Lookback: The “Peak” of Bob Seger, The Rodney Dangerfield of Rock – 1976 to 1981, From ‘Live Bullet’ to ‘Nine Tonight (Live)’

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I thought for certain by now, almost midway through 2021, we’d be awash in a flood of new music. While 2020 was an awful year it was actually a pretty damn good year for music. Even so, I know there were a lot of bands who had stuff recorded and ready to release last year who ended up delaying since they couldn’t tour. I know Cheap Trick’s latest LP, In Another World was recorded and ready to go last year but not released until this spring. I know I described that album as merely “solid,” but it has really grown on me. I would have guessed that all of those great musicians out there, unable to tour, would turn to writing and recording new stuff. I had expected with all that “pent-up supply” of music we’d see new albums from beloved bands every week. And in truth we have seen some good music this year from Dirty Honey and the Black Keys, to name but a few. If I’m being honest however, I’ve been a little disappointed with the small number of new albums that have dropped this year. While things are rapidly improving out there I’m guessing that booking a tour right now might be slightly premature, a word I studiously try to avoid. And without being able to tour – which is where the real money is anymore – I’m sure that bands are waiting until the latter half of 2021 to put out the new stuff. At least there’s been some amazing archival stuff this year from the Black Crowes, Neil Young and CSNY.

While I’ve been fairly immersed lately in Neil Young’s Archives Vol. 2, CSNY’s great Deja Vu: 50th Anniversary, and frankly a lot of blues, with the small amount of new music coming out I do what I’ve always done… I’ve wandered back through my music collection to stuff I haven’t heard in a while. You can only research new stuff for so long before you have to return to the music that turned you onto rock and roll in the first place. For some reason this week I found myself obsessively (the only way I know how to do anything) listening to a guy who I’ve loved for as long as I can remember, Bob Seger.  I’m from Kansas City, the center of the country in the glorious midwest. In the late 70s, we kind of knew who Springsteen was, especially after The River. We kind of dug Tom Petty after Damn the Torpedoes. But in the midwest, Bob Seger was King. Everybody loved Bob Seger. I’m surprised the guy’s face wasn’t on our currency back then. He could sell out two nights at Kemper Arena in under an hour. They say that your musical tastes are ingrained during your formative, high school years. There was no one bigger during that time of my life than Bob Seger. The first Seger album I ever owned was a gift from my Sainted Grandmother (on my mother’s side) who knew I’d gotten into music. She bought Stranger In Town for me because she felt Seger “had nice eyes.” I loved the tune “Still The Same.”

While Seger was huge back then, for some reason he seems to have fallen out of favor. Most people only seem to know him from his greatest hits. I’m not sure the guy really ever got the respect he deserved. He’s like the Rodney Dangerfield of rock n roll, “I can’t get no respect…” It took until 2004 for the guy to be inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame despite being eligible for it years before that. He said Detroit radio and gads, Kid Rock helped spearhead his induction. Seger is from the midwest and most of the rock intelligentsia are on the East Coast which might explain why Seger’s name isn’t uttered with the same whispered reverence as Springsteen. I like what Dylan said about Springsteen/Seger on his Theme Time Radio Show, “Some say Bob Seger is a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. I like to think of Springsteen as a rich man’s Seger.” Seger has a lot in common with CCR… meat and potatoes rock n roll. “Maybe not the coolest band but certainly the best,” as Springsteen said of them. Seger’s rock n roll was simple, straight-forward, barrel house rock, based on a Chuck Berry ethos. When he rocked he was amazing. When he did the acoustic ballad stuff, well, yes, he was still amazing. Who doesn’t know and can sing along with “Mainstreet,” or “Fire Down Below” with equal gusto.

When I was trying to frame this article on Seger, I began to ponder what his “peak” period would be. I don’t think there is a musician with worse luck than Seger. He always struggled with decent studio production. Once, when I was in college with nothing better to do, I went to the library to do some rock n roll spelunking. I was surprised to learn that Seger is the exact same age as Pete Townshend. Pete and the Who’s road to fame and fortune was clearly a lot shorter than Bob’s. I decided to focus on what I consider to be Seger’s commercial peak. The albums that came out between his two landmark live albums. Those are likely the albums everybody is familiar with, which is actually too bad. Because out of Seger’s first 7 or 8 albums I’d say over half are classics. Unfortunately you can’t buy or stream any of his early LPs save for 1969’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man and 1975’s Beautiful Loser. I have mused in these pages before about who is holding his early stuff hostage. Jack White, another Detroit native, has even offered to go in and remaster Seger’s early LPs but Seger turned him down. I blame his longtime manager, Punch. Although Punch just passed away, sadly… but maybe this means new management might get this essential rock n roll released.

That lack of availability of a lot of Seger’s early music is what led me to pare this post down to that albums that are considered his “commercial peak.” Ideally, I’d be telling you that around the time Seger did his all covers LP, Smokin’ O.P.s he started to hit his stride. I’ve already posted about Smokin’ O.P.s in the best albums featuring all cover tunes…His early stuff, if available is all worthy of being considered a part of his peak but alas it’s not out there. Back In ’72 (recorded in ’72, released ’73) is a  lost masterpiece and if you ever see a copy in a used vinyl shop, grab it up. You can’t find this thing. The original version of “Turn the Page,” So I Wrote You a Song,” and “Rosalie” later covered by Thin Lizzy are all on this album. He covers Van Morrison (“I’ve Been Workin'”), and the Allman Brothers (“Midnight Rider”) to stunning effect. Seger always had a uncanny ability to “smoke other people’s songs”… Seven, his creatively titled seventh album doesn’t have big hits but is my all time favorite Seger album. “Get Out of Denver” from that album is the best Chuck Berry inspired number that Chuck didn’t do himself. Seven is the LP that saw the debut of the Silver Bullet Band. And finally, Beautiful Loser is damn close to perfect. Since none of these records (save the last one) are readily available, I’m sticking to my premise and merely recommending Seger’s “commercial peak” LPs, from his first live LP Live Bullet (an LP that made our best Live LPs list), to his second live LP, Nine Tonight. These are the albums that every rock n roll fan should own.

Live Bullet, 1976

After my grandmother gave me Stranger In Town, which I realize isn’t the coolest origin story, this was the second Seger album I purchased which was quite a financial outlay in junior high. This landmark live LP was largely ignored when it first came out but finally began to sell and get airplay after Night Moves broke Seger. Recorded at Detroit’s historic Cobo Hall this is the sound of the world’s most overachieving bar band, the Silver Bullet Band, on perhaps their best night. Twelve of the fourteen tracks are from the LPs mentioned in the paragraph above. This plays like an early Seger greatest hits (that weren’t hits) album. They say Seger could play Cobo Hall in Detroit and drive to the nearest city, Chicago, Des Moines or Kansas City and couldn’t sell out a theater. “Beautiful Loser/Travelin’ Man,” “Turn the Page,” and “Katmandu” were all staples of Kansas City rock n roll radio. But if you ask me, the opening track, “Nutbush City,” an Ike & Tina Turner track should have been a hit…

Night Moves, 1976

I heard Seger say in a radio interview that the title track of this LP, the one that finally broke him nationally, was somewhat inspired by Springsteen’s “Jungleland.” It’s an epic track. I was a pre-teen when this track came out but I still got goosebumps and could relate to the line, “woke last night to the sound of thunder, how far off I sat and wondered… started humming a song from 1962…ain’t it funny how the night moves?” There isn’t a bad song on this album. OK, maybe “Sunburst” is a little weak. Other than that, this is all killer, no filler. While the LP is billed to the Silver Bullet Band, half the album was recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – a habit that Seger had begun when recording Back In ’72, recording select tracks with his backing band and select tracks at Muscle Shoals. Tracks many casual fans will recognize from his greatest hits albums are here: “Fire Down Below,” “Mainstreet,” and “Rock N Roll Never Forgets.” But the deeper tracks are some of his best, like “Come To Poppa” a line that never worked for me… “Sunspot Baby,” and the rocker “Mary Lou.” This is close to midwest rock n roll heaven as you’re gonna get folks.

Stranger In Town, 1978

This was the album where I got on the bandwagon. The track that drew me in, oddly, was “Still the Same.” It still makes me think of a fickle friend of mine from those days. “Hollywood Nights” has some of the most propulsive drumming I’ve ever heard, especially when driving down the highway at 90 miles per hour… ahem. If I ever have a heart attack, put this on the stereo, turn it up loud and throw me on the biggest speaker in the room. It should revive me. “Feel Like A Number” is a tune I relate to even more now… although being a faceless member of the crowd in a high school of 1800 students certainly made it relatable. “Brave Strangers” was relatable on a completely different level. Again, a lot of these tracks, like “Old Time Rock n Roll” and the treacle “We’ve Got Tonight” are on the greatest hits but its the deeper tracks that I dig. “Ain’t Got No Money” is just a great rocker. “Till It Shines” boasts a great guitar solo from none other than Glen Frey.

Against The Wind, 1980

I will always have a soft spot for this album, as this is the first tour I actually got to see Seger. That’s why I’ve probably always been fond of his second live LP, Nine Tonight. That show was the famous night my mother blew out her knee doing “jazzercise” in the living room. The neighbor called 911… cops and ambulance showed up. I had a bottle of Jack Daniels in my pants and my friends almost drove past my house… I love this album but I have to admit, this is where I began to see the cracks in the Seger veneer. It has the sound of an album that was crafted to sound like his previous two. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fabulous album that everyone should hear. “Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight” and “Horizontal Bop” were great tunes but they felt like we’d heard them before. I did particularly like “Her Strut.” The first single was “Fire Lake” which asked the musical question, “who wants to go to Fire Lake?” sung by back up singers Don Henley/Timothy B. Schmit/Glenn Frey. With the “bronze beauties, lying in the sun,” I think we all would go to “Fire Lake” given the opportunity. The real question in that song was… why was Uncle Joe “afraid to cut the cake.” I mean, I get why he ran off to “Fire Lake” but I’m getting off topic here. “Long Twin Silver Line” is a great song about a train and made our train songs playlist. My favorite track here is the acoustic ender, “Shinin’ Brightly.” It was the perfect bright note to end the album on.

All of those albums are must haves for fans of rock n roll. I do like this second live LP, Nine Tonight, but I’m not sure it’s essential. It covers the three studio LPs above and only shares “Let It Rock” with Live Bullet which is a testament to how many great tunes were on those 3 albums. His next studio album, 1982’s The Distance was another solid album but I loathed the first single, “Shame On the Moon.” I loved “Even Now” and “Roll Me Away” but the cracks I started to see became more visible for me on this album. I’m still not sure what “House Behind A House” was about. But “Makin’ Thunderbirds” kicked ass… I will admit, after The Distance I really couldn’t connect with much of Seger’s more sporadic output until I Knew You WhenMaybe that’s why Seger has fallen out of favor… too many late-period, weak LPs. Although that doesn’t seem to hurt most bands these days.

I urge anyone who hasn’t gotten deeper than Seger’s Greatest Hits to check out these albums in full. There is a host of great music in these deep tracks. “Like a guest who stayed too long, its finally time to leave,” indeed.

Cheers!

LP Review: Bob Seger, ‘I Knew You When (Deluxe)’ – A Near Miss

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I grew up in the American midwest, so Bob Seger was an early and immediate member of my rock and roll firmament. Seger is to the midwest as Springsteen is to the northeast. I think it was Bob Dylan, on his Theme Time Radio Hour, who said it best when he said, “A lot of people consider Bob Seger a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen, but I always considered Bruce Springsteen a rich man’s Bob Seger.” I never thought Seger would do anything I would review on B&V but last Friday saw the release of his new album, I Knew You When. I sprung for the deluxe version and the three extra bonus tracks. My wife, the Rock Chick, despises Seger, so I literally had to listen to and review this album in secret…

Seger’s early career was marred by shoddy production and non-existent support from his record companies. Despite his mammoth talent, the guy couldn’t catch a break. He put out a string of really strong albums, from Mongrel (1970) to Back In ’72 (1972, duh), Seven (1974) and Beautiful Loser (1975). None of which ever really broke him outside of his home base of Detroit. He appears to want to forget about all those great albums as they remain unavailable for purchase anywhere. I’ve mused as to why he won’t release those early records in these very pages, Conspiracy Theory: Who Is Holding Bob Seger’s Early LPs Hostage?. It wasn’t until Seger’s monumental live LP with his backing band The Silver Bullet Band, Live Bullet (1976), that Seger finally broke nationally. After that he released a string of albums that cemented his legacy as one of the great ones: Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980) and The Distance (1982). He even had time to squeeze out another fantastic live album with The Silver Bullet Band, Nine Tonight (1981).

Stranger In Town was the album where I got on the bandwagon. My sainted grandmother on my mom’s side bought me the album for Christmas. I’d had it on my wishlist. She had a number of records to choose from and she chose Stranger In Town because she said Bob Seger had nice eyes. I don’t know about that, but the music on that record was simply phenomenal. I saw Seger for the first time on the Against The Wind tour (Bob Seger’s KC 1980 Concert, Jack Daniels, & My Mom’s Knee). It was an amazing show and I’ll never forget the virtuoso playing of the Silver Bullet Band’s lead guitarist Drew Abbott. It’s rare I’m lucky enough to catch an artist at his zenith but I did that night.

Unfortunately, the 80s seemed to confuse Seger, as it did a lot of artists. Synthesizers crept into his music for the first time on Like A Rock (1986). That was the first album that showed some cracks in Seger’s impeccable songwriting. There were still some great tracks but the album as a whole was pretty uneven. The best song on that whole album was a B-side cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” (Seger’s straight ahead rock has much in common with CCR, so it was a fit). The Silver Bullet Band was also pretty fractured by that time. Only keyboardist Craig Frost, bassist Chris Campbell and intrepid sax player Alto Reed remained in the band. Everybody else had quit or had been fired. After Like A Rock, the wheels really came off. If the 80s had been bad to Seger, the 90s were worse. The Fire Inside (1991) was just plain bad, and worse it was judge-y and preachy in places. It’s a Mystery (1995) was stunningly awful and was for the most part, unlistenable. I’m not sure what went wrong.

Seger went into semi-retirement. He stopped recording or touring for over a decade. It wasn’t until 2006 that he re-emerged with what was described as a “comeback” album, Face The Promise. I picked that album up and it’s where I gave up on Seger once and for all. Despite all the celebratory “comeback” talk, there was nothing on that album that I could connect with. The odious presence of Kid Rock and Patty Loveless didn’t help either. Seger’s voice just didn’t seem the same. It wasn’t the ragged instrument that say, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen’s voices became in their later careers, but something was off. It only got worse when Ride Out came out three years ago. I listened once, and moved on.

In large part for me, Seger’s music was resigned to the patina of the past. But then, a few months back, he put out a tribute single for his old friend from Detroit, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey Bob Seger’s Tribute Single For Eagles’ Glenn Frey: “Glenn Song”. And while it wasn’t a great, great song, Seger admitted it was never meant to be commercial, I thought it was a lovely gesture. Those guys had been friends for a long time. Frey plays the awesome guitar solo on “Til It Shines” from Stranger. It sparked my interest in Seger again, and that hadn’t happened in a long time. I knew an album was coming but I really didn’t pay that much attention. I mean, it’s been thirty years since I cared.

But then I was riding in my car and I heard the first single from I Knew You When, and I was stunned to hear Seger covering Lou Reed’s “Busload of Faith,” from Reed’s masterpiece New York. If anybody had told me thirty years ago that Seger would be covering Lou Reed, I’d have laughed at you. And I will admit, despite the fact I thought I was done with Seger, that single pulled me back in. In the interest of full disclosure, Seger changed the lyrics. He deleted an entire verse about murder, rape and abortion, which, who can blame him. There’s a line in Reed’s original version that goes, “You can’t depend on any churches, unless there’s real estate you want to buy,” which was a confusing swipe at the rapaciousness of most churches (I guess, I mean it’s Lou Reed, who knows). Seger changed it to “You can’t depend on the President, unless there’s real estate you want to buy,” which is an obvious swipe at our current POTUS. Seger gets a bad rap from the rock press because his fan base is from the “red states.” Just because his fans hail from out here in fly over country doesn’t mean ol’ Bob Seger is anything but an old hippy. He’s never been as outspoken as Bruce Springsteen or Jackson Browne, but by covering this song, I think he’s letting us know where he stands. I like the song. Seger does a strong version. Nobody will ever match the venom of Lou Reed’s original, but it’s a great track.

After hearing “Busload of Faith,” I really wanted to love this album. Unfortunately I’d compare it to John Mellencamp’s last album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. There’s some good music here, but as a whole the album doesn’t quite click for me. Seger recorded the album with a bunch of Nashville studio guys. Gone are the days when he recorded half an album with the Silver Bullet Band and half with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. And I don’t know, maybe it’s because he’s using studio pros, some of these performances just seem bloodless. Many of the rockers, like “The Sea Inside” or “Runaway Train” are plodding. In the latter track, he makes the ill-advised decision to break into a spoken word section… never a good idea, unless you’re Elvis Presley. Seger’s production oddly doesn’t put enough air into the rockers, they don’t have space to breath.

I will say, the opening cut, the rocker “Gracile” which is a word I had to look up on Webster’s Dictionary site, is a great start. There is even a nice guitar solo. For some reason it conjured memories of cuts off of Mongrel, which in my opinion was Seger’s hardest rocking album. “Gracile” leads into “Busload of Faith” and then into a song “Highway” which is another of the better rock tunes. Seger is in finer voice than I’ve heard him in a long time. Maybe he finally quit smoking. The title track, like “Glenn’s Song” is clearly another tribute to his lost friend, Glenn Frey a man with “dangerous charisma.” It’s an “Against The Wind” type acoustic, mid tempo song and it’s the best thing here. His sense of loss over his friend is palpable. It’s a beautiful song, sung beautifully.

Alas, after those first four tracks, the album starts to lose steam. The ballad, “I’ll Remember You” is overly-labored and somewhat dull. Ballads used to be Seger’s stock in trade, so I was a little surprised that this one left me cold. He covers Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy” and it’s complete with fiddle, fife and drum. It’s a confusing choice to me. It’s not bad, it’s just not something I could connect with. If you’re going to cover Leonard, you need to bring something special to the tune. “Marie” is another ballad, this time with a Spanish flair, and it’s better than “I’ll Remember You,” but I’ve heard so many better Seger ballads.

The first half of this record is the best stuff Seger has put out in years. Unfortunately the album loses momentum in the back half. Of the bonus tracks, you’ll find “Glenn’s Song” and another good upbeat track, “Forward Into The Past,” which might have been a better title for the album… “Blue Ridge” has some interesting instrumentation. Overall I’d say the bonus tracks are worth the purchase. While I can’t recommend this album as a whole, I will say, there is more to be interested in here than anything Seger has done in years. This might be his swan song, or it might be the sign of a rebirth. Don’t get me wrong, I realize most of these songs were written years ago but if the guy has some strong material in the vaults and wants to record it, I’m all ears. Besides, when I think about it, maybe Grandma was right… Seger still has nice eyes…

Cheers!

Great News: Some of Bob Seger’s LPs Available on iTunes Now!?!

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About a year ago I wrote a piece “Who’s Holding Bob Seger’s Early LPs Hostage?” In that post I lamented that you couldn’t buy any of Seger’s older LPs on iTunes or CD. If you wanted an old Seger album, say ‘Beautiful Loser,’ you had to hunt it down in the used vinyl store. Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging around old, used record stores as much as the next guy, but I’m that rare bird who still buys vinyl these days.

The only Seger albums you could find on iTunes were his two seminal live albums, ‘Live Bullet,’ and ‘Nine Tonight’ both essential listening (and a fascinating portrait of how the Silver Bullet Band developed over time). You could also buy one or two of Seger’s Greatest Hits packages. Other than that you could buy his last new albums which, due to the frailty of his voice, I might describe as, um, “not essential listening.”

After my piece last year, my friend Dr. Rock sent me a link to an article that had run in some magazine shortly after mine. The name of the publication escapes my swiss cheese memory, but in the article the author was lamenting that none of Seger’s music was available in any format: streaming, iTunes, CDs… nothing was available. It was due to Seger’s manager, a guy named Punch (which ought to be a sign something is wrong) feeling that the royalties weren’t good enough to merit release. The author of the magazine article, who was far more scientific and articulate than I’ll ever be, wondered if Seger’s manager was trying to erase Seger and his music from it’s very existence. Seger was ok with all of this and was quoted as saying, something like, “I handle the music, Punch handles the business, and it’s worked out pretty well so far…” Sigh. There needs to be a short, rudimentary business class required for all rock stars. I remember reading that Mike Tyson, famous boxer, saying he didn’t know what “percentages” were until he learned in math class in prison. Ahem…

Since it is Friday today, I always bounce out to iTunes for my weekly check to see if anything interesting has been released. I was actually looking for the new single by the Queens of the Stone Age. During my search, out of nowhere I saw a flash of “Bob Seger’s Catalog, On Sale Now” notice on the top scrawl. I know what you’re thinking – you never thought you’d see Bob Seger and QOTSA in the same sentence, but such is my schizophrenic musical tastes… After I reached my QOTSA page, I flipped back to the main “rock” page and it was’t there. I searched on Seger and voila, all of his popular, later albums were now available for purchase. ‘Night Moves,’ and ‘Stranger In Town’ are only $5.99. Wow. I was extremely pleased to see that this important heartland artist is finally making some his music available.

Now, this release is not perfect. While he does release a couple of older titles, ‘Beautiful Loser’ and surprisingly, ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’ from 1968 are out there but the bulk of his older catalog remains unreleased and un-remastered. It’s baffling that fabulous older Seger albums like ‘Seven’ or ‘Back In 72’ remain elusively out of reach. At least we’ve made the first step of restoring this Hall of Fame rocker’s catalog. He’s out on tour now so perhaps that was the motivation on the timing of these releases, but I can only speculate.

This may be old news, and if so, shame on Punch for not publicizing this more broadly. I just found this out and felt compelled, based on my earlier post, to alert all B&V readers that part of Seger’s catalog was available. In the old days, he’d have taken out a full page add out in the trade mags…I should have been a band manager… Colonel BourbonAndVinyl. I’d have at least taken better care of Elvis… but I digress.

It appears, and I’m pleased to say this, “Rock and roll never forgets!”

Bob Seger’s Tribute Single For Eagles’ Glenn Frey: “Glenn Song”

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Here we are this week with another reminder of how horrible 2016 was in terms of losing Rock Stars. We saw the one year anniversary of the passing of Glenn Frey, eulogized in a post on B&V a year ago. To commemorate the occasion, Bob Seger released a new single, entitled “Glenn Song,” in honor of his fallen friend.

Frey and Seger had been friends in their earlier days, back in Detroit, where they both hail from. Seger was quoted yesterday as saying Glenn was like “a kid brother to me.” I know they remained friends through all the fame and fortune. Glenn plays an exquisite guitar solo on Seger’s tune “Til It Shines.” In this era of enormous egos and “celebrity feuds,” it seems really nice that Bob would take the time to honor his friend by recording this song. Something that doesn’t get talked about much in the world is the importance for men to have other dudes to hang out with. I don’t know what I’d do if my life long pal Doug wasn’t still living in KC. All guys need a guy to grab a beer with in our lives… or a gal to grab Cosmo’s with if you’re a chick. All of which makes this ode to friendship kind of touching.

The song is clearly a deeply heartfelt piece of work. And as Seger readily admits, this will not be a hit single, nor was it intended to. It’s just a nice thing to have done for a  buddy. There’s no chorus. In the lyrics Bob just describes how he saw Glenn… “Whenever I think about you I smile.” These guys were clearly close. Bob goes on to sing, “You were young, you were bold, you loved your rockin’ soul,” which I think sums up ol’ Glenn Frey to a T. He goes on to say, “You were strong, you were sharp, but you had the deepest heart.” That’s pretty nice stuff.

I have to doff my hat to Mr. Seger on this one. It’s not a great, great song and it’s on the melancholy end, but it’s a nice tune. It’s available for free download or streaming on Seger’s website, so this isn’t some kind of cash-in attempt on Seger’s part. You can find the song here:

http://www.bobseger.com

I feel the same way about Glenn Frey as Seger sings in this final line from the song, “There was no one like you…”

It’s a long dark ride folks… Keep your friends close.

Cheers!

Conspiracy Theory: Who Is Holding Bob Seger’s Early LPs Hostage?

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 I grew up in the Midwest, the breadbasket of the US. In those days, one name was synonymous with rock and roll and that was Bob Seger. He was bigger than US Steel in the Midwest. I think they coined the term “heartland rocker” for Bob Seger. He was to the Midwest what Springsteen was to the East coast back then. Of course Springsteen went on to be bigger than anybody. I love what I heard Dylan say about the two of them one day on Theme Time Radio Hour: “They say Seger is a poor man’s Springsteen but I think Springsteen is a rich man’s Bob Seger.” My friend Jeff, Nancy’s brother, who I like to call Dr Rock, always likes to remind me that he thinks Springsteen ruined Seger with a lot of bad advice, which I think is spurious. As usual, I think I’ve digressed here… Suffice it to say, Seger’s music was ubiquitous when I was young. Listening to Seger was like saying the Pledge of Allegiance, it was something you did every day before school.

Most people, when they think of Seger, think of his albums released between his two great, great live albums “Live Bullet” and “Nine Tonight.” What they don’t realize is that the albums, “Night Moves,” “Stranger In Town” and “Against The Wind” are really actually late period Seger. Well, I guess now they’re mid-period Seger, but I don’t want to get lost in the details. Seger really hit it big when “Live Bullet” came along. I don’t think anybody did the math and realized that those songs on “Live Bullet” had to come from somewhere. Most people were unaware that Seger had eight albums out before he got big. I don’t know if the guy just had bad luck, shitty support from his record label or bad producers but he never got a break. His first studio album to really have an impact was “Night Moves.” Prior to that he wasn’t very well known outside of his native Michigan, which is a shame.

We live in an era now where most artists’ back catalogs are curated with more care than the art held at the Louvre. There are giant, deluxe box sets of unreleased material. There are constant re-releases of remixed versions of our favorite albums. The Stones remaster their records almost every year in what I believe is a marketing ploy. Zeppelin just issued yet another series of remasters with unreleased material on each studio album they released in their heyday. Many artists are doing this with an eye toward their place in history. Some artists, including the aforementioned Springsteen, have done box sets consisting of remasters of their original albums only, no bonus material, just the old records in a new package. “Oh well, I guess I’ll be buying “The White Album” again…” At the very least you see the old albums “remastered for iTunes.”

The one notable exception – and this is where the conspiracy theory comes in – is Bob Seger. Not only can you not find his first eight albums, you can’t even buy his biggest albums on iTunes. He’s released his two must-have live albums on iTunes and a couple of greatest hits packages but not his actual albums. He did release the curious “Early Seger Vol. 1” which was great but it sort of leaves you wanting “Vol 2” which is nowhere in sight. You can still buy his late period records on CD but not on iTunes? You can’t find his early records on CD either? WTF is going on here? Who’s responsible? I suspect some sort of arch villain has the master tapes locked in a vault, guarded by a giant octopus. As usual, I suspect the corporate thugs at Capitol Records, his record label for all these years, are behind this somehow. There must be something I’m missing here. There is some rumor that Seger just doesn’t care about his back catalog or he thinks those records are substandard, probably because the listening public was too daft not to buy them by the millions. Some of the production was substandard but there are records missing that are screaming for release.

At a bare minimum Seger, or somebody, needs to see to the remastering and release of these following records… If you can find these on vinyl in a used record store, do yourself a favor and buy them. They may be scratched or have more pops and hisses than the bacon grille down at the local Waffle House, but they are not only worth it, they are all we have until someone, for the love of God, releases these albums properly:

  1. “Ramblin Gamblin Man” 1968 – this was Seger’s first release. It’s under the name “The Bob Seger System.” The title track was the only really big hit. It’s a part of his live set to this day… The world needs the Bob Seger System, people.
  2. “Mongrel” 1970 – I have a copy of this, and it’s in pretty bad shape, but it rocks in a “rawks” kinda way. Seger howls the vocals. He even does a cover of “Mountain High, River Deep.” This is just a super, overlooked album.
  3. “Smokin O.P.’s” 1972 – I’m not usually a fan of covers albums (the title supposedly means smoking other people’s songs) but this is a great set of tunes. I really like his versions of “Bo Diddley” and “Love The One Your With.” His version of “Let It Rock” the ol’ Chuck Berry chestnut was his encore, show ender for years.
  4. “Back In ’72” 1973 – There’s a moment on “Live Bullet” before (I think) “Turn the Page” where Seger says to the crowd, “this is from back in ’72.” I always thought he was merely referring to the year the song was released. I had no idea this album even existed. It’s the pick of the litter here. There is not a bad moment on this album. He even covers “Love the One Your With,” a ballsy move in those days. How this album didn’t make it big is a mystery to me. Seger has to put this album back out.
  5. “Seven” 1974 – Seger’s creatively named seventh album… This album doesn’t have any hits but it’s also one of my personal favorites. The original version of “Get Out of Denver” which is so wonderfully performed on “Live Bullet” is on this record. It’s simply the best Chuck Berry song not by Chuck Berry out there… with all due respect to the Stones, who have been doing Chuck for years.
  6. “Beautiful Loser” 1975 – This album is the one right before “Live Bullet” and had the biggest impact on that live record. This is another sensational album that I defy you to find a copy of.

The only early Seger album I’d warn you away from is “Noah.” Seger didn’t even do much singing on that record. There were rumors of depression and of course the famous false rumor of him having throat cancer. The guy just dropped out of the band for a while folks. Anyway, I beseech the powers that be, whoever is holding up the release of these albums and his more popular records on at least iTunes, please put this music out. I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” type of guy but this ranks up there with Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in terms of world mysteries for me…

Look for these records in your local used vinyl store and rock out people.

Cheers!

Bob Seger’s KC 1980 Concert, Jack Daniels, & My Mom’s Knee

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My wife signed us up at a gym a few years ago. I was perfectly content to continue working out in our basement, all by myself. Such is my reclusive nature these days. Admittedly it’s been a great experience for my wife, she’s met people and made friends. For me, not so much. I keep running into people from all stages of my sketchy past: grade school, high school, college, even my current job. Talk about a motivation killer. I actually forced myself to go out there yesterday and I found myself staring vacantly at a TV screen blaring some young chick’s video. My wife startled me back to reality with the curt question, “What are you staring off into space for, you need to use that machine or move…” I hadn’t really been focused on the video, I had just seen someone I think I dated in high school. It ended badly (my fault). I mumbled a reply to my darling wife, “I’m just watching this Taylor Swift video…” She crinkled up her nose, “Honey, that’s not Taylor Swift, that’s Beyonce.” I thought everything was Taylor Swift these days… Oh, well.

Seeing someone at the gym I knew when I was in high school had me thinking. Music just seemed more dangerous back then. Punk had come and gone, new wave was big. Concerts were major events. They involved planning and cunning. You had to come up with the cash for the tickets, gas money, and most importantly booze. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to October 23rd, 1980 and the Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band show I saw that night. Seger was touring in support of his seminal album, ‘Against the Wind’ and my buddy Brewster (name changed to protect the guilty) and I were stoked to see him. Unlike the Springsteen concert later the next year, Brewster actually called me on this one. It was my first Seder show.

About a week before the show, we discovered a liquor store with an elderly cashier. He wouldn’t ask you for your I.D. he’d do this weird stare-you-in-the-eye thing. I was tall as a kid. I went to bed one night at 5 feet and seemingly woke up the next day over 6 feet tall, that’s how quick my growth spurt was. So I always drew the short straw and had to be the guy who went into the liquor store. My practically terminal acne couldn’t have helped… I had twice defeated the “stare-down” test. I believe I could now beat a lie detector because of this cooky old cashier. There was always more pressure to make the buy when it was for a concert.

The night of the show, I pulled out the flask sized bottle of Jack Daniels we’d purchased the previous weekend and stuffed it into the front of my pants. I pulled out the t-shirt and flannel shirt I had on and covered the bottle. I just had to clear about 15 minutes in the living room with my mother, my dad was out of town, and it’d be off to Kemper Arena to see Bob Seger. Fuck yeah! There was just something about Jack Daniels and rock and roll. I had seen the iconic pics of Jimmy Page swilling the stuff backstage at a Zeppelin show. There was a photo of Mick and Keith huddled around a bottle of Jack Daniels while recording ‘Exile On Mainstreet’. Oh yes, I was carrying the rock and roll flame. Even if I was carrying it hidden in my crotch. The top of the bottle stuck out where my belly button was but I just pulled out my shirt a little more and folded my arms, like I was hiding an unwanted hard-on in math class (we’ve all been there).

I sauntered down to the living room like Paul Newman in “The Sting”. I was a gangster. I was one with Mick & Keith. The TV was on in the living room and my mother, always an anxious woman, was bounding around the house. She was cooking dinner for my brother and racing into the living room to see the show. I wasn’t really focused on her, she was more of a blur around the house. Suddenly, she was standing beside me, in front of the TV. There was a woman in tights and gym clothes moving around the screen to some awful music. I thought she was having a televised seizure. My mother exclaimed, “Oh, Jazzercise, I love this…” I couldn’t help but mutter, “Ma, you wanna be careful here…” But before I knew what was happening my mother was doing a jerky imitation of what was happening on the screen. My mother had gone from cooking dinner and pestering me to exercising with little to no warm up. There was no way this was going to end well… I just kept thinking, at least she’s distracted. That’s when I heard the loud “pop” noise followed by a blood curdling scream from my sainted mother. Yep, she’d blown her ACL. She crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. I was going to bend over to help her up, but I had a bottle of Jack Daniels crammed down my pants.

She was frantic and I wasn’t much better. I knew I had to do something or I was going to miss the concert. This was Bob Fucking Seger, ma. My buddies were supposed to pick me up any minute. I didn’t want to leave my mom laying on the floor, but she was sort of forcing my hand. I quickly called the neighbor lady, my mom’s best friend. She could hear my mother caterwauling in the background and she suggested I call an ambulance. Jesus, how was I gonna pull this off? No one told me that when you call for an ambulance, the cops come. That information might have altered my strategy. Within minutes I had two cop cars in front of the house and a cop in my living room, standing over my mother. I stood, with my arms folded in front of the Jack, next to the cop, over my prostrate mother. “So, your mom says you’re gonna see Seger tonight?” I wanted danger, here it was…”Well, yeah Officer Friendly, I’m kind of a music nut…” He was eyeballing me like I was a “person of interest”. We continued to make small talk until my little brother finally emerged from upstairs to see what all the flashing lights were about. I was soaked in sweat. I had visions of the cop realizing I had whiskey in my pants, (and on my breath, I’ll admit I’d sampled the fire water) and going berserk with his night stick, beating me about the head and shoulders until I was laying next to my mother on the ground. With my brother now engaged with “the heat” I slowly moved outdoors to the front porch. The ambulance had finally arrived and was in the driveway. I waved meekly, while holding the Jack with my other hand. I looked like I had an upset stomach…

It was at that moment that Brewster’s car pulled up. I lived on a cul-de-sac. He was literally on top the two cop cars before he knew what was happening. I could see the look on his face – half questioning, half utter terror. If I’d lived on a through street he’d probably have kept driving. Although since I was holding the whiskey, I had some leverage. I immediately bounded off the front porch. I pointed to the front door for the EMTs and said, “She’s in there, I have to go now…” With my head bowed and my hands on my stomach I raced for the car and practically dove into the front seat. Brewster slowly turned the car around and then raced out of my neighborhood.

I felt awful for leaving my mother, but man what a concert that was. Buzzed on adrenaline and Tennessee sipping whiskey I was blown away by Seger. He opened with “Nine Tonight” and I was in rock and roll heaven. By the time he played the guitar solo in “Her Strut”, mid-concert, we’d abandoned our lower balcony seats and headed for the floor. We slipped past security and made it up to the stage in time for “Let It Rock” the monster encore. Drew Abbott, a true unsung hero guitarist in rock music, stood in front of me and destroyed his guitar solo. When the show was over, Brewster and I just stood there passing the Jack, as people filed out and the roadies took the stage. I had suddenly remembered my poor, frail mother, lying on the floor, when suddenly to my right a blonde woman had pulled up her shirt to reveal her two lovely breasts to the roadies in an attempt to get back stage. They were the first boobs I’d ever seen at a concert. I thought I’d died and ascended to Nirvana. All thoughts of familial loyalty fluttered from my adolescent mind.

Now that’s danger…

Rock and Roll and Jack Daniels… They belong together. Do you have a concert story to share? Comment and I’ll post it.

Be careful out there folks… Beware of any exercising mothers… Stretch out ladies…. and as always, Cheers!