The Seger File

An unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger Last updated October 2000 Edited by Scott Sparling sparling@segerfile.com


Career

Early Days

Seger met Punch in 1964. According to one source, they met while Seger was playing the Huron bowling alley -- which may or may not have been the same bowling alley that housed the Pampa recording studio.

Punch Andrews: "Back then, Pampa was in the basement of a bowling alley. We had to keep people off the 12th lane because that went right over the center of the studio and just destroyed the bass -- it would vibrate and ruin the session." Patrick Goldstein, Rolling Stone, July 29, 1976

Seger also reportedly met Doug Brown in 1964. Brown had his own group, Doug Brown and he Omens, and he was instrumental in encouraging Seger as a performer and songwriter. Brown produced and arranged many of the early Cameo-Parkway singles, including "Heavy Music." He later founded a band called Southwind and released an album or two late in the 1960s. In the '70s, Brown was reportedly in a L.A. band called Fast Fontaine.


Punch almost signed Seger with Motown. The Underdogs -- another one of Punch's bands; they backed Seger on East Side Story -- signed with Motown, and the label offered Seger a contract. In fact, Motown offered more money than Capitol. But Punch had friends at Capitol and wasn't sure Motown would promote Seger, given their long list of true Motown acts.

As for the Underdogs -- what happened to them? Did they ever release anything on Motown?


For more on the history of the Michigan rock scene in the '60s and early '70s, check out a fascinating web site called The Motor City's Burning, A Tribute to the Detroit Area's Rock and Roll Heritage, 1966 - 1972. Remember the Grande Ballroom, the Rationals, Frost, SRC, Iggy, the MC5? These and dozens of Michigan bands, venues and personalities are profiled in this truly great site, organized and compiled by S.M. Geer. Check it out at http://home.att.net/~s.m.geer/


Chris Cioe, writing in Musician Magazine, remembers Seger watching Seger perform in 1966 in Ann Arbor, on the front lawn of the Chi Phi house on Washtenaw Avenue. Seger was playing keyboard bass with this left hand. Cioe reports. "East Side Story" was already a local hit. Seger was wearing "skin-tight black jeans, a turtleneck and a blue, Beatle's style cap -- the quintessential greaser-rocker." Chris Cioe, Musician. "Bob Seger: Hymns from the heartland."

Cioe: "The first song I remember hearing him sing was James Brown's 'I Feel Good,' his voice already a riveting mixture of Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison and something all his own." Chris Cioe, Musician. "Bob Seger: Hymns from the heartland."

Seger: "We played frat parties, talent shows and the junior prom. In the beginning I'm sure I sounded terrible, but in all these early groups, they'd say,'Seger, you sing the black songs and we'll sing the white ones' cause you sing black.' Then eventually they'd say,'You sing them all,' and I'd come back with,'Well, OK, but then it's gotta be R&B.' So we did songs like James Brown's 'Think,' and 'I'll Go Crazy,' 'I Found a Love' by Wilson Pickett and the Falcons, Garnett Mimm's 'Cry Baby,' and Otis Redding's first single,'Shout Bamalama.' We'd also do 'Peggy Sue' and some Elvis stuff. I liked 'Hound Dog' and a few of his things, but not as much as the other guys in the band. I was R&B; I was a dirty white boy. Among me and my friends, the absolute favorite record was James Brown Live at the Apollo, Vol. 1. It was like, if you didn't own that album, don't show up." Chris Cioe, Musician. "Bob Seger: Hymns from the heartland."


After high school, Seger quit music for a year: "I had to get a real job. My brother went into the Coast Guard, and my mom and I just couldn't live off the money he made from that. So, I worked at a clothing store during the days and in a pizza place at night. But as soon as he got out of the service, I got right back into rock and roll." Chris Cioe, Musician. "Bob Seger: Hymns from the heartland."

The clothing store was Wild and Co.. George Wild, the owner, said Seger "was a good salesman, one of the best we had." Wild gave Seger an advance on his salary so he could buy his first electric guitar. Bob Talbert, April 28, 1996, Detroit Free Press. "Seger and me."


According to Seger, Doug Brown "got me believing in myself. I started playing in bands on and off with Doug, whose father was also a booking agent and kept us working. We'd usually do long runs at pretty tough clubs. One of the first was a joint in Howell, Michigan that was just fistfights and pickup trucks for days. Then I was in a band called the Town Criers, that worked long stretches at a bowling alley in Pontiac and at the Roseland Inn in Jackson, Michigan, a strip joint. We'd back up the strippers for three 15 minute shows a night. But these were also the gigs where I learned to go out and meet the audience between shows, so they'd get to know us and come back: "How ya doing? How's the wife and kids?' Meanwhile we were still playing an awful lot of R&B, 'cause it was basically the best thing for dancing." Chris Cioe, Musician. "Bob Seger: Hymns from the heartland."

"At first, my goal was to earn enough money to buy a motorcycle and drive through Europe. I figured I'd be out by 25 and get a real job." Capital "Leaning Tower" Internet Pages


Seger on the early '60s: "We were playing fraternity parties...we'd play 3 sets...3 forty-fives [forty-five minutes sets] and that's when I first started getting into it...[There was] no special reaction, really. Nobody would come up afterward and say 'I see potential in you!'" [laughs.]

"I had more or less, not really given up, but resigned myself to like a bar thing on weekends, at this point, when this friend of mine, his name was Doug Brown, said 'hey, come on, lets make a record.'" May 1979 radio interview.


Some Places He Played

Wampler's Lake Pavilion, which was more or less a barn. One night, writes ELowe90154, "the cops took all the beer, except for 10 kegs that got rolled into the pond...at least "Night Moves" got him out of playing venues like Tecumseh High School, the infamous Tecumseh Teen Club and that public health hazard known as Wampler's Pavilion."

The Roseland Inn, in Jackson, Michigan, once a strip bar, then a vacant lot, now a Red Lobster.

The Clark Lake Lodge where Doug Brown played for several summers before Bob.

Castle Farms, a little hole-in-the-wall outdoor venue outside of Charlevoix.

Wall Lake Casino in weekly "Battle of the Bands." My band, the Treble Tones, competed against Bob with a pick-up band and beat them. We beat the band he had but certainly not the vocals!

One place he never played was the most famous Detroit venue of the era -- The Grande. John Morthland, July 1977, Creem. "Bob Seger Conquers the World (And About Time!)"

"A couple things spark my memory," writes Jack Melling of Grass Lake, Michigan, "that Bob would have at least one new song every week. I loved the way he did "Get Off of My Cloud,"

Seger also played a lot of Spencer Davis songs: "We used to open with three -- 'I'm a Man,' 'Keep on Running' and 'Gimme Some Lovin.'" Steve Morse, Boston Globe, September 25, 1986. "Bob Seger Ready to Turn the Page."


According to Seger, the band would play from "Michigan through Florida, we would play Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, we'd go down to Florida and play, we'd go to Pennsylvania and play, Pittsburgh and places like that...I always saw that we had something. I always attributed our lack of success to...I wasn't quite writing songs that were strong enough to get on the radio...I was a good singer, I enjoyed singing, I enjoyed playing...and it seemed like a good way to make a living and I really didn't mind the traveling. It was kind of romantic in a way to travel. I saw a lot of sunsets, I saw a lot of stars at night. Looking back on it now, I can't believe I did it -- but then I was very young when I did it." Radio Interview: In the Studio with Redbeard for Against the Wind.

 

"I worked in Detroit. The Mongrel album was very big for about six months there. It was also huge in Florida. We got something like $15, 000 a night there, which was ridiculous for us in those days, because we'd go into Georgia or some place the next night and make $500 tops. And the club owner probably lost money on us at that price." Robert Hilburn, May 22, 1977, Los Angeles Times. "Bob Seger, Rock's Prodigal Son."

 

"We literally went from the bars to the headliners...we missed all the 2,000, the 3,000, the 5,000 seat places...we went from bars to barns. From bars to hockey rinks...and we went from cars to planes -- no buses. We've never done a bus tour." Radio Interview: In the Studio with Redbeard for Against the Wind.


A poster for the Detroit Pop Festival, April 7, 1969, with Bob Seger among the headliners.


Jackson

With the Town Criers, Seger played for 9 months at a Jackson strip joint called the Roseland Inn. "The weekends were great, 'cause the place was filled with [college] kids. But the middle of the week -- ugh, just salesmen drooling over these horrible-looking strippers who all must've weighed 200 pounds apiece -- really the end of the trail." Author? August 1978. Magazine?

The story of the gorilla lady always gets to me, mainly because that lady was...my mom. No, wait. That's not right. She was your mom. Or not. The point is, she was somebody's mom, or if she wasn't, she was at least somebody. A real person in some bad circumstances, making her money in a demeaning way, but getting up in the morning and facing the each day like we all must. In my imagination, I don't suppose she's too pleased that her story goes on and on, even though we don't know her name. I'd hate to think of her hearing one the Costas interviews where Bob and Bob guffaw about her, thirty years later. It's kind of like Seger, the way he winces over some of the stuff he put on vinyl in the early years, and no it never goes away. She wasn't a singer, of course -- she did a gorilla act, and she had the bad luck to be doing it in front someone who would become famous and keep telling the story.


More Dues-Paying Years

In the mid-70's, Seger logged 90,000 miles a year doing 260 dates a year. "We'd kick the hammer and go 300 miles for a single show, then drive back after the performance because we couldn't afford hotel rooms. It was sheer determination that got me through." Jim Jerome, July 24, 1978, People.

"Whenever we'd play Florida, which was my only decent market besides Detroit, we'd drive down there in 24 hours and play without rest. I must have done that drive 50 times. We'd stop for coffee and food, but we couldn't afford hotels so we'd do three days in Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and then drive right back. That went on for years. I'm proud to say I hold the record with the Bob Seger System for driving: 25 hours straight -- from Miami to Grosse Pointe." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker"

"Really for the first 8 years I was more of a driver than a performer: I spent 8 hours a day driving and then an hour and a half a day performing. But that was the price that I paid to do it." May 1979 radio interview.

"I lived with a bit of fear that I would eventually reach a point where I couldn't even make a living at it. A lot of records I made at that time were made out of that fear. They were also made on the run. I'd do the backing tracks one day, go in a week later and do the vocals, return two weeks later and try to put it all together. We did so many dates...200, 250 a year. From '66 to '70, we never had a vacation. Not even one day off." Robert Hilburn, May 22, 1977, Los Angeles Times. "Bob Seger, Rock's Prodigal Son."


The story I remember most from these years comes from Jesse -- I'm not sure where he read or heard it. Seger and the band were heading to a gig in mid-winter, driving a beat up station wagon with no windshield, headed for whatever bar Punch had booked them into. But it was so damn cold with the snow and wind blowing in, they finally turned around and missed the gig on purpose. They told Punch they couldn't find the place.

What's fascinating is the sheer determination that would send you out in those circumstances -- but even more telling is the necessity for the lie at the end. It says that giving up is the one thing that can never be admitted. . So you cover it up by saying, 'hey, we tried; we couldn't find the place.' You can admit to being lost, (which for men is akin to admitting to being stupid) but you can never admit that you gave up, even under the most severe circumstances, even for a minute.


"I was a one-shot artist, with a bad name. I had to live that down. I had to live down the fact that I did 'Gamblin' Man,' the big hit that everybody still likes, and then never had anything. Never could follow it up for so many years." Lowell Cauffiel, Cream Magazine, August 1976

"I couldn't cope with this tremendous hope that I kept building up, and then have it dashed." Timothy White, May 1, 1980, Rolling Stone. "The Fire This Time"

Frey came over to his house in 1974 to listen to the Beautiful Loser tapes, around the time of the On the Border album. "Just knowing Frey, knowing someone in the industry who would talk to me, meant so much. I told him a hundred times when we were drunk in a bar, 'Man, you really pulled me out.' But I also remember I got drunk one night when we were sitting around in a hotel room, and I blurted out, 'I'm gonna catch you fuckers.' Henley just sort of looked at me, and Frey looked at me too, but Frey didn't care. He knew what I was feeling." Timothy White, May 1, 1980, Rolling Stone. "The Fire This Time"

[That expression, 'you really pulled me out?' What does that refer to, literally: being pulled out of a fire?]

"It's tough to explain, but you know, I was really thrilled that he would keep the lines of communication open. But I was always incredibly envious to the point where I almost hated him." Timothy White, May 1, 1980, Rolling Stone. "The Fire This Time"


TruckMainMenuCareer, Misc.
 
Do ya do ya do ya wanna roll? Send your fond dreams, lost hopes, bittersweet regrets, half-remembered stories, rejoinders, rebuttals, questions, comments, corrections and contributions to:
sparling@segerfile.com