OK…our article begins with a bit of a misnomer. What we are really talking about is the often deleted, cancelled or ignored early discography of AOR wunderkind Bob Seger. You know the guy; the maker of such banal music endeavors as Night Moves, Shakedown or, Allah help me, Old Time Rock n’ Roll. Seger’s post -1976 output has been a cross-section of everything that turned American commercial radio into such a sad, sentimental, corporate hellhole in the later half of the 70s. This indictment includes all the formulaic music of the period. From the faux country-rock sincerity of the Eagles to the heartland neo-prog of Kansas; these are the sounds that drained the piss and blood out of rock-radio. And (unfortunately) our Detroit Hero was a part of this unholy effort. Seger seemed intent to retire his music to a sour, compromised post-graduate adulthood. Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that it wasn’t always that way;
“I want to drive a Lincoln / Spend my evenings drinking / The very best burgundy / I want a yacht for sailing / Private eye for tailing / My wife if She’s a bit too free / I’ve been told ever since a boy / That’s what one aught to be / A part of the UMC“
In 1945 Robert Clark Seger was born at Henry Ford Receiving Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Just a few miles away from where my parents bought a house and raised their family after my father returned from the Korean War. And for good or ill, those sturdy, blue-collar neighborhoods are forever in the background of our little story. But more about that later. In 1950, Seger’s family moved to the more affluent Ann Arbor, MI; a up-scale, college town and the home of the University of Michigan. A community that would provide the aspiring musician with access to the vibrant cultural scene that was developing around the Detroit / Ann Arbor hud. Eventually, Seger became involved with a series of bands that achieved a surprising level of success for a young man still in his teens. Forming bands with his fellow students from Ann Arbor High School; The Decibels in 1961, The Town Criers in 1963 and Doug Brown & The Omens in 1965. Of course, then there was The Last Heard in 1966; a band and a sound that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Bob Seger‘s reputation and skill as a musican steady rising with each new endeavor; writing songs, lyrics and developing a vocal style that was beginning to get the attention he wanted. Each step preparing the singer to make the next jump forward. Accumulating with the The Last Heard securing a short-lived, independent record deal on Hideout Records in January 1966. Their unique brand of driving, garage-rock reminding some critics of fellow Ann Arbor band, The Rationals. However, there was something different about The Last Heard. Seger’s vocal reveals his deep affection for the soul and R&B music he heard on Detroit’s Motown label. Seger‘s vocal gave The Last Heard a rich, sophisticated edge over the competition. It was an edge that wasn’t always welcome in the “conservative” local music and radio business.
To adequately understand this last point, let’s take a moment to look into the role that racism and segregation played in shaping the cultural (and political) history of Detroit. And also how those “sturdy, blue-collar neighborhoods” first came into existence. According to the Roots of Structural Racism Project at the University of California, the greater Metropolitan Detroit area ranks as the mostly highly segregated community in the United States. And although some progress has been made, the legacy of institutional racism is firmly rooted in those neighborhoods. And that is as true in today, as it was in 1945 or 1975. Ever since the Great Migration (1916-1970) brought southern blacks to Michigan seeking employment and opportunity; the reaction of the white population reveals the true depth of racism throughout America. Instead of finding equality and justice in this northern state, the newly arriving southern blacks were greeted with an aggressive campaign of rules used to segregate the population. The federal policy of “redlining” was officially implemented with the adoption of the U.S. Underwriting Manual on June 1, 1939 . This policy required local governments to identify the arriving black population as “hazardous to investment” for business and investors. These redlining regulations (overtly) warned that “too many residents of color” would produce a climate of danger. Local and state government used the redlining policies to justify artificially constructed minority housing areas within a municipality. Redlining institutionalized racism throughout many northern state(s). Often rendering the blacks population invisible within their own city. To maintain this segregated status quo, a brutal regime of police harassment was unleashed on minority areas of the city. As for those “sturdy, blue-collar neighborhoods” previously mentioned; the institutional segregation was then exacerbated by the mass exodus of whites to newly constructed communities that surrounded the city; these suburbanites pledged to stay on the “other side of 8 Mile”. And “white flight” continued as a fact of life throughout the 60/70/80/90s. This combination of White flight and segregation effectively forecasting the economic and cultural decline of Detroit. The population of the city went from 1.85 million in 1950 to 640,000 in 2020.
Within this context, Bob Seger‘s embracement of black music broke an unspoken “norm” in the music industry; by incorporating elements of Motown and James Brown into his style, Seger took the garage vibe in a unique direction. But he also risked a backlash from rock radio and his own audience. This groundbreaking music can best be heard on those first singles on the Cameo-Parkway record label from 1966/67; East Side Story and Heavy Music both stand as Exhibit’s A & B in affirming the pioneering attributes of Bob Seger’s music to the “proto-punk” sound. His aggressive yet soulful vocal delivery is then coupled with the electric-fuzzbox sound of The Last Heard (Carl Lagassa on guitar, Pep Perrine on drums and Dan Honaker playing bass )personifying that legendary Detroit sound as much as the MC5, the Stooges or Mitch Ryder.
Despite the success of Heavy Music (and to a lesser degree, East Side Story) as regional hit singles, Cameo-Parkway went into bankruptcy in 1968. Bob Seger & the Last Herd then taking their misfit brand to major label, Capitol Records. A move that would further push the band toward mainstream success. Was it a compromise to move to the major label? Remember, Seger’s mid-western, middle-class background didn’t see commercial success as a compromise; success was the goal. The romance of poverty has very little appeal in most working-class communities. People make music for a large audience and Capitol Record presented an opportunity to expand. However, once Capitol became involved the band did begin to evolve; Guitarist Carl Lagassa quit the band and a new keyboard player was brought into the fold, Bob Schultz. And the new musical arrangement changed the way the band sounded; Less hard-driving then The Last Heard but with a more sophisticated, psychedelic edge. The band changing their name to The Bob Seger System in 1968 and jumped into the studio to record their acid-driven, fuzzed-out take on rhythm & blues. Releasing their first single, 2 + 2 = ? in January ‘68. The song is a distillation of the bands strengths; a tight musical and lyrical attack that spoke directly to the rebellious streets;
“All I know is that I’m young / And your rules they are old / If I’ve got to kill to live / Then there’s something left untold / I’m no statesman / I’m no general / I’m no kid I’ll never be / It’s the rules not the soldier / That I find the real enemy / I’m no prophet / I’m no rebel / I’m just asking you why / I just want a simple answer / Why it is I’ve got to die / I’m a simple minded guy / 2+2 is on my mind / 2+2 is on my mind”
There is no doubting the garage/punk integrity of this first major label single. 2+2=? takes the power of Heavy Music a step further. The music punches hard but now with the vibrant colors of psychedelia beneath an intelligent political statement. The words shouting an overt (and brave) declaration that Seger was choosing sides in a battle over America’s foreign policy. A message that likely ran contrary to his conservative, working-class audience. Unfortunately, the single did not perform up to expectations for Capitol . Although, it’s worth noting that the song did receive massive air-play in the Detroit area. That success that cemented Seger‘s local reputation and the track remained in heavy rotation on rock radio well into the 80/90s ; Jack White of the White Strip even stating that Seven Man Army was inspired by The Heard’s 2+2=?.
And here’s where our tale starts to take a bit of a strange shine; The Bob Seger System releasing several more singles, including another regional hit Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man in 1969. Oddly, this period also saw Seger becoming disenchanted with the music business. Frustrated by his inability to break out the mid-western scene, the singer seriously considered getting out the music business entirely. In fact, the next album, the Bob Seger System‘s Noah (1969), featured Tom Neme as the primary singer and songwriter. The album is a strange responses for a band still officially called The Bob Seger Sysytem. Only the title track (Noah) contains is a complete lead vocal from Seger. To this day, the Noah albums remains one of the most fascinating failures in the Seger discography.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of our story; by 1970, the Tom Neme experiment was over. And Bob Seger returning to the music business after briefly attend college. The band recording the final System album, Mongrel (1970) with Seger’s vocal positioned front and center. The muscular first single, Lucifer a declaration that the music was as vital and important as ever. Mongrel is full of great music and songs; Evil Edna, Highway Child, Leanin on My Dream, and Song to Rufus all mixing the swagger and soul with the garage that the auduience had come to expect . It was a sound that was becoming know as simply, Detroit Rock.
Despite the local success, The Bob Seger System was disinterraging; Seger losing interest in collaboration and wanting greater artistic control. The band’s internal politics forcing Seger to compromise the directions of his craft. It’s an understandable situation. In 1971, Seger release his first solo album, Brand New Morning. And althrough the record lacked the fire of The System. Brand New Morning gave Seger his chance to experiment with a stripped-down acoustic sound. Morning will feel like a disappoint for those looking for a follow-up to Heavy Music, Lucifer or 2+2=?. However, the record is not without it’s pleasures. There is an heartbreaking melancholic flow to the music. And it’s a clear reflection of the singer’s struggle to find his direction into the future. There is an almost amateurish quality to the recording that gives the music a strange reflective beauty. Finally, Morning hints at the singer-songwriter style that would propel Bob Seger into international superstardom. Brand New Morning is yet another forgotten alleyway in Seger’s career. Morning was then followed by the worthwhile Smokin’ OPs in 1972. (That is, “Smokin’ other people’s music“). And still better, Back in 72 release in 1973. Back in ’72 representing the last truly great album before the corporate slickness took over the sound. Partially recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Back in ’72 is a fully-realized Bob Seger record. But with the personality and rawness that his music lacked after 1976. The record even using the services of saxophone player, Alto Reed; a band member who would become an important part of the Silver Bullet Band later in the decade. But ‘72 still pulled ideas from outside the mainstream. Bring a hard-rock flame to tracks like Rosalie; written as a tribute to Rosalie Trombley, the music director of the groundbreaking CKLW (AM 800) from Windsor, Ontraio. (Note: CKLW was the 50,000 watts radio station that defined indepentant radio before the industry was consolidated in the 1980s). Later, Seger gave the song to the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy for their Fighting album.
Of course, Bob Seger would go on to record many, many more albums in the late 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. And occassionally, a gem would pass through the corporate gates (for example? Come to Poppa in 76). However, from 1966 through the early part of the 70s, Bob Seger was making songs and albums every bit a important as the lysergic/diethylamide rock of the Amboy Dukes. As vital as the protopunk of the Stooges and as volume-crushing as the Motor-City Five. In many ways, Seger’s early discography is the missing-link between the garage/psychedelia of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom daze and the soul/funk music developing in Detroit’s Black Bottom community. Below is a list of those albums that have not always been easy to obtain, even in the Detroit area. Albums that stand to document a hidden, neglected and deleted history of a singer that has not embraced his rightful place in the development of a unique sound. Why? Well that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Bob Seger’s longtime manager and friend, Punch Andrew has stated that there is no audience for the pre-1976 albums. So most have never been reissued. Nor have we had the opportinity to hear what gems may remains in the vaults. Which is all unfortunate. Think of these records as the Dead Sea Scrolls of Detroit rock music; a long hidden and forgotten history that deserves recognition.
Bob Seger and The Last Herd / Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967 / 2018: At 28 minute or so, these 10 tracks represent (almost) the entire output of The Last Heard. Bob Seger may be the quintessential heartland rock ‘n roller to many fans. But these Cameo recordings show Seger‘s true passions; garage, proto-punk, R&B, soul and psychedelic rock. We even get Seger doing his best to channel Zimmerman on Persecution Smith. The track foreshadowing Seger’s complex lyrical talent. Finally, Sock it to me, Santa needs to be in every good record collection. A Christmastime classic for the entire family? These recordings will suprise many who had previously included in the same sub-genre as Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar. There’s a lot more happening on these songs then tales of midwestern night moves. Grab this album while it is still readily available from Third-Man Records; It’s worth noting that one track from this period was excluded from release; The Hideout label had a tiny subsidiary called Are You Kidding Me? that released a song called “Ballad of the Yellow Beret”. The song mockingly refering to those that avoided the draft. The track has completely disappeared from any officially released CDs or LP. The song was credited to The Beach Bums ( with the lead vocal performed by Bob Seger).
The Bob Seger System / Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man / 1969: Here’s another record that was impossible to get in good condition unless you lived in the Detroit area. (Although, a reissue has been made available on both vinyl and CD).Ramblin’ pulls aways from the garge sound just a bit. But don’t let that scare you. This albums is filled with wailing organ fills, fuzzy guitars and passionate, soulful vocals. The music pushing more toward the music of San Francoisco psychedelia. 2+2=?, Gone and the aggressive Black Eyed Girl are all tracks that need to be heard by anyone who appreciates the MC5’s High Times.. Black Eyed Girl finding The System meandering into Grateful Dead territory. Only…completely different.
The Bob Seger System / Noah / 1969: Never reissued and very obscure. Noah really must be the strangest record in the Bob Seger discography. While certainly not a great (or even good) record. Noah a fasinating listen for those that consider themselves fans of this era. Why? Seger is almost not included on the record. Let’s put the record in the same category as the Velvet Underground’s final (sans-Lou Reed) album, Squeeze. We also appreciate menacing Seger on the cover. Capitol was apparently pushing the band to make Tom Neme the new leader. The contrast between Seger and Neme is an odd and confusing place to take the audience. Again, t’s not that Neme’s is a bad singer. He just lacks the personally to bring the songs to life. With just one song on the album, Seger still manages to steal the show. Although, Neme’s Jumpin’ Humpin’ Hip Hypocrite, is a nice slice of garage rock that is begging to be covered. Overall, the music is nothing more then a mediocre combination of garage and soul. Lacking the direction and personality that we expect. Noah has never been issued on CD and probably never will be. VG copies of the original vinyl are selling for silly money. Save your hard earned cash unless you are obsessed with the magic of Detroit. There is a bootleg making the rounds with the Noah cover art. The music is a useful collection of singles from Seger’s early career. Again, difficult to find.
The Bob Seger System / Mongrel / 1970: Mongrel stands as Seger’s best overall album. And you need a copy. The record just keeps hitting the listener with great song after great song. The single, Lucifer cuts a fresh hook that gives the music a unique psychedelic swaggering that only The System could pull off. Mongrel earns a special place in Seger‘s early career. Albums and singles that he has simply chosen to ignore. Bu you can’t live without the monster rock of Lucifer, Evil Edna, Highway Child and Teachin’ Blues.
Bob Seger / Brand New Morning / 1971: Another anomaly in the early Seger catalog. Brand New Moring is an album almost completely forgotten by everyone. And it’s a safe bet that this record will never be reissued on any format. BNM is a fully acoustic album that seemed very, very strange departure in 1971. Nevertheless, the album does show us another side of an important musician. And there is no denying the records sincerity, beauty and heartache. NOTE: I once met Bob Seger’s manager, Punch Andrews about 5 or 6 years ago and specific asked him about reissue of the early Seger catolog. And he responded with a blank look. So…I continued press; will you ever release Bob Seger’s early records on vinyl or CD release? And his response? “Nobody wants to hear those records”. Shame.
Bob Seger / Smokin’ O.P.S / 1972: Smokin’ O.P.’s is the fifth studio album by Bob Seger. It’s also one of the few early records in Seger’s catalog that has gotten a proper reissues over the years. Even getting a CD reissue in 2005. The cover art was created to resemble a cigarette logo. And the title, Smokin’ O.P.’s refers to “Smokin’ Other People’s Songs” or smoking other people’s cigarettes exclusively (i.e. never purchasing your own smokes). Most of the tracks are worthwhile cover versions; Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love? is a must hear (the Live Bullet version is better). And Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock is reborn in Seger’s hands. Both songs would remain in Seger’s live show throughout the 70s and 80s. The truth is, Smokin’ O.P.’s is a lot of fun when you are in the Detroit state-of-mind. A simple idea for a record that Seger escalates to a near classic with his voice, passion and personality.
Bob Seger / Back in ’72 / 1973:Originally released on the Detroit’s Palladium Records; a label owned by Punch Andrews, Seger‘s long-time manager. Back In ‘72 includes two tracks that will be well known to the world outside of Detroit. The song Rosalie was given to Irish rock band Thin Lizzy for their album Fighting. And the other is Turn the Page. A song (horribly) covered by Metallica for their Garage Days Revisted album in 1998. Metallica did some very worthwhile cover songs (Am I Evil or Last Caress) but Turn the page is just embarassing. Nevertheless, Back in ’72 is a fine, fine Seger record. Lots of heart and passion give the record a fresh, meat-and-potatoes rock vibe that still sounds good in 2022. The title track and Van Morrison’s I’ve Been Working are so good that they out-rank everything Seger record after his Live Bullet album.
Michigan Brand Nuggets / Belvedere Records / Late 70s / Unoffical Release: Here we have a compilation of Michigan area garage bands, mostly from the 1965-1967 period. For many collectors these Michigan artifacts will feel like a holy-grail records. The double LP set was released by “Belvedere Records” (pun on a popular local television commercial) and is overflowing with interesting materrial. The 31 tracks including many classic Detroit gems such as Unrelated Segments, The Rationals, The Underdogs, The Wanted, Human Beings, MC5, Amboy Dukes, Woolies. Then there are the “7 very rare Bob Seger songs” mentioned on the albums sleeve, including; Looking Back, East Side Story, Persecution Smith, Heavy Music PT 2, and Sock It To Me Santa. Most, but not all(!), of the songs did get an eventually released. In fact, the album includes the Yellow Beret single Bob Seger recorded under the pseudonym, the Beach Bums. Rumor has it that Bob Seger’s manager, Punch Andrew’s was “furious” about the release of this album. Original copies are very difficult to find with the album being limited and numbered #1 to #1000. (I found #247 in a little shop in Winsor, Canada about 10 years ago). However, there has been non-numbered reissue. Note: Strange to have Iggy Pop on the front cover of this record. He’s not actually featured anywhere on the record. Although the cover looks great.