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Rock and Roll Never Forgets: An Interview With Bob Seger

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A Conversation with Bob Seger

Mike Ragogna: Bob, hi. So, we're not only celebrating the release of your new Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets collection, but also that you're touring again. Which do you identify with more--being in the studio or playing out live?

Bob Seger: I identify with them equally. The studio is really fun because I don't make it into the studio unless I've got something I really like. I love working with different musicians in the studio, that's a real joy working with someone for the first time. Then, of course, the shows...I just love my band and crew. I get along with them great and that's a part of the reason I like to tour, because everybody is so dedicated.

MR: Considering its topic, "Turn The Page" is pretty significant in that you really turned the page and began a string of major hits immediately after its album Live Bullet clicked.

BS: It was really a turning point, "Turn The Page." We went from station wagons to jets overnight. It was wonderful.

MR: With studio recordings, do you try to take the type of energy you experience during live shows into your sessions?

BS: Sometimes. It depends on the song. Certain songs are almost like folk songs, which I love. I love folk music, and if you listen to Live Bullet, there's "Jody Girl," which is almost a folk song and I've always loved folk music. Quiet music, I don't try to do that with, I try to set a mood. But most of the stuff I do enjoy recording is uptempo, and yes, I try to recreate that.

MR: In your song "Beautiful Loser," you wrote the lines, "He wants to dream like a young man with the wisdom of an old man, he wants his home and security, he wants to live like a sailor at sea." That's how you felt at that time?

BS: Yeah, that's how I still feel. You want it all out of life--you want a challenge. I sailboat raced, I love to go out on my motorcycle alone, but I also love my family dearly. I love that aspect of my life as well.

MR: So, "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" was your first national hit. Do you remember where you were when you first heard it?

BS: I don't remember where I was, but I remember, "What an intro!" (laughs) That drumbeat is a hook, it pulls you right in.

MR: How about when you first heard "Night Moves?"

BS: I don't remember where I was, but I remember when I first heard "Night Moves" mixed. It's one of the few songs that I've done that I was positive was a hit record, and that doesn't happen very often.

MR: You have an amazing list of hits such as "Hollywood Nights," "Like A Rock," "Against The Wind," "Old Time Rock And Roll," "Still The Same," "Mainstreet," "Her Strut," "Shakedown," "We've Got Tonight," and "Fire Lake," and they've all become memorable classics. Also, you've had whole albums like Night Moves and Stranger In Town where every track got airplay. Did you get a sense as you were recording this material that it would get that kind of reaction at radio?

BS: Well, I was very fortunate. From the word "go," I got a lot of airplay, and back then, I was a fairly good looking guy too. (laughs) All of those things helped. My closest friends back then were The Eagles, Glenn and I grew up together in Michigan, and our goal was to get on the radio. So, at that time in my career, that was my goal.

MR: Nice, and of course, you co-wrote The Eagles' hit "Heartache Tonight." And speaking of "Old Time Rock and Roll" and radio airplay, you had a huge hit when Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton released their version of "We've Got Tonight." What is your memory of that period?

BS: My mother loved it. (laughs) So, that was nice, having a song my mother really liked. (laughs)

MR: (laughs) Before our interview, I listened in on the telephone conference during which somebody had a question about the Chevrolet ad and "Like A Rock." It didn't come up, but wasn't "Like A Rock" meant to show solidarity with the autoworkers?

BS: Yes, absolutely. The only reason I agreed to it--and I turned it down for a year and a half--was because I was over in a restaurant and an autoworker came up to me and said, "Why don't you do something for the auto companies?" and walked away. I was sitting there with my manager and somebody else and (I) said, "Okay, I'll do it now." That literally happened. I know they'd been wanting this for a while, and if I could help them sell trucks at all... For ten years, they sold a lot of trucks with that song.

MR: Bob, one of your great anthems is "Against The Wind." It seems like our country is in a period of having to go it against the wind.

BS: Absolutely, and you've got to be brave when you're running against the wind, and you've got to have conviction to make it through, and I think that's true. You can't lose your confidence and you just have to keep going, and know that you've got something worth while.

MR: I have to bring up another contribution to the culture that you made with "Old Time Rock And Roll"--Risky Business's underwear dance sequence. You know that like every kid in America does that as a rite of passage.

BS: I've seen so many kids perform that song in so many talent shows. My son did it in a talent show when he was eight with two of his buddies. (laughs)

MR: Bob, how do you maintain your rock voice over all of these years?

Bob Seger: I don't know. (laughs) I went to a throat doctor about five years ago, and you think the way I would sing, it would make it all torn up. They put this scope down my throat and looked at my vocal cords, and they said, "You got the vocal chords of an eighteen-year-old. Yeah, I'm just blessed to have this very strong thing, my vocals. I'm very healthy in that regard.

MR: Was there any performance that scared you a little as far as your throat getting sore or damaged?

BS: In Phoenix one time, 115 degrees outside and dry...that was tough. Dryness is very tough on the throat, it's better when it's humid.

MR: Do you use the throat sprays and stuff like that?

BS: I do, a thing called Alcholal, which is a gargle, and a lot of lozenges.

MR: Looking back at all of the phases you've been through in your career--from The Deibals to The Last Heard to The Bob Seger System to your work with The Silver Bullet Band and more, what do you see as the biggest change when you look back?

BS: I don't know. My friend Tom Petty feels the same way I do. He said it in an interview and I thought that's exactly the way I feel. Tom said, "We have a certain sound, we have a certain thing people are used to, and all we try to do is do it a little better each time." We have to be who we are. You're not going to hear me do a rap song, you're not going to hear me do a jazz song. We have to be true to our roots, do what we do, and try to do it a little better each time. That's my philosophy and that's Tom's.

MR: Okay, so what advice do you have for new artists?

BS: Be original. That's my best advice. You're going to find that there's something that you do well, and try to do it with as much originality as you can, and don't skimp on the words. Work on the words.

MR: Does rock 'n' roll never forget?

BS: It seems so. (laughs) I'm still out there, they're still coming.

MR: I wanted to slip in how "Night Moves"'s reference to your starting to hum a song from 1962 was Ronnie Spector's "Be My Baby." When you told Ronnie, what did she think?

BS: She loved it, and (she's) such a sweet gal and a wonderful singer. That Spector stuff was so powerful; I'm not the only one that loved that, I know.

MR: Nice. I so appreciate your time Bob, thank you very much.

BS: Thank you so much.

Tracks:

Disc One
1. Old Time Rock And Roll
2. Hollywood Nights
3. Night Moves
4. Mainstreet
5. Roll Me Away
6. Turn the Page - Live
7. Her Strut
8. Still the Same
9. You'll Accomp'ny Me
10. We've Got Tonight
11. Like a Rock
12. Fire Lake
13. Tryin' to Live My Life Without You - Live

Disc Two
1. Rock And Roll Never Forgets
2. Against the Wind
3. Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
4. The Fire Down Below
5. Travelin' Man - Live
6. Beautiful Loser - Live
7. Shakedown
8. Shame On the Moon
9. Katmandu
10. Little Drummer Boy
11. Wait for Me Bob Seger
12. Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey (Going Back to Birmingham)
13. Downtown Train

Tour Dates:
Nov 25 Baltimore, MD 1st Mariner Arena
Nov 26 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Arena
Nov 29 Worcester, MA DCU Center
Dec 01 New York, NY Madison Square Garden
Dec 03 Philadelphia, PA Wells Fargo Center
Dec 06 Ottawa, ON Scotiabank Place
Dec 09 St. Louis, MO Scottrade Center
Dec 10 Memphis, TN FedEx Forum
Dec 13 Des Moines, IA Wells Fargo Arena
Dec 15 Oklahoma City, OK Chesapeake Energy Arena
Dec 17 Dallas, TX American Airlines Center
Dec 21 Oakland, CA Oracle Arena
Dec 23 Phoenix, AZ US Airways Center
Dec 28 Los Angeles, CA Staples Center
Dec 30 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay Events Center

Transcribed by Theo Shier