The Seger FileAn unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger Last updated June 1999 Edited by Scott Sparling firstname.lastname@example.org
Start here: The Seger File is about Seger's music, not his personal life. Still there are places where the two overlap: the effect of his father leaving, his high school experiences, to a certain extent his relationships with women and his experience as a father. The attraction of Seger's music is that it speaks so personally to these topics. And Seger has spoken publicly many times on these subjects to reporters. So, to the extent that it's appropriate, some background.
Detroit? Ann Arbor?
It ought to be easy to keep track of where a person was born. Not with Seger. No matter how many times you read that Seger was born in Ann Arbor -- the Capital Records web page, and Free Press writer extraordinaire Gary Graff and dozens of other writers have claimed A2 as the birthplace -- the fact is he was born in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, at Henry Ford Hospital on May 6, 1945. The Seger family moved from Dearborn to Ann Arbor when Bob was six.
Of course, you'll never find anything but 100 percent accuracy and 100 percent righteousness in the Seger file. Except for those areas where I've screwed up.
"I was born in Detroit, and I lived there 'til I was six, and then my father moved us to Ann Arbor, even though he kept working in Detroit. I think my mother liked Ann Arbor, so we moved there. It was definitely a college town." May 1979 radio interview.
We Even Sang the Parts the Instruments Were Playing
"We always had a piano in the house, because besides his 13-piece orchestra, my father also sang bass in a barbershop quartet and he'd sometimes practice at home. My father also kept a bunch of other instruments that he played handy: guitar, sax, banjo, ukelele and clarinet. My dad wanted me to take clarinet and I did from 4th to 6th grade. I didn't like it at all, but I still know my scales." Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."
Seger on his father's life as a musician: "He had been there. Matter of fact, he'd been there for like 20 years on weekends. He had three years of medical school, but he didn't really have what it takes to be a doctor, he just didn't want to go all that way. He liked playing. He played one or two nights a week for about 20 years. My mom didn't dig it, because they had to spend a lot of time in clubs. That's why she didn't really want that for me. And he sort of really tried to make it and didn't; so she just thought it would be a real heartbreak for me and stuff...but when we finally did do it, they became fans. My dad died in '68 but he saw me make the first hit; he saw 'Gamblin' Man.' He was very proud. My mom now is a real big fan." David Standish, September 1978, Playboy
"My dad always had these dreams where he wanted to do this and do that, but he was never serious about them. He would just fantasize everything. My mother was real extroverted and my dad was very introverted. She would dance a lot, say, at the places his band played, and my dad was jealous and didn't like her dancing and flirting around -- she wasn't much of a flirt, but she was outgoing, where he was not. Plus, he drank a bit, and my mother could not abide that since she didn't drink at all." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
A Father Leaves
"When my dad was around, my brother George got a lot more attention than I did. He was the firstborn, so he got taken to all the father-and-son things. By the time I was that age, my mom and dad were having a few problems, so that wasn't happening for me. I was ignored." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
"I became a loner. When my mom and dad were together, a lot of the neighborhood kids weren't even allowed to play with me because [my parents] would fight and the neighbors didn't like it at all." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
"I didn't resent it back them, but by the time I was gettin' around to the age where I could develop any relationship with my father...he was already...gone." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
"After my dad left, my brother George started supporting the family. He got a job at 14 and he's worked ever since." Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."
In addition to leading the 13-piece Stewart Seger Orchestra, Seger's father was a medic at Ford Motor Company's massive River Rouge plant. He left his family when Bob was 10 and George was 14.
The middle class family suddenly became poor. At one point, the three of them were living in one room: "I don't do too much remembering on that," Seger told a reporter in 1986. Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. "Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience."
Yet the experience had a major effect on him -- as it would on any 10-year old.
"We lived in some pretty run-down, mostly black neighborhoods. My dad left when I was 10 and I was on my own a lot after that. My mother worked as a housekeeper [for a woman who had Parkinson's] and my brother supported the family from the time he was 14. The low point was when we lived in a one-room place with just a hot plate and bunk beds. My ma slept in the upper one, my brother and me underneath." Author? August 1978. Magazine?
A reporter once asked Seger whether his music career was a way of proving his worth to a father who didn't love him enough to stay. Seger answered:
"I think it was more a way of proving myself to my mother. It's interesting that my mother married a musician and he ended up leaving home. Perhaps I was trying to take his place, fill that gap. My father was a failed musician, so I became one. It's all parental appeasement, you know. The fact that I was a lonely kid and didn't get a great deal of attention may have had a lot to do with the way I turned out." Roy Trakin, Creem, 1987?
Timothy White on Seger's father leaving. "It's all a manifestation of him going from being a middle class kid to, in one step, being poor. His father completely shattered his world to pieces; Seger, his whole life, has been trying to find the courage to cope with the fact that his father didn't love him." Quoted by Gary Graff, Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1986
Fire and the Memory of Love
After "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" became a hit, Seger toured California. On that tour, "I saw my father then for the first time in five years in California. He was so proud of me. Three weeks later he died in a fire in his apartment. He didn't get to see my career go down the tubes for another five years." Jim Jerome, July 24, 1978, People.
"I was out in California on a quickie tour for Capitol and playing the Whiskey [a Go Go in LA]...I guess it was for the 2+2=? single, which I'd written after I read in the Ann Arbor News one morning that my high school buddy Neil Stahle had been killed in Vietnam...
"Anyhow, my father was out there living in an apartment and he wasn't doing so well. He was working as a male nurse, supposed to keep this guy off booze, but he was boozing it up with the guy...
"I saw him one night, and as I was going I gave him 50 bucks. After that, the apartment he was living in burned down and so did he -- inside it. I think he got drunk one night and the building caught fire; he was kinda sauced, didn't get out and that was it." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
"The memory of love is a powerful thing; it's a tangible possession in and of itself, and I guess that's been a theme running through my whole personal development as well as my career. Nothing can ever correct and make right the stunt my father pulled; you have to forgive him for it and then you have to live with it." Timothy White, Musician Magazine, June 1986.
All the Wild, Wild Good Times
First of all, concerning the grassers: They were a central part of Seger's high school years. However, Timothy White and other writers have covered them extensively and well -- which means we'll touch on them only briefly here.
In high school, Seger was an honor student and jock, according to his own description. He could run a 5:05 mile -- until he discovered rock and roll. "In 11th grade I was playing bars three nights a week. I barely managed to finish with a D." Jim Jerome, July 24, 1978, People.
Harrington writes: "One Seger song called high school 'the best years of my life [hmm, which song is that?] and he admits 'that's where I draw my power'...Not the best years in any final sense, 'just the freest -- the idealism, the quick-change passion, things hitting you from all angles and you're naive enough to believe everything is coming your way and could be cool, whereas when you're 41, you know better. You become more suspicious. That's life...
"The dream when you're real young is so ideological, so large and you want it all -- the career, the family...you want to be eminent in whatever field you're in, somebody who's important or says or does something that's meaningful and doesn't just crank out commercial records..." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience.
[Does he feel sometimes like that's what he's done -- 'crank out commercial records'?]
Seger went to Tappan Junior High.
One of the best things about high school, "was having friends that you didn't work with all the time. They weren't friends and colleagues, they were just plain friends. They weren't in it except to be a crowd together. I didn't lead the charge. I didn't have the responsibility to be the leader and set the example...
"I'm not that way anymore. Most of my friends are people I work with and most of the time I spend in my life, outside of my ladies, I'm king. And then it's hard to be just one of the guys." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience.
Seger on high school: "I was shy, super shy. And I happened to fall into a faster crowd than I'd ever been in before. Because I played music, I was sort of a gimmick for those guys. And I got to meet the really 'hot' chicks and I had my first great love affair, which is really what 'Night Moves' is about...it was really a mad crazy affair. She ended up marrying somebody else, of course, and I think it was partly because I didn't have any confidence, I never did.
"So I had my fun, but I wasn't a wheel or anything like that. I'm still not: I'm a pretty dull guy. I followed the wheels around and let them do all the wheeling and dealing and I was sorta on the fringes having a good time and, uh, picking up what they left behind." John Morthland, July 1977, Creem. "Bob Seger Conquers the World (And About Time!)"
Seger couldn't go to his 20-year high school reunion because he was touring.
"It was a big class, and I looked at pictures of all the people who'd shown up. What really fascinated me was that the people had gone off and moved to California or Colorado or New York looked so much...different...and those who had stayed in Michigan looked exactly the same, looked young, looked strong and happy. I don't know what that means, but it was fascinating." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience.
"I had slicked back hair like a greaser in high school, and dressed in Ban-Lons, points, pegged pants...I never had a car because I never had any money; I always rode with somebody else...On an average night in the winter, my friends would pick me up at six or seven p.m. and we'd just drive around, and we'd be gone till two or three in the morning. First we'd go score some beer, go 'round to the drive-ins, see who was there...On weeknights a lot of the girls couldn't get out, so we'd just drive and drive. One of the guys had a record player right in his car -- which was really neat -- that played 45s. Crazy Jack's Stereo in Detroit would install them. It was an upside down thing that fit right into your glove box; the needle was very heavy and it worked somehow on gravity." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
"They even had an expression in my group called 'The Seger Luck.' I was only guy who never got busted for MIP -- Minor in Possession. Everybody liked to take me in the car, saying 'You're riding with the Seger Luck, man, so go ahead and tip.'" Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"
"The first two weeks of high school I had the most fun in my life. Even though we were poor, I had all this free time after school and on weekends to mess around. Even on school nights, I'd stay out. My mom was real liberal. We'd drink Hamm's beer and cruise around in Barton Hills, which was the rich suburb." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."
"That was back when I enjoyed parties. I enjoyed parties because I wasn't the center of attraction, because I got to talk to people one-to-one. I was just another person in the crowd. In truth, I'm more a watcher, an observer. Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."
The "grassers" were large free-form parties held in farmers' fields or grasslands near the highway. [Memorialized in Horizontal Bop: "Grass is good as carpet, anyplace is do."] Up to 200 people might show up for a grasser. The best place, Seger remembered was between Dexter Road and Interstate 94, on state land in between farms. The closer you were to the highway, the nosier you could be. Seger's friend, Richie Gregory, was the one who had the upside down glove compartment record player in his car.
"We would go till four or five in the morning, but the real heavies, like Richie and me, would go further." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."
George Wild owned Wild and Co.,an Ann Arbor clothing store where Seger worked. He remembers Seger as "a good salesman, one of the best we had selling Levi's to his fellow teens." Wild gave Seger an advance so Seger could buy his first electric guitar at Grinnel's. When he heard Seger play it "I wasn't really impressed. In fact, I told him, 'you young guys just seem to squander money.'" Wild is a fan and admirer now. Bob Talbert, April 28, 1996, Detroit Free Press. "Seger and me."
Drew Abbot on Seger in 1976: "He's a Taurus, and you can't move him with a crane, is the old saying. It's taken him a long time to realize a lot of things, and change a little bit. For example, he played lead guitar for a long time. He's good, but certainly not a blockbuster. So he had to get it in his own head: 'If I'm going to go somewhere, I'm going to have to let somebody else play guitar." Lowell Cauffiel, Cream Magazine, August 1976
"Everyone wants you to be special all the time, and if you're normal, they act disappointed." Author? August 1978. Magazine?
Dave Marsh in 1978: "People who've met Seger recently sometimes feel he's conceited because he rarely says much, responds diffidently to even the most effusive praise. But Seger has always been this way: a little shy, modest about his achievements, a private man who makes his living in public. Given some time, he opens up and speaks more frankly than most about what might be the strangest career in the history of rock and roll." Rolling Stone, June 15, 1978
"He is perhaps the nicest -- and that's the right word -- rock star around." Christine Brown, August 6, 1975, Detroit Free Press. "Seger is Always Heavy in Detroit."
Journalist Bob Claypool: "It's extremely difficult not to like Bob Seger. In fact, it's almost impossible not to feel respect, and -- even more important -- genuine affection for the guy, simply because, after more than a decade of ups and downs, (while all of rock sometimes seemed to be going berserk around him), he has endured and prevailed..." Bob Claypool, April 10, 1977, The Houston Post. "Music: Bob Seger."
Journalist Steve Morse: "Seger is not your standard, ego-inflated musician. Nor does he give your standard, hype-filled interview." Steve Morse, Boston Globe, September 25, 1986. "Bob Seger Ready to Turn the Page."
Seger: "You can't put on airs around people in Michigan. They just laugh at you if you drive down the street in a Mercedes, or wear some Italian suit or something. They keep you down to earth." Steve Morse, Boston Globe, September 25, 1986. "Bob Seger Ready to Turn the Page."
Interests and Hobbies
Seger is an avid sailor. He is also Interest in physics and astronomy and has several telescopes at his cabin and home. [Thus the lyric "My old friend Sirius..." in I wonder and all the sailing references in that song and others.] At one point Seger had season tickets to the Detroit Pistons game. Seger's neighbors include former Pistons Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson. All three live in an exclusive community of about 750 homes northeast of Detroit. He is also an enthusiastic Red Wings fan.
According to Carl Wayne Arrington, writing in USA Weekend in September 1991, Seger lives in an 8,000-square-foot lakefront home with several boats.
"I just bought a boat, and I don't know anything about boating. And I got a big book upstairs about this thick that I'm gonna read, and I'm gonna learn navigation and celestial navigation and the whole thing....I've always wanted to get into that. I've written a lot of songs about sailing, not so much sailing, but just being on the water. I'm very tenacious when I want to get into something. I taught myself all my instruments, too, I've had no formal training." May 1979 radio interview.
He is a vigorous reader (he especially enjoys biographies) and takes an active interest in politics. He reads the New York Times daily and watched "This Week With David Brinkley" regularly.
Seger has read The Road Less Traveled repeatedly. "My favorite thing was where it says discipline is wisdom. And vice versa." Carl Wayne Arrington, September 20-22, 1991, USA Weekend. "Seger's back -- still smoking."
"I like to read serious books about quantum mechanics, astronomy, geophysics, and well, the nature of reality." Recent favorites (circa 1991) were: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings. And Raymond Chandler. Carl Wayne Arrington, September 20-22, 1991, USA Weekend. "Seger's back -- still smoking."
He is also a serious movie fan: "That's my only night out, really. So me and Jan go to movies. We go to way too many movies." ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."
" I like things that are clever; 'The Usual Suspects,' 'Pulp Fiction,' 'The Last Seduction' -- those are some of my favorite movies. I like the twists and turns." Gary Graff, October 19, 1995, Reuters
His favorite director as of 1991 was Woody Allen. "I've seen every Woody Allen film at least five times. Maybe that makes me a fanatic. Over the years, he has tackled the big issues: love, death, romance, passion, aging, the search for meaning. Whether by jokes or serious drama like Interiors, he always conveys wisdom." Carl Wayne Arrington September 20-22, 1991, , USA Weekend. "Seger's back -- still smoking."
Seger sued two Fort Lauderdale yacht brokers for defrauding him of a $48,500 deposit in 1986, claiming they took his money, but never ordered the yacht -- a 40-foot Nauticat Motorsailer. Seger enlisted the aid of Fort Lauderdale detective Leo Koloian to help him with the case.
"He said, 'I'm Bob Seger,' and I said, 'What do you want me to do about it?' " Koloian recalled. "You know, you get a lot of people in here who say they're somebody. He was just another person with a problem." Emilia Askari, May 2, 1986, Miami Herald. "Singer says brokers defrauded him."
Seger once liked to drive his motorcycle way into Canada, but he doesn't ride nearly as much now. "I like to jog, to be outside, work in the yard. I like boating. I do very little at night." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience.
"In July of 1980, I needed to get back in touch with myself and I climbed onto my bike and rode out of Michigan, straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, covering 300 miles a day. Jackson Hole was wear my back muscles gave out. It was an experience of renewal, but sometimes a punishing one; nearly freezing to death in northern Minnesota -- in the summer! --two days later having to strip down to just a pair of shorts in the 105 degree heat of South Dakota; roaring by myself through the Badlands, slipping past the Tetons. You're really embraced by nature and the elements in a way you just can't be in a car, and the vistas aren't chopped off by a roof or a sun visor...
"I'd stop somewhere once in a while and get recognized when I'd use my charge cards, and other travelers would come over and ask what I was doing way the hell out there on my own. 'Hey, I'm just like you, pal,' I'd say. 'I got too damned pent-up and had to bust out too!" Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."
Predicting the Future, Then and Now
1978: "I'd like to be more like B.B. King. become more sophisticated. Maybe I'll just make records after a while, write songs or produce. I don't know how much longer I'm going to look like this. Probably not when I'm 40." Jay Cocks, June 12, 1978, Time. "Hang Left Out of Nutbush"
1978: When he's 40 "I'll probably be producing records. I'd like to have some connection with music -- maybe just be a writer. I don't think I'll be performing. I don't think I'll last like Chuck (Berry)." David Standish, September 1978, Playboy
1978: "The popularity is going to wane. It always does. And I think if it does, I might be real happy doing a blues thing -- you know, with a little bit of rock, but not as intense, and playing guitar. Because I still love to play guitar. Having a band like Freddie, or Albert, when I'm 40. Still play for young people but not quite so crazy or so big. I think that would be a killer." David Standish, September 1978, Playboy
1979: "I've had the same band for five years...and in this band I have total artistic freedom, so I think it's very possible we'll be together for another five or ten years. I don't know if I'll be playing rock and roll when I'm forty, I really doubt it, but I think it's possible we could be making records or something like that, albeit I don't know what kind of records they'll be." May 1979 radio interview.
1980: Could he see a five-year hiatus like Lennon's, perhaps? "No, I wouldn't come back. Once I quit, once I'm off the road, I'm staying off. That's it. I'm going to be the first guy in rock 'n' roll -- and I've made up my mind to this -- to retire. No one has ever retired from this business, do you realize that? Nobody. Unless it was a forced retirement. The people who still can do it -- like the Mick Jaggers -- never retire... But someone has to sooner or later, and I'm going to be the first." Steve Morse, September 11, 1980, Boston Globe. "Bob Seger Runs Against the Wind."
1980: Being off the road would give him a chance to experiment musically, and he's looking forward to it. "When the Beatles went off the road -- I saw their last tour in 1966 -- that's when they really cut loose. So I might try that, too. As long as you're not locked into playing live, you can do it. But as long as we're playing live, that really enters into what I write. If something really won't work live, I usually don't use it." Steve Morse, September 11, 1980, Boston Globe. "Bob Seger Runs Against the Wind."
In 1986, Seger said he wasn't sure what he'd be doing ten years down the road, when he would be 52. He said he looked forward to getting away from touring so he could make "esoteric records, not things that are so mainstream. I'd like to be doing something like Albert King, still being relevant." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. "Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience."
A list of goals from 1986: "Get married, have a kid, settle down. Still do music, but not nearly as much road touring. I just want to be in the same place with a good woman and maybe have a kid. I'm 41. It's time . . . I want to get into the slow lane and experience the other side of life." Steve Morse, Boston Globe, September 25, 1986. "Bob Seger Ready to Turn the Page."
Early 1990s. "I think I'll always write songs. I may get out of the...making the albums and the performing...and just be a songwriter and let somebody else do my stuff. That would depend on what happens when I finally do have a family, and I would like to have a family.
"In a perfect world I'd like to be able to make records and be able to stay at home. I don't know if that can be accomplished. You've got to go out and do videos, they really want you to tour. I think if I had a child, I'd really want to be there." Interview on Later with Bob Costas.
1996: Ransom writes: "Seger thinks he's sometimes given in too much to his record company's not-so-gentle urgings to aim his music down the middle of the road. But Seger is now too impatient for such compromises. He expects his future output to be more edgy than the meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll of his past.
"'I've always wanted to do a progressive-period-Beatles-type record,' Seger confesses. 'I'd like to take it to another level sonically, like 'I Am the Walrus,' or 'Are You Experienced?' You know, just experiment with different sounds.'" Kevin Ransom, March 7, 1996, The Detroit News. "With a family in tow, Seger turns the page on his ramblin days."
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