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.
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.
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):
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
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
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.'”