BOB SEGER and the Silver Bullet Band
Face the Promise
Words: Todd K Smith
It’s been eleven years since Bob Seger and his powerhouse support group, the Silver Bullet Band, have taken to the road for a coast-to-coast tour. Some never thought he’d tour again after a relentless schedule left him exhausted in the mid-nineties. “It was a number of things that brought me back to the road,” says Seger from the stage of his sold out show in Oakland, CA, “my grandkids’ college fund and Kid Rock.” The Michigan native made news last year when it was reported his label (Capitol) insisted he get a full physical work up by his doctor before letting the 62-year old entertainer take the stage. Known for his high-energy shows, the label was keen to see their investment pay out. That it has. Since hitting the road last fall most, if not all his shows have sold out. With a set list that reads like a rock ‘n’ roll jukebox from your local watering hole, Seger and band roll out a near three-hour set boasting 25 hits and usually two encores.
Face the Promise is the name of Seger’s latest recording and tour. 18th in a succession of gold and platinum highlights, it is a return to classic songwriting and for fans and critics alike, a welcomed addition to a remarkable career. History books tell us Bob Seger began his musical journey in the mid-to-late ‘60s. Influenced by early Stones, Stax artists and Detroit R&B sound, the struggling musician joined band after band making his way through endless bars, gymnasiums and hockey rinks. He played with The Decibels, The Town Criers and The Omens then signed to Capitol Records in 1967 as a solo artist. “Ramblin’ Gamblin” Man” saw his first regional hit followed by nearly ten years of weeknight shows and endless highway miles. There were other records, Noah (’69), Mongrel (’70) and Brand New Morning (’71) primarily local stuff with the occasional mid-western break out single like “Let It Rock” off 1972’s Smokin’ O.P.’s. They left little on the national radar and to this day, have never been re-issued on CD.
Then came an incident that changed Seger’s approach to his songs. “We were in a truck stop in Wisconsin at two in the morning with a bunch of salesmen,” he tells Classic Rock. “They were calling us ‘girls’ because we all had long hair. We left because we didn’t want to get onto a fight and become some police report.” The next night Seger is humming to himself “On a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha…” The song began to form as a narrative to a real life situation. Instead of writing in the back of a station wagon, a hotel room or a sound check jam, Seger took his time to develop ideas. “Turn the Page” started to grow legs, eventually become a night standard still making the set 36 years later. “It connects with people,” says Seger, “whether they’re truck drivers, businessmen or just someone away from home.”
Songwriting, storytelling and narratives became Seger’s stock in trade and by ’75 he had punctuated his craft with Beautiful Loser which gleamed the record’s title track, “Katmandu” and “Travelin’ Man.” His soulful, whiskey-tinged voice wrapped itself around his lyrics like a white Ray Charles. Seger’s friendship with southern California country rockers The Eagles was also taking shape giving him the confidence to break his show nationally. A number of breakout acts were recording live albums that year including Peter Frampton, Blue Oyster Cult and Robin Trower. Capitol decided to record Seger’s power-packed set and package it as Live Bullet. It went through the roof selling truckloads by the end 1976. Influenced by his friendship with Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Seger took some time off, locked himself in the studio and focused on writing and recording. Several months later he delivered the result of his labors to upper management. Upon hearing his efforts, they claimed he had just written a career-defining opus. Night Moves proved to be all that and more. Songs like “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”, “Night Moves” “Fire Down Below and “Mainstreet” made Bob Seger immortal and put him in the same league as ‘70s legends Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, and yes…The Eagles.
Stranger In Town with it’s chart topper’s “Hollywood Nights”, “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Still The Same” as well as billboard #1 Against The Wind featuring “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” “Her Strut” and “Fire Lake” kept the fans buying record and clamoring for concert tickets. They also kept Seger and band on the road for three years straight. The tightness of the group is played out in the second live record Nine Tonight (Live). Back in California, Seger stopped in to visit Glen Frey; they got to drinking, started writing a shuffle, called Joe Walsh and recorded “Heartache Tonight”. Then came the unforgettable scene in the 1983 blockbuster movie Risky Business. As a young Tom Cruise shakes his underwear-clad ass while lip-synching to Seger’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” - a nation demands more of both. But after The Distance the Michigan muscle slowed its wheels and Seger took some much need time off. Five years went by before the release of Like a Rock, then a movie soundtrack hit with “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II. Another five years before The Fire Inside and then four more to get to1996’s It’s a Mystery. All records were worthwhile but all missed the desperation and intensity that only the road yields.
Kid Rock showed up at Seger’s doorstep in 2004. Bob Seger had just been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Kid was asked to do the honors and usher the man in. The friendship fanned the embers and after cutting a Vince Gill track “Real Mean Bottle” as a duet, Rock had convinced Seger to load up the rigs one more time. For Seger, semi-retirement had given him the chance to build song ideas more slowly, carefully and completely. Revitalized, the aging statesman wrote between 40 and 60 songs before 12 were selected for 2006’s Face the Promise. Some songs were four to five years in the making, others like “Simplicity”, “No Matter Who You Are”, “Won’t Stop” and “The Long Goodbye” were written in the last year. All contain Seger’s trademark blues, funk, soul, R&B and rock mix. Like Kid Rock, Seger can do it all with precision and finesse. The Silver Bullet Band, including back up singers Laura Creamer and Shaun Murphy joined Seger in Nashville and later Michigan for recording.
The sessions included “Wreck This Heart” dedicated to the spirit of the Rolling Stones, a duet with country singer Patty Loveless named after a Bob Dylan quote “The Answer Is in the Question” and a return to classic Seger in the ballad “Wait For Me”. The disc hit stores in September 2006 with the tour hot on its heels. Saturday night, February 24th 2007 saw a caravan of eighteen-wheelers pull up to the Oakland (Oracle) coliseum as Seger and Co. arrived in town. When the lights faded inside, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” blared from a wall of Marshals in a fitting tribute to a band that covered Seger’s “Rosalie” on their Live and Dangerous LP. Turning a sold-out coliseum into a crusty old biker bar is what Seger does best. Opening with “Wreck This Heart” the band stormed through old and new songs keeping the focus on chest-thumping, emotionally-charged showmanship. Drummer Don Brewer (Grand Funk Railroad) swapped vocals on “Real Mean Bottle” and Laura Creamer stepped into to sing an acoustic version of “The Answer’s In the Question.” At times there were as many as 15 people on stage including a full horn section with Seger playing the ultimate bandleader. Three hours later, with his t-shirt soaked through, Seger waved goodnight, loaded up the trucks and headed north.
Website: There is no official Bob Seger website, however here are a couple good fan ones. Check out Segerbob.com and Segernet.com