10 Years Ago: Bob Seger Gets Back on the Road After a Decade Away
On June 17, 1996, at the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band closed their show with the immortal and glorious “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” from Night Moves. Maybe it was irony, maybe it was habit (Seger ends most of his concerts with the song), but the tune fit. The gig would be the Silver Bullet Band’s last show for more than a decade.
Oddly enough, Seger had just returned from a long period of touring inactivity. The 1995 release, It’s a Mystery, was a flop -- the album reached only No. 27 on the Billboard 200, his lowest charting LP in nearly 20 years. But its tour packed stadiums.
At that final show in Ohio, Seger told the Cincinnati Post that he had loved his return to the road. “It feels great," the 50-year-old singer said. "I can't say enough about how good it feels to have fans that are that loyal.”
But after the tour wrapped, Seger retreated back to Michigan for 10 years of family life -- no shows, no albums. “I took about a nine-year period to raise my kids,” he told the Contra Costa Times last year. “It was just really important to me to not [leave] my wife with the whole thing. And to go to all the things that you go to, whether it is cheerleading practice or marching-band practice or games or birthdays -- the whole nine yards. I just wanted to be there for that.”
It was Garth Brooks who got Seger back on the road. Brooks didn’t push Seger. He didn’t even know the influence he had on Seger. Brooks asked his hero to sing at his Country Music Hall of Fame induction in Nashville. Afterward, Seger mention to Brooks’ wife, Trisha Yearwood, that her husband would want to hit the road after winning the award. And sure enough, Brooks ended his live hiatus to become a monster concert draw once more.
“The same thing kind of happened to me,” Seger said. “I went in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, then I started thinking about [touring]. Then my kids said, ‘Yeah, we want to see you [perform]. We’ve never seen you.’”
The kids got their wish on Nov. 8, 2006, when Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band stepped onstage at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (The 12,000 tickets sold out in six minutes.)
Seger opened with “Roll Me Away.” He also dug into catalog gems, new songs from the just-released Face the Promise LP and even Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” And, of course, he closed the night with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”
“On the opening night of a tour that will take him across the country, the 61-year-old Detroit native tapped deep wells of nostalgia without lapsing into schmaltz,” Detroit Free Press pop critic Brian McCollum wrote. “It was an evening that felt easygoing but purposeful, a comeback that felt triumphant.”
One hometown fan, Judy Fetterhoff, topped that: “I've always loved him. I got my tickets on eBay. I paid double and it’s worth every penny. Bob Seger is an icon.”
Then in his fourth decade of touring, Seger still sung “Turn the Page,” but the lyrics didn’t quite hit with the same truth. For his first tour as a senior citizen, he was happy to play the star again; it was riding a bus for 16 hours and being strung out from the road that he was done with.
“At my age, we're not doing shows back-to-back anymore,” Seger told me from his Michigan home in the middle of that tour. “And I fly home in between shows to be with my family. My family is my top priority now. You know my wife loves staying in hotels, she gets excited, but I can’t stand ‘em. I'm always the grinch who just wants to be home in my own bed."
During the 30 years between scoring his first regional hit in 1966 with “East Side Story” and his commercial cooling off with It’s a Mystery, Seger spent few nights in his own bed. By the late ‘70s, the Silver Bullet Band was selling out arenas nationwide.
When he finally started raising a family, he needed a long break. Yet he never stopped writing, and most of his comeback album, Face the Promise, was written long before its 2006 release. And it was only when the album became a surprise hit and went platinum that concert promoters came calling.
“It was time,” Seger said. “It had been long enough. We needed to hit the road.”
What was still the same about Seger's return to the stage in 2006? Most of his band. “I can't believe it but a lot of these are the guys I've been playing with since the old days,” he told me then. “Chris Campbell's been on bass since '69. Alto Reed's been on sax since '72. I picked up Craig Frost on keyboards from Grand Funk Railroad in '80. And the girls have been around forever. Both Shaun Murphy and Laura Creamer have sung every background vocal on just about every record I've done. Laura even sung on ‘Ramblin' Gamblin’ Man’ in '69."
The tour crisscrossed the country over four dozen dates and just as many sellouts. It wound down on March 18, 2007, back at home at Cobo Arena in Detroit. The last song? You guessed it: “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”
Naturally, there were rumors it would the band’s last stand. Rumors that were fanned by Seger mid-tour. “I wanna stop when people still like us. So this could be the last one,” he told me. “Also, at my age, it takes a lot of work to put this together. We were rehearsing six hours a day for weeks. I was singing all the time. Alto was playing all the time. Chris and Craig and everyone was working so hard to bring the sound up to tour level. I don't know if that's something I wanna do again.”
Thankfully, Seger can’t seem to quit the road. Last year, he revealed that he wants to release an LP titled I Knew You When of updated, unreleased songs and mount at least one final tour.
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