Seger started his musical career in 1961 in Detroit, as a member of The Decibels
, in which he met his future manager and record producer, Punch Andrews. He then returned to Ann Arbor where he played with The Town Criers
and then Doug Brown and The Omens
. With them he released his first real single in 1965, for Cameo-Parkway Records. In 1966 Seger sang on Doug Brown and The Omens'
parody of the song "Ballad of the Green Berets", titled "Ballad of the Yellow Berets", which mocked draft dodgers. Soon after its release Barry Sadler and his record label threatened Seger with a lawsuit and the recording was withdrawn from the market.
In 1966 he left Brown's group but retained him as a producer. As Bob Seger and The Last Heard
, Seger had his first big Detroit hit with "East Side Story", which sold more than 50,000 copies, almost all in Detroit. Another of Seger's biggest early hit singles in the Detroit area was "Heavy Music" in 1967, which sold even more copies and had potential to break out nationally except that Cameo-Parkway folded right then. Nevertheless "Heavy Music" would stay in his live act for many years to come. Seger's early work is hard-rocking and shows the influence of fellow Michiganders Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels
as well as rockers and R&B artists such as Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones
, John Fogerty, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Little Richard. During these early Detroit years, Seger became friendly with Glenn Frey, who would later become one of the founding members of The Eagles
In 1968 Seger signed with major label Capitol Records and formed The Bob Seger System
. This incarnation was essentially a Michigan proto-punk band not very unlike the SRC
or The Frost
. Their first album was Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
in 1969; the title song was a moderate hit, which made it to number 17 on the national Billboard pop singles chart, while the album reached number 62 on the Billboard
pop albums chart. The same album's "2+2=?" is considered by some to be one of the most fiery anti-war songs ever written, and reflected a change in his political attitudes.
Seger was unable to follow this early moderate success up; the Seger System's
follow-up album, Noah
, famously lost the focus on Seger and failed to chart at all, leading Seger to briefly quit the music industry and attend college. Seger returned the following year, but his next few albums were stylistically erratic, with 1973's Back in '72
generally regarded as the strongest. These albums appeared in the low 100s on the Billboard
albums chart, if at all. Seger maintained his regional appeal in Detroit, and built a modest following in Florida (necessitating many marathon drives back and forth), but to the general music world was regarded as a one-hit wonder. Seger feared that might be true, but his determination kept him going.
In 1974 Seger formed The Silver Bullet Band
and put out the album, Seven
, which contained the Detroit-area hard-rock hit "Get Out of Denver". Beautiful Loser
, whose stomper "Katmandu" was another Detroit-area hit single, followed in 1975. In April 1976 Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
came close to their breakthrough with Live Bullet
, recorded over two nights in Detroit's Cobo Hall in September 1975. It contained Seger's rendition of Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits" as well as Seger's own classic take on life on the road, "Turn the Page". Critic Dave Marsh called later wrote that "Live Bullet is one of the best live albums ever made. . . . In spots, particularly during the medley of 'Travelin' Man'/'Beautiful Loser', Seger sounds like a man with one last shot at the top." Live Bullet
began to get attention in other parts of the country, and became his best-selling album since Ramblin' Gamblin' Man
. In July 1976 he was a featured performer at the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit in front of nearly 80,000 fans.
Seger finally achieved his big commercial breakthrough for good with his October 1976 album, Night Moves
. The title song, "Night Moves," was a highly evocative, nostalgic, time-spanning tale that was not only critically praised, but became a number four hit single on the Billboard
pop singles chart as well as a heavy album-oriented rock airplay mainstay. The album also contained "Mainstreet", a number 24 hit ballad that emphasized Seger's heartland rock credentials, as well as the AOR anthem "Rock and Roll Never Forgets". Night Moves
was Seger's first Top Ten album in the Billboard
200, and through late 2006 had sold over six million copies in the U.S. Furthermore, it activated sales of Seger's recent back catalog, so that Beautiful Loser
would eventually sell two million and Live Bullet
five million copies in the U.S.
Seger followed this up strongly with 1978's Stranger in Town
. First single, "Still the Same," emphasized Seger's talent for mid-tempo numbers that revealed a sense of purpose, and made the Top Five on the pop singles chart. "Hollywood Nights" was an up-tempo rocker Top Fifteen hit, while "We've Got Tonight" was a slow us-against-the-world seduction ballad that not only was a Top Fifteen hit on its own, but would become an adult contemporary mainstay in years to come for both Seger and other artists. The final single, 1979's "Old Time Rock & Roll", was the least successful single from the album, reaching only the Top 30, but achieved substantial AOR airplay. Moreover, it would later became one of Seger's most recognizable songs following its memorable Tom Cruise-dancing-in-his-underwear use in the 1983ís Risky Business
. Album tracks from Stranger in Town
were equally strong, with "Feel Like a Number" being especially memorable for its raging powerless fury. Around this time Seger also co-wrote The Eagles'
number one hit song, "Heartache Tonight," from their 1979 album, The Long Run
, their collaboration resulting from Seger and Glenn Frey's early days together in Detroit.
In 1980 Seger released Against the Wind
; it became his first (and as of late 2006, only) number one album on the Billboard
200. First single "Fire Lake" featured The Eaglesí
Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, and Frey on backing vocals and reached number six on the singles chart, while title song "Against the Wind" proved to be the quintessential Seger mid-tempo statement-of-purpose song and reached number five as a single. "You'll Accomp'ny Me" became the third hit single from the record. Against the Wind
would also win two Grammy Awards. Through late 2006 both Stranger in Town
and Against the Wind
had sold over five million copies in the U.S., and were followed by the 1981 live album Nine Tonight
which encapsulated this three-album peak of Seger's commercial career. Seger's take on Eugene Williams' "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You" became a Top Five hit from Nine Tonight
, which would go on to sell four million copies.
Seger released The Distance
in 1982. Critically praised for representing a tougher sound than some of his recent material, the album spawned hits with "Shame on the Moon" (which also did moderately well as a country music song), "Even Now", and "Roll Me Away". But perhaps because Seger and his band was ill-equipped to exploit the new MTV era, Seger's album sales dropped noticeably, with The Distance
only selling at the one million copies level. The following year country music superstar Kenny Rogers would team up with pop singer Sheena Easton to cover "We've Got Tonight". This version was a world wide hit and was so successful Rogers used it as the title cut to one of his own albums.
However, Seger himself was no longer as prolific as before, four years elapsed since his last studio album before 1986's Like a Rock
emerged. The fast-paced "American Storm" garnered both pop and rock airplay, and "Like a Rock" became yet another successful Seger ballad, later most familiar to many younger Americans through its association with a long-running Chevrolet ad campaign (something Seger explicitly chose to do to support struggling American automobile workers in Detroit). Seger's 1986-1987 American Storm Tour was his self-stated last major tour, playing 105 shows over nine months and selling almost 1.5 million tickets. But yet again, despite all this promotion the album only reached the one million sales level, and this in an era when Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Tom Petty, the other major heartland rockers, were at the peaks of their commercial powers. Ironically, the following year Seger's "Shakedown", a somewhat uncharacteristic song off the 1987 film Beverly Hills Cop II's
soundtrack, became his first and only number one hit on the pop singles chart. Despite this, the era of Seger's commercial prime was now over.
By the time of Seger's next record, 1991's The Fire Inside
, Seger's brand of rock was completely out of vogue, with hair metal, grunge and alternative rock, and rap metal all taking the forefront. Seger still had enough hard-core fans to show decent sales, but his new music found little visibility on radio or elsewhere. A similar fate befell 1995's It's a Mystery
. In between, however, his Greatest Hits
compilation was a major success, achieving sales of over eight million units through late 2006. Seger did go back on the road again for a 1996 tour, which was successful and sold the fourth-largest number of tickets of any North American tour that year.
Seger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
on March 15, 2004; fellow Detroiter Kid Rock gave the induction speech, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm proclaimed that date Bob Seger Day in his honor.
Seger's first new album in ten years, titled Face the Promise
, was released on September 12, 2006. In its first 45 days, the album sold more than 400,000 copies, according to Soundscan. His supporting tour has also been eagerly anticipated, with many shows selling out within minutes. Showing that Seger's legendary appeal in Michigan had not diminished, all 15,000 tickets available for his first show at the Palace of Auburn Hills sold out in under five minutes; four additional shows were subsequently added, each of which also sold out.
On October 21, 2006 Seger performed "America the Beautiful" at the first game of the 2006 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers.