Bob Seger

Heartland rock’n’roller or a hard-edged soulful singer-songwriter, the raspy and raucous BOB SEGER (and his Silver Bullet Band) was the amalgam of SPRINGSTEEN, LITTLE FEAT and a rootsy LYNYRD SKYNYRD. Determindly Detroit (or Dearborn: where his parents were from), and appealing to a country-rock contingent, bearded Bob’s brand of blue-collar R&B has spread like wildfire globally since peaking in the mid-to-late 70s with the sublime “Live Bullet”, “Night Moves” and “Stranger In Town” sets. Who says “rock and roll never forgets” – SEGER does.
Coming from an impoverished working class background in Ann Arbor, Bob – born Robert Clark Seger, May 6, 1945, Lincoln Park, Michigan – began developing his hard-hitting brand of rock’n’roll in 1961 as frontman/multi-instrumentalist with The Decibels trio (alongside guitarist Pete Stanger and drummer H.B. Hunter). From there, on to leading out covers act The Town Criers (with lead guitarist Larry Mason, bassist John Fils and sticksman Pep Perrine), they picked up gigs along the way. Eventually joining Doug Brown & The Omens, as a keyboard player to Doug’s singing, the band’s material was mainly cover versions until the single `TGIF’ (b/w `First Girl’). A pseudonymous “Beach Bums” spoof/parody of Barry Sadler’s `Ballad Of The Green Berets’ camouflaged as the draft-dodger-mocking `The Ballad Of The Yellow Beret’ (b/w `Florida Time’), plucked the wrong note with the author’s litigation lawyers, as Bob and Co planned their next safe move.
The Omens duly became BOB SEGER & THE LAST HEARD, a hard-gigging troupe garnering a hardcore local following on the back of several singles on the small Hideout independent (`East Side Story’ and `Persecution Smith’) and the Cameo imprint (via re-pressed 45s, plus `Vagrant Winter’ and `Heavy Music’). When Brown bailed; superseded by Bob Schultz (keyboards, saxophone), former Omens associate Eddie “Punch” Andrews took the role of manager as the band – also comprising Perrine and bassist Dan Honaker – became The BOB SEGER SYSTEM.
With a Capitol contract in hand, this alumni faltered at first with the cutting anti-war `2 + 2 = ?’, but subsequently scored a Top 20 hit late in ’68 with the blistering white R&B of `Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’, a fitting opening to the freewheeling spring ‘69 debut album, also entitled RAMBLIN’ GAMBLIN’ MAN {*7}. The group’s Motor City following helped place the record in the lower reaches (#62) of the American chart, although subsequent (#97) single, `Ivory’, failed to build on this initial success; check out the trippy `Gone’ and the lengthy `Black Eyed Girl’.
Adding Tony Neme (guitar, keyboards) when Bob suffered what he thought was a breakdown, sophomore set NOAH (1969) {*4} didn’t pull SEGER into dry land, instead its claustrophobic pops at the establishment through `Death Row’, flop single `Innervenus Eyes’ and the folky title track, were dismissed by an audience now enlightened by CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, The BAND, et al. Subsequently pulling out all the stops on MONGREL (1970) {*7}, which saw Schultz and Neme replaced by Dan Watson, SEGER was now hitting home runs by way of the dynamic and ferocious `Lucifer’ (a minor hit), `Song To Rufus’, `Evil Edna’, Highway Child’ and `Leanin’ On My Dream’, while the group performance on the concluding cover of PHIL SPECTOR’s `River Deep, Mountain High’ was momentous.
Disbanding the System to branch out entirely on his lonesome, BOB SEGER launched his debut LP, BRAND NEW MORNING {*5}, in October 1971. A transitional set of sorts, this introspective contract-fulfilling “collection of demos” – as he once put it himself – laid bare the heart and soul of his songwriting capabilities at the time, and only `Railroad Days’, `Sometimes’ and the title track came up trumps; the Top 100 breaker `Lookin’ Back’ was omitted.
The musical chairs continued as the singer hooked up with the Detroit-based Palladium Records (c/o Reprise), taking in session musicians such as drummer David Teegarden, keyboardist/bassist Skip “Vanwinkle” Knape, guitarist Mike Bruce and percussionist Jack Ashford to balance the coffers for 1972’s SMOKIN’ O.P.’S {*6}, a set of eclectic covers in reference to “Smoking Other People’s” cigarettes. With the added bluster of a re-vamped `Heavy Music’ and one original composition (`Someday’), the seductive SEGER ran through BO DIDDLEY’s `Bo Diddley’ – `Who Do You Love’ (a medley), STEPHEN STILLS’ `Love The One You’re With’, TIM HARDIN’s `If I Were A Carpenter’ (another minor hit), LEON RUSSELL’s `Hummin’ Bird’, CHUCK BERRY’s `Let It Rock’, plus the BOBBY BLAND hit `Turn On Your Love Light’ and the traditional `Jesse James’.
The rootsy BACK IN ‘72 (1973) {*7}, despite boasting the backing talents of J.J. CALE and one Marcy Levy (later reborn as Marcella Detroit of SHAKESPEAR’S SISTER fame), failed to raise SEGER above cult acclaim; note too that it introduced stalwarts Pete Carr (guitar) and fellow Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section: David Hood (bass), Roger Hawkins (drums), Barry Beckett (keyboards) and Jimmy Johnson (rhythm guitar). Complemented by three further covers, from GREGG ALLMAN’s `Midnight Rider’ to VAN MORRISON’s `I’ve Been Working’ and FREE’s `Stealer’ (akin to “Smokin” again), Bob was behind two indispensable classics by way of the travelogue `Turn The Page’ and one concerning a local DJ (`Rosalie’) that rockers THIN LIZZY soon made their own.
On the other end of the spectrum, the totally self-penned SEVEN (1974) {*7} – without the expensive MSRS but with an unnamed as yet, Silver Bullet Band – spawned another under-played minor hit in the brawny, BERRY-esque `Get Out Of Denver’; EDDIE & THE HOT RODS’ fans would acknowledge this gem a few years on. Defined by its trail-blazing restoration of the rock’n’roll/garage era, namely tracks `Need Ya’, `School Teacher’ and the tongue-in-cheek `U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)’, SEGER was slowly but surely winning over the kids in America.
SEGER’s hard-bitten determination finally began to pay off as he officially formed his finest backing unit to date, the aforementioned Silver Bullet Band (guitarist Drew Abbott, organist Robin Robbins, bassist Chris Campbell and drummer Charlie Allen Martin), who featured as a side-serving to his Muscle Shoals team on the solo-credited BEAUTIFUL LOSER (1975) {*7} set; Capitol Records had been only too happy to take him back. Combining his trademark JOHN FOGERTY-esque grit with a newfound maturity and precision, SEGER was hailed in some quarters as the new SPRINGSTEEN; certainly, in America at least, the introspective singer’s hard-driving, pretension-free nuggets of everyday wisdom went down a storm a la Top 50 breaker `Katmandu’, a rasping reading of TINA TURNER’s `Nutbush City Limits’ and others `Black Night’ and the title track.
Pulled from homecoming Cobo Hall, Detroit recordings (September 4-5, 1975) and co-billing for the very first time, The Silver Bullet Band (that had, in the meantime, added saxophonist Alto Reed), the double `LIVE’ BULLET (1976) {*8} stormed the Top 40 on the strength of collating all Bob’s best bits up to now; he’d certainly “turned the page”.
Combining both his newly-credited Silver Bullet Band and the steadfast MSRS alumni, it was indeed inevitable that NIGHT MOVES (1976) {*8}, would rocket SEGER into the Top 10. Proof positive that he was now as equally adept at delivering more sensitive soft-rock material as high-octane rock’n’roll, the singer-songwriter/guitarist also breached the Top 5 with the album’s moving title track, while `Mainstreet’ – perfect-pitch lead guitar by Pete Carr –
floated reflective listeners back days of yore. Resurrecting RnR nuggets from a cover of the RONNIE HAWKINS’ hit `Mary Lou’ and WILLIE MITCHELL’s `Come To Poppa’ (played LYNYRD SKYNYRD style), it was assured, that, as in the profound opening title, `Rock And Roll Never Forgets’, SEGER’s name was now forever illuminate.
1978’s STRANGER IN TOWN {*8} kept up the momentum, again, like its predecessor, utilising – as always – the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section for added authenticity; as for the SBB, David Teegarden filled in for Charlie who was sadly paralysed after a car crash. Having a fan in Radio 1 DJ John Peel (not just an indie all-rounder!), the US Top 5 album stalled just outside the Top 30, while the man could no wrong courtesy of four classy homeland hits, `Still The Same’, `Hollywood Nights’, `We’ve Got Tonite’ (don’t mention KENNY ROGERS & SHEENA EASTON) and the George Jackson & Thomas Earl Jones III’s dirge, `Old Time Rock & Roll’; indeed, a coy copy – in word-and-phrasing – of FRANKIE MILLER’s `Ain’t Got No Money’, proved without doubt where his roots lay.
Brushing aside the new wave pretenders, SEGER was now something of an American institution; finally topping the charts in 1980 with the ballad-heavy AGAINST THE WIND {*7} album. The record also saw him reaching the UK Top 30 for the first time, although his British sales would never match the multi-platinum success afforded him in the States; the title track, `Fire Lake’ (with some EAGLES), `You’ll Accomp’ny Me’ and `The Horizontal Bop’, nearly all home-runs.
Suffixing keyboard player Craig Frost (ex-GRAND FUNK RAILROAD), the show was already moving from city to city, and in Cobo Hall (in June ’80) and Boston Garden (in October ’80), a second double-LP document was unleashed in NINE TONIGHT (1981) {*6}. Bringing listeners up to date as in recent smash hits, and treating them to renditions of CHUCK BERRY’s `Let It Rock’ and Eugene Williams’ `Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You’ (a #5 hit), the formulaic approach was not to everybody’s liking.
Though hardly prolific during the rest of the 80s, his first of two Top 5 studio albums, the slick Jimmy Iovine-produced THE DISTANCE (1982) {*6} – Punch Andrews not available for once (as was Teegarden) – strengthened his resolve to succeed in the fickle rock-music business. Buoyed by a near No.1 re-vamp of RODNEY CROWELL’s `Shame On The Moon’, plus other big-hitters `Even Now’ and `Roll Me Away’, SEGER was still calling the shots.
On a sabbatical of sorts, in which only a celluloid re-issue of `Old Time Rock & Roll’ (from the 1983 movie Risky Business) and fresh power-ballad piece, `Understanding’ (from 1984’s Teachers) registered chart-wise, BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND (Frost, Campbell and Reed) were keen to get back on track.
Pictured with his usual suspects on the well-groomed sleeve shot, LIKE A ROCK (1986) {*5} was yet another dependable million seller which satisfied his loyal fans, if not exactly breaking any new ground. The main man was naturally in his element in the live environment, a scathing in-concert cover of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s `Fortunate Son’ ending the set, a set that counted four ever-decreasing singles, `American Storm’ (#13), the title track (#12), `It’s You’ (#52) and the DON HENLEY & TIMOTHY B. SCHMIT-enhanced `Miami’. Before yet another long break, SEGER – filling in for an injured GLENN FREY – struck gold and the top of the charts with a Keith Forsey-produced/co-penned Beverly Hills Cop II cut, `Shakedown’.
With The Silver Bullet Band whittled away to its barest bones, SEGER and an added raft of session people seemed to lack the intensity of old on the subsequent THE FIRE INSIDE (1991) {*4} set. Top 10 and featuring `Real Love’ (#24), plus a cover of Bill Davis & Walt Richmond’s `She Can’t Do Anything Wrong’ and a couple of TOM WAITS tracks thrown in (`New Coat Of Paint’ and `Blind Love’), the better bet was SEGER’s exemplary GREATEST HITS {*8} compilation.
1995’s Top 30 IT’S A MYSTERY {*5}, illustrated that the man in charge – not quite “The Boss” – was far from a spent force, although a further example of his gruff growl was in place on `16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six’; yes, another TOM WAITS number.
A decade in the musical wilderness spending time with his wife and two children (he also won sailing awards in the early ‘00s), the solo FACE THE PROMISE (2006) {*6} went platinum after reaching the Top 5 on his own Capitol-sanctioned Hideout Records. Showing elements of country via a gutsy version of VINCE GILL’s `Real Mean Bottle’ (a duet with KID ROCK), there was also another of the same standing in `The Answer’s In The Question’ (featuring PATTY LOVELESS).
Also recorded in Nashville, and a lengthy several years down the line, 2014’s RIDE OUT {*6} surprised everybody but his ardent fanbase by cracking the Top 3 (Britain had long since given up on the man). A whole lot older but wiser, contemporary country boy SEGER veered back to his halcyon days in an album that catered for both bases; his own heartland constructions (from the derivative `Hey Gypsy’ to the reflective `Gates Of Eden’) to outsider compositions from heroes: JOHN HIATT (`Detroit Made’), STEVE EARLE (`The Devil’s Right Hand’), WOODY GUTHRIE/WILCO (`California Stars’) and a KASEY CHAMBERS duet `Adam And Eve’.
Now at the tender age of 72 and contemplating morality when his good buddy GLENN FREY passed, the astute BOB SEGER kept up his own momentum with the release of Top 30 entry, I KNEW YOU WHEN (2017) {*7}. Partly dedicated to his aforesaid ex-EAGLES pal (especially on the title track), the heartfelt/heartland singer-songwriter took a few swipes at the current state of American politics, or lack of them, on further dead-rock-star covers of LOU REED’s `Busload Of Faith’ and LEONARD COHEN’s `Democracy’. But in Bob’s own compositions, `The Highway’, `I’ll Remember You’ and the rollicking `Runaway Train’, the rocker channels his sentiments and aggro to the man.

Bob Seger
Bob Seger performs at the Country Music Hall of Fame Inductions on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 in Nashville, Tenn.

Leave a comment