Wayland Seals, an oil field pipefitter and musician, was born Eugene Wayland Seals on January 20, 1912, in Big Sandy, Benton County, Tennessee. He was the only child of Fred Seals and Cora Eunice (Elliott) Seals. In 1919 Fred Seals moved his family to Eastland County, Texas, “because there was work in the oil fields.” Both Ranger and Desdemona were awash with crude. Fred Seals found employment as a pump manager or pumper (a pumper’s duties included operating and maintaining the oil well pumps on a company’s lease). Wayland eventually followed his father into the oil patch life. During World War II, he served as a warrant officer in the United States Army. Upon discharge, Seals headed to West Texas and settled near Iraan in Pecos County, where he took a job as a pipefitter for the Shell Oil Company in the prolific Yates Field. He remained in the area, living primarily in Rankin, for the rest of his life.
Music was ever-present in the Fred Seals household. Fred played banjo, and he taught his son the basic guitar chords. Wayland in turn passed his musical interests on to his sons. Eddie Ray Seals was born in Gorman (Eastland County) in 1934 to Clodell Lucille (Ellison) Seals; James Eugene Seals was born in Sidney (Comanche County) in 1941; and Danny Wayland Seals was born in McCamey (Upton County) in 1948 to Susan Louella (Taylor) Seals. Jimmy won the Texas State Fiddle Championship in 1952, and he later joined Dean Beard’s band, the Crew Cats, on tenor sax before signing on with the Champs (of “Tequila” fame), eventually partnering with Dash Crofts in the highly popular duo Seals and Crofts. Dan rose to fame as ‘England Dan” of England Dan and John Ford Coley, then branched out on his own as a successful country music singer.
Wayland Seals’s day job in the oil field did not interfere with his own musical ambitions. He earned the reputation as a topnotch guitar picker, and he worked with Tex Collins and the Tom Cats, while also fronting the Oil Patch Boys and the Seals Family Band, which featured a four-year-old Danny on doghouse bass. Wayland also served as the opening act for nationally-known performers such as Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills when they toured the area.
Seals made his initial recordings in 1957 for Slim Willet’s Winston Records. “When I’m Gone,” backed with “I’ll Walk Out” (Winston 1016) by Wayland Seals and the Oil Patch Boys, is dominated by Wayland’s driving flattop guitar styling on a six-string Gibson J-200 model that his father had given him. “When I’m Gone” is highly prized by rockabilly aficionados. Even more elusive is Seals’s second Winston single, “Oil Patch Blues”/“I’ll Be Happy” (Winston 1024). Recorded the next year in 1958, “Oil Patch Blues” features members of Dean Beard’s Crew Cats with Jimmy Seals on a honking, wailing tenor sax and the elder Seals exhorting, “I’m telling you, baby, they’re rocking to the ‘Oil Patch Blues.’” The petroleum industry in the Permian Basin was booming, and “Oil Patch Blues” captures a sense of the optimism and excitement of the period.
Although he waxed only the two Winston 45s, Wayland Seals is yet another example of an oil field worker who created commercially-recorded musical narratives that speak to life in the oil patch, a fact still often ignored by folklorists and music historians. Seals died on May 17, 1992, and he is buried in Restland Cemetery in Iraan.