tell one another that we loved each other."
Danny Wayland Seals, musician: born McCamey, Texas 8 February 1948; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died Nashville 25 March 2009.
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