Bob Seger is just one day away from wrapping up the 2019 leg of his Roll Me Away farewell tour, which has been billed as the final series of shows he’ll ever play in North America. The Detroit icon is 74 and had to cut his 2017 tour short to undergo major spinal surgery, but it was clearly a success because he’s played 63 arena gigs this year and, judging by his incredible show at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, he remains in stellar shape.
The set list changes a bit from night to night, but he never leaves the stage without playing his 1973 classic “Turn the Page.” The song was written at at time when Seger’s career had cooled off significantly after he found early success with the garage-rock classics “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and “Heavy Music.” He booked a series of endless tours as he tried to rebuild his audience, and the lyrics to the “Turn the Page” reflect his severe exhaustion with life on the road.
Seger originally recorded the song without a sax part, but just two weeks after saxophonist Alto Reed joined his group, they revisited the song in the studio. “Bob said to me, ‘I hear sax on this song,'” Reed told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I said, ‘I hear it too.’ Tom Weschler, the assistant manager at the time, said to me, ‘Picture that it’s late at night. It’s a black and white movie, like the [1955 film noir] The Man with the Golden Arm. There’s some rain coming down in the ally. You’re standing by a street lamp and there’s a light mist off in the distance and you hear this plaintive wail. What does that sound like?'”
Reed then picked up his alto sax and created one of the most famous sax parts in the history of rock & roll, though not many heard it when the song first appeared on Seger’s 1973 LP Back in ’72. But three years later, the song was re-released on the concert LP Live Bullet and radio stations began playing it. As the years went by, it became one of Seger’s most beloved tunes.
Here’s video of Seger playing the song with Jason Aldean at a CMT Crossroads concert in 2014. Alto Reed is still in the Silver Bullet Band today and he recreates his iconic sax solo from the original recording every night. All these years later, one note of it causes everyone in the crowd to stand up and start cheering.
Seger’s plans after the tour wraps up at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on November 1st are unclear. He left the door open for future shows just a crack by saying that this was merely the end of the North American tour, but he hasn’t played outside of the continent since 1980 and he simply doesn’t have a huge following in Europe or anywhere outside of America. Whatever happens, the people in Philadelphia will certainly see a particularly intense version of “Turn the Page” on November 1st. It may be the last time Seger ever plays it.