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Country Singer Excited To Have Seger Opening Spot

Of the Oakland Press

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Lots of people are excited that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are back on the road these days.

But you’d be hard-pressed to fi nd many who are more pleased with the situation than Steve Azar.

The Seger jaunt has turned into a major opportunity for the country singer-songwriter, who’s preparing for the early 2007 release of “Indianola,” his third album and first in five years. Azar played seven dates at the start of the tour and comes back on board for Seger’s four homecoming shows at The Palace of Auburn Hills, as well as for all of the announced dates so far in 2007.

“The only thing I can say is this is the nicest thing that’s happened to me as far as my career is concerned,” says Azar, 42, who notched a No. 2 country hit, “I Don’t Have to Be Me (’Til Monday)” from his 2002 album “Waitin’ on Joe.”

It also helps that Azar, like so much of the Nashville music community, is a big Seger fan.

“He was a huge influence on my writing; it was him and Bruce Springsteen as far as songwriters I love,” says Azar, who was raised in Greenville, Miss., and recently ranked No. 4 on Golf Digest’s list of the Top 100 golfers in music. “To watch (Seger) do sound checks and watch him perform, it’s been a learning experience, one of the greatest of all times.

“And the shows are unbelievable. It’s going to be hard to do anything else after that, let me tell ya.”

Azar will certainly try, however — as he has throughout his career. The second-youngest of five children whose father, Joe, owned the fi rst liquor store in Mississippi, Azar has been writing songs since he was 9 years old and says he’s been writing himself out of trouble and out of holes all his life.

Influenced by musicians who played behind his father’s shop, Azar knew that was his career path, although he did get a business management degree at Mississippi Delta State University. The degree came in handy in the early days of his career, when he was playing 200 shows a year with a payroll of 10 musicians and crew members.

“When I was growing up,” Azar recalls, “(Blues guitarist and singer) Little Milton told me, ‘Steve, a music career is a career. It’s a lifetime. Most of your career is gonna be not so good. But the good parts, the good times when it’s going right, it’s amazing how little of it you need to make all the bad stuff go away.’ ”

Azar left Mississippi for Nashville in his late 20s — after blues legend Albert King told him “the Devil goes to Nashville” — and released “Heartbreak Town,” which Azar calls the worst record made in ’96. “Waitin’ on Joe” fared far better, with actor Morgan Freeman, a fellow Mississippi Delta native, appearing in the “I Don’t Have to be Me” video. (Another famous pal, golfer John Daly, guests in clip for “Indianola’s” first single, “You Don’t Know a Thing.”)

It was during promotion for “Waitin’ on Joe,” however, that Azar began having problems with a benign cyst in his throat, which forced him to undergo surgery in 2004.

“It was about the size of a quarter,” says Azar, who lives in West Nashville with his wife, Gwen, sons Strack, 11, and Adrian, 9, and 6-year-old daughter, Cecilia.

“For three years, I didn’t have the left side of my throat; I learned to sing out of just one side. So it was just great to get it out of there. Now I’ve got a new chance. I feel like my voice is better than ever. It’s a blessing to get to keep doing it.”

He’s looking forward to returning to the CD racks with “Indianola,” for which he wrote about 90 songs — although he says with a laugh that “most of them need to stay in the drawer, really.” Azar describes the album as “going back in time to my Delta roots,” mixing his blues and rock influences into his particular brand of country for something he hopes will appeal to a broader audience.

“I’m gonna let this record turn into what it is and be what it is without any boundaries,” he says. “Hopefully enough people will come along that will love the record and come see some shows, and we’ll get to do it all again.”

Azar is hoping that some of those people are Bob Seger fans who happen to catch his opening set.

“Just being around (Seger) is so inspirational,” Azar says. “The songs are great. The shows are great. His whole team is gracious and great to work with. The fans have been really good to us.

“It’s a great thing, man. It’s really a big deal for me to come into a situation like this and be accepted this well.”

Steve Azar opens for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band at 7:30 Wednesday (December 20th) and Dec. 28 and 8 p.m. Friday and Dec. 30 at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are sold out, but some premium seats for each show are being auctioned at www.ticketmaster. com. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www. palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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