It took Bob Seger about fifteen years to become an overnight sensation. He did so with the blue-collar attitude that infused so many of his songs.
To put his long and distinguished career into some kind of historical perspective, he began recording a year after The Beatles sparked the British Invasion and conquered America. Bob was busy conquering his home state of Michigan, first with The Decibels, then with The Town Cryers, and eventually with Doug Brown and the Omens, with whom he laid down his first tracks.
His recording career almost got off to an inauspicious start when Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler threatened to sue him and Brown for a parody of “Ballad of the Green Berets” called “Ballad of the Yellow Beret”, a not-so-thinly veiled attack on draft dodgers. The record was subsequently yanked from stores. Brown and Seger split in 1966 but Brown continued to produce Seger’s records. Bob re-emerged in 1966 as the front man for The Last Heard, who had a minor local hit with “East Side Story”, selling about 50,000 records in and around Detroit. It made enough of a mark for Cameo-Parkway Records to sign him to a contract, but they went bankrupt shortly thereafter, just as “Heavy Music” was starting to gain some momentum on the local level and flirting with national success.
A year later, Bob landed a deal with Capitol Records, for whom he would record for almost forty years. He changed the name of his band to The Bob Seger System and landed his first hit with “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” which went to #17. Its success inspired an album of the same name, released in 1969, which peaked at #62 on the Billboard Top 200. Unfortunately, their follow-up album flopped, and Bob decided attend college for a brief time.
He was back in the studio by 1970, however, laying down tracks for the System’s final recording, Mongrel. A year later, he recorded his debut solo album, Brand New Morning. He found chart success again with 1972’s Smokin’ O.P.’s, a collection of covers, including “If I Were A Carpenter”, which went to #76 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A couple of years later, Bob assembled The Silver Bullet Band and hit #80 with “Get Out Of Denver”. ” Katmandu” fared much better the following year, reaching #43. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band broke out in a major way in 1976 with the release of Live Bullet, which reached #34 and spawned a moderate hit with Bob’s cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”. The album was such a runaway hit, Seger and company went from playing bars to packed stadiums in a matter of days. Live Bullet hung around on the charts for over three years. During this time, Bob tirelessly recorded and toured in support of his long-awaited and hard-fought success.
Night Moves is still esteemed as a veritable greatest-hits package amongst his fans. “Mainstreet” went to #24 and the title track reached #4. It also featured another Seger favourite, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”, and on the strength of these songs the album went top ten and has gone platinum six times over. Seger’s follow-up was Stranger in Town, which contained what would become four of his biggest hits: ” Still the Same” went to #5, “Hollywood Nights” and “We’ve Got Tonight” cracked the top fifteen, and “Old Time Rock & Roll” the top thirty. It was later popularized in the film Risky Business, when Tom Cruise lip-synched to it while dancing around in his skivvies, and has become a staple on oldies radio.
At the same time Stranger in Town was dominating the airwaves, The Eagles hit #1 with “Heartache Tonight”, co-written by Seger. He had been friends with Glenn Frey since the late sixties, when he produced Glenn’s band, The Mushrooms. As if things couldn’t get better, Bob’s 1980 release, Against the Wind, shot to #1 on the Billboard album chart. Frey and fellow Eagles Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit contributed backing vocals to “Fire Lake”, which went to #6. ” You’ll Accompany Me” and the title track were both hits, as well, with the latter going to #5. The album also won two Grammys, and it has sold over five million copies. Seger followed Against the Wind with a live set, Nine Tonight, on which he performed a cover of “Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You”, eventually taking it to #5. The Distance went platinum in 1982 and is best remembered for “We’ve Got Tonight”, which became hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton.
Bob didn’t release another album until 1986’s Like a Rock, the title track of which has become a mainstay on Chevrolet truck ads ever since. It too went platinum and inspired a tour. A year later, Bob’s first and last #1 single came in the unlikely form of “Shakedown”, from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack.
Bob took another four-year hiatus and unveiled The Fire Inside, and yet another four-year break before releasing It’s a Mystery, which went gold. A greatest hits package, however, was hugely successful, and has sold over eight million copies. Bob hit the road one more time in 1996, the fourth biggest-selling concert tour that year.
After this, he took a ten-year break to spend quality time with his family. It was only interrupted by his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Two years later, he returned to the studio to record Face the Promise, which debuted at #4 on the Billboard chart and spawned another tour. Later that fall, he was honoured to sing “America the Beautiful” at the opening game of the World Series.
To date, Bob Seger has sold about fifty million albums worldwide. His album of greatest hits has stayed on the Billboard Top 200 for a staggering thirteen years.
Bob Seger recordings
Feel Like a Number (Bob Seger)
Fire Lake (Bob Seger)
Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You (Eugene Williams)