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Rochester Farm Once Served As Bob Seger HQ
Bob Seger has celebrated a fair bit of Michigan terrain in song during the past 43 years.
There's Ann Arbor's "Mainstreet," for instance. The "cornfields where the woods got heavy" in "Night Moves." Mentions of Woodward Avenue ("Horizontal Bop"), Mackinaw City ("Roll Me Away") and auto assembly lines ("Makin' Thunderbirds")...And the list goes on.
But a brief plot of Seger history in Rochester has never made it onto his records and is seldom spoken about -- a place he and others in his camp refer to simply as The Farm.
The Farm was indeed just that, a 120-acre spread on Tienken Road between Livernois and Brewster roads that is now the Brookwood subdivision. It was once a working cattle farm complete with a house, a barn and a lake that, in 1970, was owned by developers Bernard Head and Ted Pratt, who planned to subdivide it into residential neighborhoods.
"They weren't ready to put shovels in the ground, so they kind of dumped it in my lap and said, 'Here, rent the thing out,' " recalls Head's son Bob, who owned and operated the Spartan Inn for 35 years in downtown Rochester.
"All of a sudden Seger and his entourage appeared on the scene. I couldn't begin to tell you how they got my name or found out about it. I don't recall even putting an ad in the paper, but, bingo, there they were. There wasn't much development around there, so they could crank up their band in that house and it wasn't going to bother anybody.
"They moved in, and they had a fun time there."
That was indeed the case according to Mike Parshall, who was Seger's first tour manager and lived at the farm the entire time it was rented, from the fall of 1970 to the summer of 1974. Though it was intended primarily as a place where the musicians could rehearse, it soon became a communal-style hangout where the business and pleasure co-mingled without defined parameters.
"It gave us all the freedom we were looking for," says Parshall, who's semi-retired and now resides in northern Michigan. "I wish everyone could live a life like that. You're with your buddies, you can do pretty much what you want to do, there was music...
"That was heaven, really."
Seger's move to the farm came out of necessity according to his longtime manager Ed "Punch" Andrews. "They needed a place to base themselves," Andrews says, noting that Seger "didn't even have a car back then. I was driving all the way to Ann Arbor to get the guy, or sending someone else to do it...All the guys were so broke, so we just rented this little farm."
At the time, Parshall and Tom Munson -- who also worked for Andrews at nightclubs he owned such as the Hideout, Something Different and the Palladium -- were residing at a house on Pine Lake, next door to Andrew's parents. "We got along with his folks pretty well," Parshall remembers, "but Big Eddie (Andrew's father) didn't like some of the late nights we carried there." Having a ceiling collapse also hastened the rock 'n' rollers' need for new accommodations.
Seger roadie Gary "Ace" Gawinek, who lived in Rochester, first spotted a For Rent sign on the property and told Seger's then tour manager Tom Weschler, who in turn pitched the idea to Andrews. "It was $300 a month, with the barn and everything," says Weschler, who split the rent with Andrews and Gawinek. "We went and saw it, and it was just great. I told him, 'How can we go wrong?' "
There was one slight hitch in the plan, however. Andrews says that the musicians "were only supposed to hang out there. But they...moved in and started living there. We had to knock to get in -- and we were paying the rent!"
Parshall, Munson and Joe Aramini, another Seger roadie, hunkered down at the farm, along with Bob Seger System drummer Phillip "Pep" Perrine, who stayed at the farm even after the band ended. Perrine distinguished himself by suspending his bed via chains attached the ceiling and then cutting a large hole in the floor of his bedroom that opened into the cellar below; Parshall says the drummer accidentally fell through the chasm on more than one occasion.
Perrine's macrobiotics diet distinguished him from the farm's other denizens, as well as some other interesting habits. "Everything Pep touched in those days was spray painted gold," says roadie Dave "Dansir" McCullough, who's now a stagehand in Grand Rapids. "He spray painted his Jeep gold, his drum kit gold -- just the kind of spray paint you'd get at a hardware store, nothing professional."
Seger himself did not reside at the farm, living instead in Walled Lake and in a Rochester Farms apartment that Bob Head also managed. System bassist Dan Honaker commuted to rehearsals from Flint, and other band members came from their own homes.
Life on the farm, meanwhile, was "as wild as you can imagine," according to Parshall -- with dirt bike rides along a track on one side of the lake and Jeep and Volkswagen Beetle races around a gravel pit at the far end of the property, much to the chagrin of the gentleman who was actually operating a gravel mining business there. Baseball games were played during the spring and summer, and football in the snow and mud.
"In the summertime they had volleyball parties every other or every third day," says Andrews. "No one would say, 'Volleyball today!' People would just show up, and if enough showed up they'd play volleyball. That just kind of happened all the time."
The crossover with Andrews' nightclubs, meanwhile, often meant that bands playing in town would be invited to after-parties and jam sessions that sometimes lasted all night. That everyone's memories of who exactly turned up speaks to what else the farm denizens were consuming at the time. But Parshall recalls waking up one morning to find "these two albinos," Johnny and Edgar Winter, sitting in the kitchen, and Weschler says Rod Stewart and Humble Pie's Steve Marriott were also visitors.
"We had just tons of stars coming out to that place," says Weschler, who also designed seven of Seger's album covers. "Sometimes if a band's roadies didn't have a place to stay, we let them stay at the farm. We were friends with a lot of people who were touring America."
Richard "Krinkle" Kreuzkamp, another Seger crew member, remembers sitting inside a large, sliding-door beer cooler during one particular party, handing drinks to the attendees. And he adds that the scene at the farm involved more than just the music community.
"With Oakland University and Oakland Community college nearby, it was a melting pot of things under the auspices of 'This is rock 'n' roll, 'This is Bob Seger,' " explains Kreuzkamp, who continues to tour with bands and also works as a union stagehand in Detroit. "There were other cross-currents there, people meeting other people. It was very diverse, and exciting."
It was also isolated enough that the loud music, from rehearsals or parties, and other sounds of revelry never stirred any undue attention. "There weren't any neighbors at all," Parshall says. "And we were such friends with the police department, the Oakland County sheriffs who worked for us at the Palladium as security. They'd stop by all the time, too, so we never got in any trouble out there."
Madonna, however, grew up behind the farm and once recalled that "there was always loud music comeing from it" and said she and her family were aware it was Seger and his band.
Seger stopped needing the farm as he began to form the Silver Bullet Band and his business evolved to a different level. The property's owners ultimately realized their goal of building a residential subdivision, and a tennis court now sits in the spot the house once occupied. But there are still memories.
"It was a great place to be," says McCullough. "The times were like that, too, and made it what it was. It was like a once in a lifetime experience...and we had a ball there."
* Oakland press staff writer Gary Graff and photographer Tom Weschler celebrate the publication of "Travelin' Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger" (Painted Turtle) at 7 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 15) at Memphis Smoke, 100 S. Main St., Royal Oak. The Seger tribute band Lookin' Back performs. Admission is free. VIP passes are being given away by WCSX-FM (94.7). Call (248) 543-4300 or visit www.memphissmokeroyaloak.com.
* Weschler and Graff will talk about the book and sign copies at 3 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 17) at Barnes & Noble, 500 S. Main St., Royal Oak. Call (248) 336-9490 or visit www.barnesandnoble.com.
* The two will sign copies of the book at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Book Beat, 26010 Greenfield Road, Oak Park. Call (248) 968-1190.
at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Book Beat,
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