Bob Seger became a musician at age ten, when his dad taught him to play the bass ukulele. Almost fifty years later, the Michigan native has sold some 50 million albums — none, to our knowledge, featuring his first instrument.
With encore perennials such as “Night Moves” and “Turn the Page,” Seger was an arena-rock king in the late 1970s, rivaling Bruce Springsteen as a dyed-in-the-wool rock & roller. Anyone who managed to miss him then could not help but notice when Tom Cruise danced in his BVDs to the singer’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” in the 1984 blockbuster Risky Business.
Seger’s career has had multiple incarnations. Before he hit the mainstream, his hard-driving Silver Bullet Band was a fixture of the same pre-punk Michigan scene that spawned the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. And when his song “Like a Rock” became a ubiquitous presence in television ads for Chevy trucks in the Nineties, the singer uncovered another devoted audience in the American south. Seger — known in the new millennium as Kid Rock’s hero — released his second Greatest Hits album last year, and he is now debating a return to the stage after almost a decade away.
Where were you when you were informed of your induction?
I was at home, just starting to watch a 7 o’clock NBA game, and I heard my family yelling and screaming upstairs. They came running downstairs and said, “You’re in the Hall of Fame!” They piled all over me.
And how did they find out?
Actually, we hadn’t listened to the [answering] machine all day, and my manager had been trying to get ahold of me. Kid Rock called first, then John Mellencamp called our mutual agent. And that’s how we found out. I did not have a clue.
When you were first playing the clubs as a nineteen-year-old guy, if someone had described a future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to you, with a ceremony where everyone wears tuxedoes, and that you’d be a member, it probably would have seemed absurd.
Yeah! Yeah, it would be have been mind-boggling. I didn’t know about the tux. I found that out yesterday, too. But I don’t care [laughs]. Small price to pay!
You’ve been eligible for a few years. There are some who’d say your induction is overdue.
Yeah, well, whatever. I’m in now. That’s fine. All that’s over for me. It was really nice of John, incidentally, to call my agent, because he didn’t get inducted. He was very gracious. He said he was very happy for me.
It’s true that James Brown’s Live at the Apollo was your model in the early years?
Yes it was. James Brown was my first huge influence — well, Elvis, Little Richard and James Brown. Absolutely. I used to go see them [in Detroit]. Huge band — three drummers, two bass players. Just the whole revue. I remember I saw Dionne Warwick on the James Brown Revue before she ever was with [Burt] Bacharach. The Tams, Bobby Byrd, all these people he’d have playing ahead of him. The energy was just great. It was so phenomenal. I wanted to sing that way. Then for the first ten years when I played the clubs, I did a lot of James Brown, and I tried to sing like him. And Little Richard.
So as a classic rocker, you come out of a heavy soul background, yet of your class, you’re probably the one that’s best loved by the country music audience.
Yeah, we’ve had some great luck in the South. And the last ten years we’ve been recording in Nashville. It’s just so much closer — the kids, I can still see them on the weekend. We’ve been recording (forthcoming album “Face the Promise”) at Ocean Way in Nashville.
Any plans to get out on the road? I know you’ve got a lot of fans who have been clamoring for you to do that for a while.
Well, yeah, they really want to see us. When we rehearse, I’ll just see how I feel. I mean, I am fifty-eight. The only thing I’m concerned with is that I don’t tarnish our history. It’s one thing to write songs in your house, and it’s another thing to do a two-hour show. I just want to make sure I’m up to it physically. And if I am, yeah, we probably will.
You sound like you’ve got a pretty satisfying lifestyle these days.
Oh, I’m very lucky. I’ve got a great family. I had that choice at age forty-seven. I was financially set, and it’s just been great. I watched them grow up. I’ve been there for their formative years, which I felt was really important. And now they really want me to tour. My son’s eleven and my daughter’s eight, and they want to see it. My son saw it when he was four, but he doesn’t remember it very well.
That’s not the typical rock & roll story. We usually hear that dad was on the road and the kids never got to see him. I guess it helps that you waited until you were in your late forties to start your family.
If I’d have been twenty-five, I don’t think I’d have ever seen them. I’m really happy that it worked out the way it did.