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Seger songs tell a story

Updated: June 9, 2011 12:17AM

Bob Seger grew up on the hooks of 1960s pop-rock radio. He knows how to get in and out of a song and leave the listener wanting more, just like early Beatles and Dave Clark Five singles.

“That’s what [fellow Michigan native] Glenn Frey and I used to say,” Seger said in a recent conversation from his home on Orchard Lake, Mich. “You’re nobody if you can’t get on the radio. We’d listen to everything. When I think of ‘Shining Brightly,’ you can hear the Van Morrison influence. I loved Van Morrison. We listened to everything growing up. ‘Sunspot Baby’ was definitely the Faces and the Stones.”

Here’s the stories behind some of Seger’s hits in his own words:

‘Mainstreet’ (1977), written about Ann Arbor, Mich.

“It was actually Ann Street off of Main Street where the place was,” Seger said. “It was a club. I can’t remember the name of the club, but the band that played there all the time was called Washboard Willie. They were a Delta and Chicago blues band. Girls would dance in the window. They were a black band, and they were very good. That’s where I would go but I was too young to get in. It wasn’t in a great part of town but college students loved to go there.”

‘Old Time Rock & Roll’ (1979)

“I wrote the lyrics for ‘Rock & Roll,’ but I didn’t write the music,” Seger said.

The 1978 smash is credited to rhythm and blues writers George Jackson and Thomas Jones. It is the second most played jukebox single of all time behind Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

“Old Time Rock & Roll” was recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers, Rod Stewart). Jackson was the premier staff writer at Malaco Records in Jackson, Miss. Jackson wrote the Z.Z. Hill smash “Down Home Blues” and also produced the 1971 Osmonds hit “One Bad Apple.”

“I felt sorry for [the songwriters],” Seger said. “It was the last song we put on ‘Stranger in Town,’ so I didn’t ask for any credit. Which was the dumbest thing I ever did. Years ago, I told Bruce Hornsby that story and how it drives me nuts because they’re always using it in commercials and stuff like the Tom Cruise dancing-in-his-underwear scene in the 1983 film ‘Risky Business.’ He said, ‘Just go to them and say, “You know I wrote those lyrics, give me a third.”’ My manager told me I’d never get it out of them. But they know I wrote the lyrics, other than the ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’ part. They had the chorus, so I thought about people I liked. At the time, disco was out, and I hated disco. Their lyrics were really bad, with Little Richard this and that and their favorite artists. Little Richard is one of my all-time favorite artists, but I didn’t like it in a song.”

‘Heartache Tonight’ (1979),
a No. 1 hit for the Eagles

“I wrote that with Glenn Frey,” Seger said. “He had a little house that he leased from the James Cagney Estate when he was in the Eagles. He loved the house. It wasn’t very big. It had one bedroom and a huge living room. He would set up Don’s [Henley] drums in the living room. They would write there. Glenn had the verse and he didn’t know where to go with it. I was singing the verse, singing the verse and I suddenly popped into ‘It’s gonna be a heartache tonight’ and sang the whole chorus. He said, ‘Holy crap!’ Then he called Henley and [Joe] Walsh. They came down the same night. Joe Walsh was playing bass. Henley jumped on the drums and we kept polishing and stuff. That was it.”

Dave Hoekstra

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