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Bob Seger Heavy Music

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i i I know 've never been the best: Never quite kept up with the rest. But someday, you 'II see, 11 reach that crest. Someday. --From Smokin ' OPs by Bob Seger The midwest has had a great many fine and energetic rock 'n' roll bands emerge from its area -- from the blues bands like Paul Butterfield and Siegel-Schwall to the innovative acts like the Flock and Litter, in addition to powerhouse bands like the MC5, Wilderness Road, Dust, REO Speedwagon, Mountain Bus, and the Stooges. But no one of those bands, or any ot the others that come to mind, is so determined, talented, or graced with such a gift of happy permanence as the band, and act, and the group called "the Midwest's Best" -Bob Seger. As he's introduced onstage and the set begins, the crowd is confronted with a man that's self-assured with a confidence that betrays more than a little pride. But this atmosphere -- of a professionalism that many times has been equated with a star trip or an aloofness from the audiences -- breaks down the old stereotypes of artist-audience relationships and interaction. Seger's close relationship with his audience isn't the kind where bad jokes and "personal" insights between songs insult the audience, nor is it the cheerleader type. where the band leader will shrilly scream, "Can ya feel it?!" and come off so insincere it's embarassing. No, Bob Seger shows an audience the genuine performer with his sincere emotions. He smiled easily and laughed as he sat down in the well-lit but seamy and dingy basement of the hall, being interviewed for the umpteenth time. We travelled back and reminisced a bit about his old days (he's only twenty-eight now) with the Michigan teen clubs and early rock bars and his band then, The Last Heard. Perhaps this background had been the influence that helped Seger form his musical character and his stage (and offstage) presence. When a singer in a band in those days played for an audience, it was just unnatural to be presvmptuous or "above" the crowd, because the people who hung out at the teen clubs were also in your study hall in school. Still, Seger got a respectable single out around then, in 1964, called "East Side Story." It was a tune of fidelity and love that endured being parted by death, and was a modest hit on Cameo-Parkway records. "I was trying to get a hit. I'd been writing songs about. .oh, heil, eight years before that. I was young, and I was trying to think of something that would have a lyric in it. I was into the Yardbirds - their style a lot -- and some folk music. A lot of people die in folkmusic." So Seger was on his way, or so it seemed to him and his loyal fans and followers and radio listeners. But the hit, which was selling very well in Detroit, Chicago, and much of the Midwest radio music area, was ignored by nationwide coverage or larger area play. This was merely a hint of some of the strange situations that Seger would find himself embroiled in - being virtually victimized not only by relatively slow sales, but by his record company. Unlike "East Side Story", which was a pubescent romantic tragedy, Seger later released a Dylan-like cultural comment -- one of his first culture oriented tunes - about a young freek and his hassles and struggles called "Persecution Smith," and followed its moderate success with one of the early definitive songs about rock, "Heavy Music." With "Heavy Music." Seger ran into the formidable brick wall of resistence that he would run into repeatedly afterwards -- the wrath (or disinterest) of the music industry. In Seger's voice one can detect an almost kindred understanding of the industry's suppression of his songs, his records, his music. "They told me the lyrics were dirty -- the 'goin' deeper' part, vocals were too hard to understand. So, they just thought it was too. ..too raucous. Too rambunctious." Unfortunately, even though the singles were great successes in the Midwest ("Heavy Music" sold 66,000 in Detroit alone), Seger hadn't broken the national chartsyet. Even more unfortunately, he was never paid for any of the 45 's he made because the label they were on, Cameo-Parkway (of ? and the Mysterians and Terry Knight & the Pack notoriety), went bankrupt and folded. "They just kinda faded into the 'zone." Capitol Records picked up Seger in a hurried sweep to get these "new artists from Michigan" (they got no one else), and gave him a contract ot total artistic control, leeway, and freedom that included his LP schedule, arrangements, 45 releases, covers, and bands. His first release for Capitol was one of the first non-folk anti-war songs ever, "2 & 2 Equals ?" What happened to this tune? Did Capitol sit on it, or did DJ's and program directors lose it? "Heavy Music" was hidden and forgotten for its "suggestive" lyrics, and was effectively kept from many people until its re-release on Seger 's own label much later. What happened to "2 & 2 Equals ?"? "Well, about the same thing. They wouldn't play it. 1967 was a relatively patriotic year, and things hadn't started cookin' yet -- in terms of' the Movement." But in ] 969, the year of the Moratorium and a landslide of acceptable and nonviolent public anti-war feelings, Capítol released "2 & 2 Equals ?" as an oldie, perhaps reconsidering their strong moral objections to the song in view of the possible profits at hand. Finally, after tries again and again, Seger hit and hit big with "RamblirtS-Gamblin' Man." With a history of failure at the hands of the industry, Seger must've been wary of trying again, of even bothering to write it, let alone record it and release it. "No, I knew it wasgoing to be a hit the day I wrote it. Recorded it the next day." Capítol, however, didn't promote it very well, it just didn't sit on this one. In explaining its success, Seger could only grin and say it again, 'it was a hit," and shrug smiling. "It wasn't 'dirty' or anything; or say anything, you know, that went aj&inst the grain." I was raised...raised in such a hurry; I 've been hurry ing, worrying all my days. But now, that I'm gettin ' older, 1 think I'm learnin ' to run the race. -■From 've Got Time "A lot of problems came out of my own head, 'cause I just dont't want to release something that is nothing, says nothing, does nothing. Most of my singles have been something, y'know; topicaL.or sexual. ..or have been something. I'm always seeing what I can get played. I dare people to play my records." On the mention ofNoah, an album where Seger apparently lost control of his own creations and band, he openly shudders and shivers, regretting its existence because of his loss of control -- by default, An ambitious and aspiring guitarist, not Capítol, was responsible for the songs and arrangements, trying to build up a rep for himself. "I was leaving the group; going to college and trying to get another band together, and the rest of the System recorded it. Our manager thought it would be nice of me, since I was leaving the group, to let them use my name so they could sell the album and get some gigs as just 'The System.' The next thing I knew they delved into some old pictures -- really old - and put them on the front and back cover, which I didn't dig; I got rid of most of that band as a result, I kept the drummer. Got a raw deal. "There was one new number on the album, "Noah", just a hareained tune that I wrote to see if the radio would play a song that meant absolutely nothing. The only other songs that I was even on were two outtakes from the Ramblin ' blin 'Man LP. 'Noah's' lyrics were completely incoherent, but the stations piayed it - it was a hit. People were telling me what it was about, and I'd say, 'Yeah, right, that's what it's about.' 1 had other singles 1 could've used, but they were weird. 'Death Row' was bout being on death row. And that was really weird. People'd even say to me, "Man, that's weird." in her Venus Eyes' is about a hooker, and that was really weird, so we didn't put those out, Instead, we put out 'Noah', the really dumb one. "We used to go on TV too, and we were so unknown - we still are -- that we used to go on TV and the drummer would lip sync lead vocals, and he'dbe Bob Seger. I'd play bass, and the bass player'd play drums, switchin' around. Y'know, dance party shows in Somewhereville, USA." After Seger had formed a new band and lived down his personal embarassment from Noah he released Mongrel, an album totally about the culture, as "Persecution Smith" had been, only thematically tied together as a whole. When asked more about MongrePs theme and purpose, Seger seems serious and hard-pressed for a clear answer. "Boy! That's hard to explain. It was actually an anti-culture record in the sense that I thought that the people were getting pretty apathetic. So we did a cord thal was a kind of slam at ourselves - at longhairs. Not really a slam, more like just telling it like it was. It dealt with a lot of cultural -- longhair -- problems, being a mongrel, the traps we could fall into but shouldn't." I asked him if it was just coincidence that many of his songs are so direct and definitive as "Persecution Smith" and the tunes on Mongrel, or was it an accomplishment of practice and working at it. "Yeali, I worked on it; Pm a Taurus. I shoot straight from the shoulder." Most times you can 't ficar 'em talk, Other times you can. All the same oíd clichés, 'Is it a woman, is it a man? ' And you always seem outnumbered, So you don t daré take a stand. --From Turn the Page Was Capitol any more or any less helpful in MongreVs promotion? It would seem that the hesitance that they feit in holding up (or sitting on) "2 & 2 Equals ?" would be feit again in this record concerned with the culture, as opposed to the "safe" themes of love, rejection, poverty, etc. "Well, the biggest problem was that the record companies thought we were big original artists, and refused to give us the push except in areas where we played. continuad on page 22 Scgcr continued from page 17 And we could only play in certain arcas cause we weren't known very much anywhere else, and we didn't have any money, and it was like a vicious circle. We made a little money, but we had to do a lot of driving. The record companies force us to take up this hard road Life. The only real money I ever made was from royalties -- from European bands that have copped some of my 45's, especially in Germany and France. Mostly local-area European cats, like I'm a localarea American cat -- the rest of the money you make on the road, you spend on the road. "As soon as we got out of the bar circuits, we went into one-nighters. Yeah... for about eight years now. We used to do a lot more driving than we do now; an awful lot. Y'know, twenty-four hours to Florida to play a gig, then eighteen hours to someplace else and do a gig. We lived in cars, and it was rough. Rugged." Here I am, on the road again. There I am, up on the stage. Here I go, playin ' the star again, There I go. turn the page. --From Turn the Page "1 was burning myself out. ..on the road for years. driving. So for Brand New Morning 1 thought I'd say. 'Fuck it' and just sit and play my acoustic guitar and sing. I did, too, for about six months. Capitol didn't like that album because it was just too pure for them. They wanted to put strings and shit on it, and, in my typical maverick style, I refused." After Capitol's indignation over Brand NewMorning (although they did advertise it a little -- as "not at all like Bob Seger's last album, Mongrel, who some people thought was a bitch. Some may expect this one to be a son-of-a-bitch. but it's a Brand New Moming") Seger's contract ran out, and so did Capitol's patience. But rathéi than succombing to bad contract offers from Atlantic, Motown, and others, Seger started his own label. "Palladium's ours. We have total artistic control still. When we get a notion to release something, Warner Brothers distributes it for us, like they distribute Capricorn, the Allman Brother' label. Other companies knew my past history too well, and didn't offer too much. So we just said 'Fuck you,' and recorded Smokin ' OPs. We distributed it by ourselves. and it sold real well, about 100.000, and Warners made us an offer we couldn't refuse. ïhey cover all our expenses and give us $50,000 per album for three albums. It's a two-year contract, and we'll probably go somewhere else if they don't give us a lot more. "We've been concentrating on albums instead of singles; we've only had three singles in the last two and a half years. We try to put together a good album, and 45's never really did anything for us -- they're good to get your album going, but a single's a commercial thing. I could come up with a whole mess of singles, but I hate to record them because then if we do a serious album, the 45'11 hurt us. Singles are manufactured for the radio; they have a different sound. When you manufacture a single for the AM radio, you do it for a three-inch speaker, so you put a lot of highs in, and so on. "And if you record and mix it twice -- once for the album, some people will freak out and, y'know, 'I wanted the single! This is different!' You gotta keep things like that in mind when you're workin' on getting airplay, 'cause a few people ininfluential places can scrutinize your single and piek it or pitch it." She knows mime, knows music too, you sec. Shc's gal the power She'sgol the towcr, Rosalie, Rosalie. --From Rosalie A pattern emerges when talking to Seger of being so completely non-bitter about the industry and its habit of being so authoritarian. It's a strange reaction, but one that fits his personality of rolling (and rocking and rolling) with the punches. Seger is a veteren of a scène here in the Midwest that's young, but old enough to wear down performers with its long roads. few jobs, and an oppressive music autocracy. Bob Seger, however, reflects the optimism and idealism of his experience and of the área, and has no personal or professional doubt that he will not only be a maverick, but a successful maverick. 'Til then, in spite of allí 've done, I'll keep on reachin ' for the sun, and someday, we 'II be number one, Someday. The preceding piece about Bob Seger originally appeared in SUNRISE magazine last July, out ofMacomb, Illinois. Since then Bob has releused vet another excellent album on Palladium records, distributed by Warner Brothers, called "Seven, Contrasts." The single from the album, "Get Out of Denver, "is just now receiving airplay, so it 's unclear at this time if this one will finally get Seger the nationwide recognition he has deserved for so long. The SUN spoke with Bob bricfly during his recent appearance at the Suds Factory to check with him that this article stil! represented where he is at now. ' Ifyou aren 't hip to Bob Seger y et, give a spin to his latest LP or the previous ones, "Smokin' OP 's" and "Back in 72" then most likely you 'II be hooked like we are. (His next album will be ' out in July. )