Seals was born in Osceola, Arkansas, where his father, Jim "Son" Seals, owned a small juke joint. He began performing professionally by the age of 13, first as a drummer with Robert Nighthawk and later as a guitarist. At age 16, he began to play at the T-99, a local upper-echelon club, with his brother-in-law Walter "Little Walter" Jefferson. He played there with prominent blues musicians, including Albert King, Rufus Thomas, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, and Rosco Gordon. Their varying styles contributed to the development of Seals's own playing techniques. While playing at the T-99, he was also introduced to country-western music by Jimmy Grubbs, who occasionally asked Seals to play the drums or guitar with his group. At the age of 19, Seals formed his own band, Son Seals and the Upsetters, to fill in at the Rebel Club, in Osceola. The band members were Johnny Moore ("Old Man Horse") on piano; Alvin Goodberry on drums, guitar, bass, or piano; Little Bob Robinson on vocals; and Walter Lee "Skinny Dynamo" Harris on piano. Shortly thereafter, a man from Little Rock, Arkansas, came to find "Little Walter" for a gig at his club, but when Walter turned it down the offer went to Seals.
In 1971, Seals moved to Chicago. His career took off after he was discovered by Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records at the Flamingo Club on Chicago's South Side. His debut album, The Son Seals Blues Band, was released in 1973. The album included "Your Love Is Like a Cancer" and "Hot Sauce". It was followed by Midnight Son (1976) and Live and Burning (1978). Seals released several albums in the next two decades, all but one on Alligator Records, including Chicago Fire (1980), Bad Axe (1984), Living in the Danger Zone (1991), Nothing but the Truth (1994) and Live: Spontaneous Combustion (1996). He received W.C. Handy Awards in 1985, 1987, and 2001.
The writer Andrew Vachss, a friend of his, used his influence to promote Seals's music. Vachss gave Seals several cameo appearances in his novels and co-wrote songs with him for his album Lettin' Go, released in 2000. Vachss dedicated his novel Mask Market to Seals's memory.
In 2002, Seals contributed to the Bo Diddley tribute album, Hey Bo Diddley - A Tribute!, performing the song "My Story" (also known as "Story of Bo Diddley").
Seals had a hard life. He survived all but one of his fourteen siblings. In 1997 he was shot in the jaw by his wife, sustaining injuries which required reconstructive surgery. In 1999 part of his left leg was amputated as a result of complications from diabetes. He lost belongings in a fire that destroyed his home while he was away performing, and several of his prized guitars were stolen from his home. After his health began to decline, Seals toured with accompaniment by several different bands, including those of James Soleberg, Jimmy Vivino, and Big Jim Kohler,.
The band Phish performed Seals's song "Funky Bitch" and brought him on stage on several occasions.
In 2009 Seals was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, in the category Performer.
|1973||The Son Seals Blues Band||Alligator|
|1978||Live and Burning||Alligator|
|1991||Living in the Danger Zone||Alligator|
|1994||Nothing but the Truth||Alligator|
|1996||Live: Spontaneous Combustion||Alligator|