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Bob Seger Turns a Page

Rick Coates - October 19th, 2009
Bob Seger
Turns a Page

Travelin’ Man On The Road and Behind The Scenes With Bob Seger
By Thomas Weschler & Gary Graff
Wayne State University Press

By Rick Coates 10/19/09

Rock stars have an inner circle and those that are a part of it live by a code: “What happens on the road stays on the road.” Because of that code, at times it is hard to get the real story and some musicians have tighter inner circles than others. Bob Seger is one of them. For his fans, little is really known about Seger except what can be deciphered through his lyrics.
Sure, there have been articles and interviews, but Seger really has only bared his soul on stage. Those closest to him have shared memories in casual conversations. But the man responsible for forging the Midwestern singer/songwriter sound has remained more of a “mystery man” than a “travelin’ man.”
Now, the silence that has surrounded Seger over his 45-year musical career might be changing. A new book by photographer and former Seger road manager Thomas Weschler and music journalist Gary Graff opens the shades of secrecy on Detroit’s favorite son, although only slightly.

Travelin’ Man On The Road and Behind The Scenes With Bob Seger was released last week by the Wayne State Press. It features the photographic work of Weschler and is a memoir (captured by Graff) of his days with Seger. While Weschler was Seger’s road manager from 1969 to ’73 (pre-Silver Bullet era) he joined the “inner circle” first as a roadie in 1968 but enjoyed access to Seger before and after his days on the payroll. That access paid off as Weschler recounts in his book when Seger and Bruce Springsteen met for the first time.
In September of 1978, Seger and Springsteen were both performing in Detroit when Weschler received a phone call from a Columbia Records promotions person.
“He called me to say Bruce wanted to meet Bob, and he’d like to bring Bruce out to the September 2 show, maybe shoot some photos… I asked John Rapp, Bob’s bodyguard, to keep everyone else out (of the dressing room) so I could shoot some photos of this first meeting between two great artists.”
The book is chock full of insights and tidbits of Segers career and does a nice job of blending photos with Weschler’s perspectives. One great insight is from the night Seger wrote the touring anthem. “Turn The Page.” Then, Weschler shares a story about the recording of the song at Leon Russell’s home in Tulsa.
Anytime someone from the media deals with the Seger camp they must first go through Punch Andrews, Seger’s manager for the past 45 years. Andrew’s management style is legendary in the industry, and if it is to be described in one word “protective” would be it. Andrews has guarded the Seger legacy like a pit bull, suspicious of everyone and barking at those who have trespassed on it. But he and the others in the Seger camp were remarkably cooperative with this project.
Andrews told Detroit News music writer Susan Whitall (October 6, 2009) “I was pleasantly surprised. I expected a C-plus to B-minus, so I was stunned when I saw it. I’d never heard the story told that way. It was his story and it was great. I’m pretty proud of Weschler.”

Maybe this book will soften Andrews a little and allow for future books on Seger. Andrews made two key revelations in his comments to Whitall. First he stated, “I’ve never heard the story told that way.” That’s because no one has been able to tell the Seger story to this point. Andrews, you have lived the story; the rest of us have only been given glimpses of it over the years.
Secondly, Andrews states, “It was his story…” Yes it is Weschler’s story and a good one, but it is not Seger’s story. That is what Seger fans are really yearning for, the man who put Detroit rock and roll on the map to tell his story.
For diehard Seger fans the closest thing to a Seger biography is the Seger File. Compiled by Scott Sparling, this is the most detailed collection of Seger information anywhere in the world. I am sure Andrews and others in the Seger organization (probably even Seger himself) use it as a reference. Considering that 850,000 have visited, book publishers should be chomping at the bit for a Seger biography. Sparling, a talented writer, would be perfect for such an assignment.
Weschler’s book references key moments in Seger’s career. For example, he gives a brief overview (150 words) of the KISS tour in 1976 when Seger and The Silver Bullet Band were the opening act. Weschler only scratches the surface of this pivotal moment in Seger’s career by stating: “That tour changed everything for Seger” -- but the “how” is not answered.
Certainly KISS and Seger fans would love to hear reflections of that tour (Seger has commented on it in the past, stating “we learned a lot, they were the nicest guys and it was tough because their fans were so loyal that a lot of nights after a couple of our songs their fans would start chanting ‘KISS, KISS, KISS,’ but we eventually starting winning them over. I learned from KISS the importance of treating your fans right.”).

Bob Seger is a perfectionist; his rehearsals are legendary. At the beginning of the book there is a list of 50+ who have been a part of his musical past. Some of his former band members have spoke to Seger’s work ethic and perfectionism. It would be great to hear their stories and reflections as well. Drew Abbott, Seger’s guitarist during the Silver Bullet years of 1975-’82, recently shared this in a recent interview on the Omelette & Finster Show:
“Bob had expectations and he wanted things done a certain way,” Abbott said. “I came from the blues and jazz world of improvisation. Seger wanted his guys to perform the songs the way they were recorded and if you veered from that he was not happy. When we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies I was asked to join him after not being in his band for more than 20 years. Well this was the band he was going to take out on the road for his first tour in years. During the playing of ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ I went off into a guitar solo that was not the recorded version. After the performance Seger told me I would not be a part of the tour.
“I am not being critical -- that is just the musical difference between us,” Abbott continued. “He is a genius and very few guys have ever treated band mates the way he did. He shared everything equally, and what is impressive is he did it all with a handshake. I didn’t have a contract and to this day he has honored that handshake and that says something about him not only as a musician but as a person.”
These are the types of stories that will be in the next book if there is ever one. The fact that they are missing from Weschler’s Travelin’ Man is no way a reflection on his book. Weschler never set out to capture the definitive Seger story; he simply wanted to give a reflection of his time with one of rock music’s greatest, and his book successfully accomplishes just that.
With the help of Gary Graff (he has been a music journalist on the Detroit scene since 1982 and currently contributes regularily to the Oakland Press), this is a well-written book that will help conjure up the reader’s own memories of seeing Seger live or simply listening to his music while making out in the back of a Chevy (ie. “Night Moves,” Seger’s best make-out tune).
The photographs tell Seger’s story. If Seger didn’t hook you with his lyrics he would reel you in with his smile. Weschler captures Seger’s infectious smile throughout his photos. From a Northern Michigan perspective it is also great to see a youthful Mike Parshall (owner of the former New Moon Records in downtown Traverse City for years) pictured in the book. Parshall was Seger’s first roadie and traveled with Seger through the ’70s. Other faces that are familiar to fans include Abbott (a 15-year TC resident) and sax player Alto Reed.
Another highlight is the historical perspective of Seger’s album covers. Weschler played a role in designing most of them and he offers commentary on the concepts of each one.
Two great rock stars also share their perspective on Seger. John Mellencamp writes the foreword and Kid Rock adds the afterword.
Both share the first time they heard a Bob Seger song. For Mellencamp it was in 1969, when at the age of 16 he was traveling down the road with four buddies and a Seger song came on the radio. He had the driver pull over ’til the song ended so he could hear the DJ announce who was singing the song. Mellencamp writes, “The song was ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’… that night was the beginning of a long love affair with Bob Seger’s music.”
For the next generation of Seger fans Kid Rock sums it best, reflecting how “I’ve been spoon-fed Bob Seger from the time I was born… my parents would have parties and Seger was the soundtrack…he became part of my DNA.”
Travelin Man’ for now is as good as it gets for those looking to their hands on life inside Seger’s inner circle. Put “Live Bullet” on kick back and start “turning the pages” and enjoy the trip down memory lane, you won’t regret.

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