When CMT launched the prime-time concert series Crossroads in January 2002, the network hoped to include classic-rock godfather Bob Seger in one of the very first episodes. Seger was halfway through a decade-long break from the music business, though, and he wasn’t wild about pausing his retirement to appear on a fledgling TV show. Looking to keep CMT happy, Seger’s manager offered up another client from the same roster — fellow Michigan native Kid Rock — and CMT took the bait, pairing Kid Rock with Hank Williams Jr. The result was an episode that captured the onstage chemistry between a rap-rock hellraiser and a country legend, with both musicians swapping songs and trading harmonies. To this day, it’s still the highest-rated show in Crossroads history.
That may change starting at 10 p.m. ET this Friday, November 28th, when Bob Seger makes his long-awaited Crossroads debut. His duet partner for the episode is Jason Aldean, who previously teamed up with another rocker from the snowy north — Bryan Adams — for a Crossroads taping in 2009. The TV executives behind Crossroads usually aren’t big fans of repeats, but Seger specifically requested Aldean, and — well — the Seeg gets what he wants these days.
“When I told them I was ready to do the show, they sent me three names,” Seger told Rolling Stone Country in late October, after wrapping up an afternoon of dress rehearsals for the Crossroads performance. “I won’t tell you who those three people were, but they weren’t Aldean, and that’s who I wanted. I told [CMT] I wanted him, they called him. . .and everything just worked.”
Everything worked onstage, too. Performing in front of a packed house in Franklin, Tennessee, Aldean and Seger essentially joined each other’s bands for the evening, playing back-to-back sets of classic rock anthems — including “Hollywood Nights,” “Against the Wind” and the ultimate tribute to the grit and grind of the road, “Turn the Page” — and modern-day country tunes like “She’s Country” and “Just Gettin’ Started.”
Before singing about night moves and night trains, though, the two sat down with Rolling Stone Country in a backstage room, where they traded compliments, career advice and road stories minutes before curtain call.
Jason, you cut your teeth playing bar gigs during your teens. Those shows demand a lot of cover songs. Did any Seger tunes make the cut?
Aldean: A lot. I always had a big love for American rock, and Bob’s music was just as big an influence on me as country music. I’d do “Turn the Page,” “Night Moves,” “Against the Wind” and “Old Time Rock & Roll.” I think any band that’s ever played a show has played “Old Time Rock & Roll.”
Seger: I think it’s played at every wedding, too.
Aldean: Also, when we started talking about songs to do tonight, I was pretty adamant about doing “Turn the Page.” I started playing clubs at 14 or 15 years old, and I’d sing that song without having a clue what it was really about. I just thought it was cool. Here I am, 20 years later, and I’ve kind of lived that song now. I can listen to it and have a completely different appreciation for what it’s talking about: being on a bus for 16 hours, going to bed with your ears ringing, just coming down off the high of being onstage. You’ll pull into some truck stop somewhere, and you’ve got 10 guys filing off the bus in some little town, and everyone’s looking at you like you’ve got three heads.
Seger: [Laughing] That’s so true!
Metallica had a big hit with their own version of “Turn the Page” in 1998. Bob, of all your songs, why does that one appeal to people across generations and genres?
Seger: There was an Australian artist who did it, too, and he won an Australian Grammy. I think the song’s message is broad. I’ve heard from people who travel for work that they really like it. Truck drivers like it. Musicians like it. You know, when I bought Jason’s first album in ’06 or ’07, I loved “Asphalt Cowboy.” That song really spoke to me. “Running through the night unknown.” I love that! I did 12 years of running through the night unknown before I hit, you know? It’s a very, very vivid thing to sing about, which is what I was trying to do with “Turn the Page.” I tried to not play “Page” a couple of times, but that didn’t go over so well with the people at our shows. Ha! It would’ve been like Jason trying not to play “Hicktown.” I got so many complaints, so I said, “OK, I’ll leave it in there.” And it’s been there ever since.
You’ve been on CMT’s wish list ever since Crossroads began. You could have chosen anyone as your duet partner. Why Aldean?
Seger: He was always my Number One choice. Jason and his band have a great edge. It really appeals to me as a rocker. They’re country, but they’re hard country. I love that. There’s a lot of attitude. I hear them as a very brawny country band. I went and saw them in Detroit, and there was a sign someone had made that read, “Badass band!” And I thought, “Well, that’s appropriate.”
Several episodes of Crossroads have focused on some pretty odd pairings, like Def Leppard and Taylor Swift. This particular match-up feels more natural, though. Do you see a lot of similarities in your music?
Aldean: There’s a blue collar theme going on throughout his stuff and mine. A lot of it comes from being a musician and just singing songs about that. “Wheels Rollin'” has the same kind of vibe as “Turn the Page.” So you’ve definitely got those similarities, although a lot of it is just based on the fact that Bob was such a big influence on me growing up.
What’s it like to be onstage with another lead singer? Is there enough spotlight to go around?
Seger: I love playing with these guys. They’re a band. They’re so rockin’ and edgy. I’m having the time of my life up there. It probably looks like that, too, but I can’t help it.
Aldean: Getting to be around someone like Bob — someone who’s been in the business for so long and still has a love for it and still gets passionate about being onstage. . .I think that’s what everyone who’s ever sung into a microphone wants to do. It’s the goal. You want to have a career and do this for as long as you want, and still love it in the end. Standing up there and seeing him still get excited is really cool. That’s where I wanna be in 15 or 20 years down the road, when I don’t wanna play any of my hits anymore, either.
Seger: You know what’ll happen, though? Thirty years from now, you’ll be embracing them. You’ll say, “Oh man, I’m so glad I did those songs.” Because those songs stick around.