Bob Seger admits he may be ready to quit after a long, memorable career
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org May 5, 2011 8:00PM
Physically, if I can hold up I may continue [touring], but you just don’t know. It’s a minimum of a two-hour show. It’s a very physical show to do,” says Bob Seger, shown onstage in March in Toledo, Ohio. | Scott Legato~Getty Images
Updated: August 6, 2011 12:21AM
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. —
A fierce gust on the Atlantic City boardwalk suggested the obvious for rock legend Bob Seger.
But it was not his 1980 radio classic “Against The Wind” that resonated with a full house to see Seger and the Silver Bullet Band on an April Saturday night at the historic Boardwalk Hall along the Atlantic Ocean.
“Turn the Page,” which in 1998 became a No. 1 hit for Metallica, hit home with the middle-age audience of bikers, casino folk and Jersey rockers. Seger wore bifocals, a faded blue T-shirt, and his hair was shaggy white. He did not look like the long-haired hippie people thought he was when he wrote the song in 1972 after being ridiculed at a restaurant near Dubuque, Iowa. He looked like a long-time Ford assembly line worker, a job he held for three weeks in 1963.
Standing under a cool spotlight, the old-time rock ’n’ roller sang:
“Here I am/on the road again There I am/up on the stage Here I go/playin’ star again There I go/turn the page ...”
There I am/up on the stage
Here I go/playin’ star again
There I go/turn the page ...”
Seger turned 66 on Friday.
“It’s difficult to say,” Seger said on the phone from his home in Orchard Lake, Mich., a few days before the Atlantic City stop. “I had a rough week the second week out. Physically, if I can hold up I may continue, but you just don’t know. It’s a minimum of a two-hour show. It’s a very physical show to do, because we want to do as much high-energy stuff as we can.”
A few weeks ago, Seger told Rolling Stone his career is “winding down,” and “we need to stop pretty soon.” Seger has a private jet and flies back to Michigan after a series of three or four shows.
He was going to conclude his short, two-month tour with a May 17-21 stand at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside of Detroit. But he got sick and canceled an April gig in Cleveland, which has been rescheduled for May 26. “I got terrible laryngitis, so we put Cleveland at the end,” he said. “Who knows? At my age, I might miss another gig.”
In a conversation after the Atlantic City show, his keyboardist (and former Grand Funk Railroad keyboardist), Craig Frost said, “He’s talking about maybe coming out in the fall, but it’s totally up to him. I would love to do that.
“But I don’t think we’re going to get much more out of him.”
What’s unique about Seger is how you hear his songs one way growing up and then they take on another clear dimension in middle age: “Against The Wind,” Mainstreet,” “Shining Brightly” and the beautiful “Till It Shines” (recently covered as a duet by Lyle Lovett and Keb’ Mo’).
“Exactly, I would try to write songs with dual meanings,” he said. “‘Night Moves’ was another. Lawrence Kasdan liked that. He used ‘Till It Shines’ in one of his films [1999’s ‘Mumford’]. I don’t do it in concert because of triple guitar. [His six-piece band with four horns and three backing singers never carries more than two guitars.] We’re doing ‘Shining Brightly,’ which we never did in 31 years. It’s fun revisiting those.”
Seger’s musical foil is saxophonist Alto Reed, who has been with the Silver Bullet Band since 1973. Reed’s daughter Victoria is attending DePaul University and gigging around Chicago. She also toured with a Michigan all-star rock band with Mitch Ryder and Mark Farner (Grand Funk), assembled by her father.
“She’s kind of Jewelesque/Alanis Morissette, with introspective lyrics,” Reed said after the Atlantic City show. “She has a couple hundred songs. And it’s all about the songs. These days, you can copy and paste parts together and make a song. But you can’t teach anybody lyrics. That’s what separates Bob from everybody. I was told Bob Dylan was asked who was his favorite American songwriter. He said Bob Seger. Bob’s songs tell a common tale in a very uncommon way.”
Seger is on par with Bruce Springsteen as the best American songwriter in the rock venue (separating them from John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Smokey Robinson and Tom Waits).
Seger is a Waits fan. His current single is a pop-rock cover of Waits’ “Downtown Train,” also a hit for Rod Stewart. Seger covered Waits’ “16 Shells form a 30-6” on his 1995 “It’s a Mystery” album. During the late 1990s, Seger was driving through Westwood in Los Angeles on an 85-degree day and spotted Waits strolling down the sidewalk in black cowboy boots, black shirt and black sport coat. Seger stopped and offered Waits a ride. They drove around and talked about songwriting for a half-hour.
“Then I took him right back to where we started,” Seger said with a laugh.
He continued, “I did [Waits’] ‘New Coat of Paint,’ ‘Downtown,’ ‘Sixteen Shells’ and ‘Hang Down Your Head’ in the same session. Later on, I put ‘Blind Love’ on ‘The Fire Inside’ and I didn’t want to use more than one Waits song [he used ‘New Coat of Paint’], so I forgot about it [“Downtown Train”]. When I put out ‘Early Seger Vol. 1,’ I found it again. It wasn’t in very good shape. I hadn’t sung it very well. I had to do some editing on it. So I resang it last fall after ‘Early Seger’ came out in 2009. I put the girls on it and some percussion, timpani drums, and it sounded good.”
Growing up in Ann Arbor as a peer of the punchy Motown horn sections, Seger developed a keen ear for brass parts. Much of Seger’s key material is defined by Reed’s evocative saxophone. Reed sets the mood for hits like “Mainstreet” and “Roll Me Away,” which has been the show opener for the current tour. They complement each other much as Clarence Clemons plays off of Springsteen.
Reed recalled his audition: “I walked into Bob’s practice house. It was Dick Sims on keyboards, Jamie Oldaker on drums and Sergio Pastora on congas and timbales. I’m thinking, ‘Where did this come from?’ They went on a few months later to become Eric Clapton’s ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ band [in 1974]. They said, ‘You’re in the band if you want it. Pack your bags, we leave tomorrow.’ It couldn’t have been a bigger gift for me.
“I wanted to be as significant as a guitarist. I was soloist in the band, learning how to weave my sax in and out of Bob’s vocals. Two weeks into the band, we went to Leon Russell’s private studio in Oklahoma. We were gathered in the control room. Bob said, ‘I have a song I can hear some sax on. I brought the master tape from Detroit.’ I asked him what he hand in mind. An assistant manager said, ‘Late at night. It’s a black-and-white movie: ‘Man With the Golden Arm.’ You’re standing beneath a street lamp and there’s a mist coming down. Off in the distance, you hear this plaintive wail. What does that sound like?”
Reed picked up the sax and played the now-classic opening of “Turn the Page.”
“I go, ‘Bob, is that OK?’” Reed said. “Bob looked over to our assistant manager and said, ‘Tell him another story.’ That was the first signature line I did for Bob.”
Seger will always be a signature Midwestern guy.
He’s known for licensing his 1986 hit “Like a Rock” to Chevrolet to support Detroit area automobile workers. The successful ad campaign ran for nearly 10 years. (Even though at the time Seger owned a Ford Mustang convertible, Nissan pickup truck and Porsche Boxster.) In 2001 and 2002, Seger won the Port Huron to Mackinac race on his 52-foot sailboat “Lightning,” which he has since sold. More recently, he has been a roadie for his son Cole’s West Bloomfield High School marching band. Cole plays saxophone. They won the Michigan state championship two years ago.
“I help move band equipment,” Seger said. “The whole nine yards. There’s some long days when they travel to competition. It’s been a lot of fun. I wish he would have done his senior year, but he said, ‘Dad, I gotta get ready for college,’ and I understand that. The band takes up a lot of his time.” Cole Seger will be attending Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.
Kid Rock (Robert James Ritchie), from Sterling Heights, Mich., has sat in with Seger at shows in Grand Rapids and Nashville. They duet on the Vince Gill tune “Real Mean Bottle,” which was written about Merle Haggard.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Seger said. “He wanted my manager [Edward ‘Punch’ Andrews] to manage him. He came to me just prior to the release of ‘Devil’ [Kid Rock’s 1998 ‘Devil Without a Cause’]. I was going to some function at the Rooster Tail, which is out on the water here. I used to play there with Doug Brown in the mid-’60s. Rob showed up with his whole band and introduced himself. He said he was a huge fan. He asked me about Punch. I said, ‘The one thing I can tell you is that he’ll never screw you. I’ve been with him 47 years. He’s a very honest guy and he’ll fight for every dime.”
Seger has been touring sporadically in the last 20 years to spend time at home with his kids. He also has a daughter, Samantha, who celebrated her 16th birthday at the Atlantic City show. Playing piano and accompanied by guitar, Seger dedicated “We’ve Got Tonight” to her. Reed said, “He loves his kids, and it’s one of the reasons we’re on the road. He wants his kids to see him. And now they’re of the age to appreciate what he does.”
They will learn that age is timeless, even with every turn of the page.