Six by Seger

For the uninitiated, my six-packs are not intended to say “These are the six best” of a given artist. It’s more like, here are six I dig. Could be a different batch next week.

I’ve always thought of Bob Seger as the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. That sounds like I intend to insult him but no. They are both working-class guys, but where Springsteen speaks in sometimes lofty, poetic terms about the travails of the common man (or woman), Seger is more a meat-and-potatoes rocker. But when he’s on, he’s a damn good one.

Bob Seger was born in Detroit and grew up in the college (University of Michigan) town of Ann Arbor, some 45 miles (72 km) west of Detroit. When Bob was 10 years old, his father abandoned the family, leaving his mother in tough financial straits.

Musically, his first inspirations were Little Richard and Elvis Presley. By the time he was 16 in the early Sixties, he was playing around in bands and digging the Beatles and James Brown, Live at the Apollo being a favorite album.

Seger initially made his reputation by writing songs for his own band and others. He managed to get tunes on the radio but never really much outside of his local area. “You’re nobody if you can’t get on the radio,” he once told his friend Glenn Frey. Frey*, a fellow Michigander, was a local musician who Seger helped get a recording contract.

Seger, who by now had management, signed up with Capitol Records. With his band, the Bob Seger System, he finally had his first national hit (#17 on the charts) with the catchy “Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man.” Glenn Frey – who sources tell me had some later success of his own – plays acoustic guitar and sings backup vocals. Released initially in 1968, then re-released in ’69 to capitalize on Seger’s debut album of the same name.

Spotify link

This piece isn’t really intended to be a chronological history so I’ll just jump around a little bit. We’ll move on up to 1976. By now Seger – after a flirtation with the Tulsa crowd that would later back Eric Clapton up – had formed his crackerjack Silver Bullet Band.

In 1976 he released the album Night Moves which really has a lot of excellent stuff. But I will tell you my favorite song on this – and perhaps my favorite Seger cover – is “Come to Poppa.” I. Fucking. Love. This. Song. It’s a balls-out, struttin’, sexy tune, originally recorded as “Come to Mama” by R&B songstress Ann Peebles. Come to Poppa, baby.

Spotify link

In 1981, Seger released a live album called Nine Tonight which was recorded in Boston and Detroit. I had overlooked this album but one day heard Seger doing the Chuck Berry song “Let It Rock,” on the radio. The E Street band could not do this one better and that’s saying something.

If you can listen to this and not want to jump and shout, check your pulse. (Is the crowd chanting “USA” at the end??) Guitarist Drew Abbott kills on guitar. (Abbott left the band in the early 80’s over frustration with Seger’s use of session musicians. He seems to have opted for the quieter life, returning to Michigan to play in bands there):

Spotify link

In 1980, Seger released the album Against The Wind which, they tell me, was not only his first number one album but actually kicked The Wall by a certain Mr. Floyd out of position numero uno. Seger respects the ladies but well, let him tell the story on “Her Strut.”

She’s totally committed
To major independence
But she’s a lady through and through
She gives them quite a battle
All that they can handle

She’ll bruise some
She’ll hurt some too
But oh they love to watch her strut
Oh they do respect her but
They love to watch her strut

Spotify link

I had more good choices than I could fit into just six tunes. And sure I could go with any number of those classic Seger tunes you know. But every now and again I like to reach up and pull one down from the shelf that you may not know. The album Seven from 1974 has a couple of goodies including “Get Out of Denver.”

But I dig this bluesy deep track called “Seen A Lot Of Floors.” Check it out (No Spotify):

Now you know me. (To the extent that anyone actually knows anybody in the false intimacy of the Internet). I’m not that kinda guy. But some people are that kinda guy or gal and so they like to get cozy and do the “Horizontal Bop,” a fun dance (one hopes ) for all involved parties. (Naive sheltered me, I had no idea what this expression meant when I first heard it.)

This is the kickoff song from Against the Wind

Spotify link

Weirdly, not all of Seger’s catalog is in print. According to Bob, fellow Michigander Jack White has offered to remix them all for free.

I’d never thought much about seeing Seger live as I’m hardly a mega-fan. But he’s got a number of good tunes and really leaves it all on the stage. He’s had some health issues but is starting his final tour (yeah, right) in Grand Rapids in November. Alas, no Boston dates on the agenda thus far.

*Frey was Seger’s oldest friend in music. In an interview in Rolling Stone, he said, “He was such a positive influence in my life. We’d always call each other for advice. I pushed him to do that Eagles reunion [in 1994]. He was the only one that didn’t want to do it for years. I said to him, ‘I think you’d have fun.'”

 

16 thoughts on “Six by Seger

  1. This is the first Seger stuff I’ve heard. I’ve seen a few of his 80’s LPs when I’ve been crate digging, but can’t say I was ever grabbed enough by them to buy one. Even when they’ve been dirt cheap. I hear the Springsteen comparisons, though… some straight up good rock tunes.

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    1. Wow! The first you’ve ever heard. Boy, you can’t turn on a “classic rock” station over here without hearing his tunes. They even use them in TV commercials. He’s got a bunch more hits I haven’t even mentioned, mostly because I’m tired of them. “Old Time Rock and Roll” was used in a Tom Cruise movie to great effect ages ago with Tom dancing around in his undies.

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  2. I’ve been listening to Bob since I can remember. back to the ‘System’. It was never a bad thing when a Seger song came on the box. I like all the tunes you picked. I did the ‘Get Out Of Denver’ cut a while ago. I’ve heard ‘Night Moves’ and ‘Main-street’ a lot, never get old. I really like the ‘Against the Wind’ album. I had no idea on the Frey connection. Not up on the Eagles.

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    1. Funny thing about Seger is I never really considered myself a fan as such. He’s always been a radio guy for me. If I like a tune, I listen. If not, I switch. But then going back and listening while researching the piece I realized he has a fair amount of good stuff. A lot of it I’m tired of hearing but I could put together a good album’s worth on Spotify. Would I go see him? Not my first choice. But for the right price it would a reasonable night of classic rock singalong.

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      1. If we’d had that time machine Doc we’d go see him back when he started in Detroit. The guy is a no bullshit rocker. He’s been around for years and I’m happy for any success he had. So many good ones don’t get it. I think Bob earned it and he’s written some good American music. I drifted from him when he got mega but I always go back to his original output. I think him and his like get a little overlooked for their contribution to keeping rock n roll alive. I like him Doc.

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        1. The Rolling Stones have a bootleg album from many years ago called “We Never Really Got it On Till Detroit.” Geils loved it there too. Never been there but by all accounts a great town for rock and roll. And I’ll totally understand if you check out when I eventually do the Eagles.

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        2. Yeah, Geils was a straight-up Boston band. Formed there anyway. Peter Wolf is from the Bronx originally. I know he still lives in Boston as he shows up at just about every rocker’s show who comes to town, hangs with Keith Richards, etc. The Stooges were from Ann Arbor as were the White Stripes. And let us not overlook Motown!

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  3. I think the first Bob Seger tune I ever heard and liked from the get-go was “Fire Lake” from the “Against The Wind” album. That track got a lot of radio play in Germany, along with some of Seger’s other biggies like “Old Time Rock & Roll”, “Mainstreet” and “Shame On The Moon”.

    It’s fair to say I’m mostly familiar with his hits. Except perhaps for “Shakedown”, I’ve yet to hear a bad Seger tune, and even that song from the soundtrack of “Beverly Hills Cop II isn’t outright terrible – even though he’s German, Harold Faltermeier just not my cup of tea, or should I say glass of beer?😆

    I think compared to some of the other big American rockers like the Boss, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty, Seger is a bit undervalued. Not quite sure how much mojo he has left these days, but just listen to the excellent “Live Bullet” from ‘76, and it quickly becomes obvious what a kickass rocker he was.

    Unfortunately, I’ve never seen him live. I wish I could have caught him during that ‘76 tour!

    I heard of his health issues as well, and I’m not sure he can still match Springsteen and Mellencamp. If he could, I’d consider seeing him!

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    1. I seem to remember us talking about Seger on your site a while back. You reviewed an album or something. Yeah, I’m not the world’s biggest Seger fan but much of his stuff rocks. I’m going to check out his shows on YouTube as he tours and see what the energy level is like. If he comes to Boston and the price is right, well, maybe. I say maybe because Seger’s music lends itself too much to audience singalongs and if he encourages that shit, no thanks.

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