With His Sixth Platinum Album, Detroit Classic Bob Seger Proves He Can Go the Distance
The Bronco Lounge is a beer-and-shot hangout not far from the Dearborn, Mich. Ford plant which still rolls a new Mustang off the line every 1.2 seconds. There are no Toyotas in the parking lot and no neckties on the factory rats who fill the Bronco on payday. Slip a quarter in the jukebox and you have a choice of half a dozen songs by the local hero, Bob Seger. Says Shelly, the barmaid, "I guess Ramblin' Gamblin' Man is the all-time favorite."
Seger long ago surpassed being a merely regional phenomenon—his latest LP, The Distance, has gone platinum, as have the five before it—but he's still Motor City's troubadour of choice. A Michigander who scrambled to the top, he appeals to locals who want their rock like a Mickey Lo-lich fastball: hard and with grit, not glitter. Despite Michigan's 17 percent unemployment, more than 60,000 area loyalists recently anted up some $12 a ticket to see Seger at five sellout hometown performances.
Part of the draw is that Seger remembers his roots. When he heard that his record label planned to issue The Distance on cassette but not on eight-track tapes, he persuaded the company to change its mind. "There are thousands of fans out there who still have old eight-tracks in their pickups or RVs," says Seger. "Times are tough. A lot of them don't have the money to get a new system." Familiarity with blue-collar facts comes through in Seger proletarian anthems like Beautiful Loser and Feel Like a Number, and in lyrics from his new LP. "I too am lost, I feel double-crossed and I'm sick of what's wrong and what's right," he sings in Roll Me Away. "I see people all around me struggling with new values and circumstances," he says. "To the younger ones, I try to relate like a big brother. For peers, I write about the mid-30s crazy period." For example? "The title of my record doesn't refer to running or making it all the way," says Seger. "It's about The Distance between people."
His concerns, at 38, are a mixed bag. He often refuses to sign autographs but has been known to spend 15 minutes explaining why to a frustrated fan. "I just can't be the guy they think I am onstage," says Seger. After much soul searching, he recently let go his longtime drummer and guitarist. "They no longer played music the way I heard it in my head," says Seger. Yet he has stuck with the same manager for 19 years, though they've been known to stand toe to toe and shout at each other. "Now we argue mostly on the phone because in person we start laughing," says Seger. And in what may be a record for a rock star, he's lived with the same woman, Jan Dinsdale, for 11 years. "Working things out as a couple isn't always skyrockets, but it's ultimately more satisfying to look back and say, 'Hey, we made it,' " says Seger.
Born in Detroit to a Ford Motor Company first-aid worker father and a housewife, he misspent his youth in nearby Ann Arbor, going to pot parties and chasing pleated skirts. "I thought about girls and forgot school," says Seger, who joined the first of a series of bar bands in 1963. He rocked, wailed and reverbed for 13 years (with a couple of months out for a stab at college) before scoring his first unequivocal national hit, Night Moves, in 1976. "I'm here now," says Seger, "but I paid a hell of a price to get here. Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it."
Well, it does have its perks, though Seger's is hardly a life of excess. He and Jan live on a 10-acre country spread 50 miles north of Detroit and frequently escape for R&R to such locales as Scotland, Alaska, the Caribbean and Hawaii. He also enjoys tooling around—decked out in a floppy hat and sunglasses for privacy—on his Honda Gold Wing GL 1100 motorcycle. Professionally, he is considering something "really experimental, but I'm not sure I'm that brave yet." Geographically, he's also considering a shift, and simultaneously hedging his bet. "I've always dreamed of having houses all over—New York, California, Colorado, Europe," says Seger, who by now can certainly afford it. "But I know I'll always keep a place in Michigan."
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