Being part of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band is a good gig for any musician. But for a player from the Detroit area, it’s even more special — like being part of your own musical heritage. As backup singer Barbara Payton puts it, “You grow up hearing him all the time and I’ve loved his music for so long, it’s a bonus and a real thrill to be working for him.
“It’s just a pinch-me experience; ‘Oh my God — I’m in the Silver Bullet Band!’ ’
The Silver Bullet Band’s membership has changed considerably since the early ’70s, with only saxophonist Alto Reed and bassist Chris Campbell as constants — though onetime Grand Funk Railroad keyboardist Craig Frost has been on board since 1978. This year’s edition of the group features six fi rst-timers — Payton, guitarist Jim “Moose” Brown and the four members of the Motor City Horns, all of whom hail from Michigan and have strong ties to the Detroit metro area.
Not surprisingly, they’re all stoked about adding their voices and instruments to Seger’s expanding legacy. With that in mind, here’s a look at the Silver Bullet Band’s rookie class.
Silver Bullet role:
Who is she?: Port Huronborn Payton, 43, moved to Detroit in 1993 and became one of the metro area’s most highly regarded rockers, her heavy, blues-based sound drawn from classic artists such as Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin — whose “Kashmir” has become one of her own staples. Now a resident of Birmingham, Payton has released two albums, “Walk on Water” and “Enjoy the View,” and hopes to put out her third in 2007.
How she got the gig:
After befriending Seger’s manager Ed “Punch” Andrews years ago, Payton kept in touch — “every now and then I’d call and bug him” — and was asked to sing on the track “No Matter Who You Are” on Seger’s new album, “Face the Promise.” “Then I got another call... ‘Hey, you wanna come do “The View” and Letterman and “The Tonight Show” and stuff?’ You’d be stupid to turn that down. I think they wanted to put me through the paces and see if they wanted to bring me on for the tour. It wasn’t such a blatant, in your face, ‘Hey, we’re auditioning you.’ ”
One of the girls: Payton says that longtime Silver Bullet backing vocalists Laura Creamer and Shaun Murphy have made her feel welcome from the very fi rst rehearsals. “They’ve really taken me under their wing. I was hesitant, being the new one and hoping I could live up to it and slip into the position smoothly. But they’re so seasoned and so open with their suggestions and how to approach everything. I’m just really grateful I’m working with these women.”
Let it rock: “I have to say I was apprehensive about ‘Old Time Rock & Roll.’ I was in a wedding band for 10 years, y’know? But it’s a whole new ball game doing it with (Seger). It’s surreal.”
What about Bob?: “He’s just a laid-back, great guy. Pretty much what you see is what you get with him, and I like that.”
What it means for her career: “I don’t know what will come of it. I don’t have any expectations. I really don’t. Of course, some people might take more interest in my work; even on MySpace, my friends list is growing. But I just want to go back to playing with my guys, and we’ll see what happens.”
MOTOR CITY HORNS
Silver Bullet role: Duh ...
Who are they?: The fourpiece section, which has four adjunct members in New York, came together six years ago to work on an album with Ann Arbor jazz musician Charlie Dentel. After that, says trombonist John Rutherford, “we started talking about forming a horn section and marketing ourselves to work on projects.” The quartet has worked with the Brothers Groove and Bruce Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons’ Temple of Soul. Their individual credits include Justin Timberlake, the Verve Pipe, Yo-Yo Ma, Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Who lives where?:
Rutherford — who at 30 is the youngest member of the Silver Bullet entourage — resides in Detroit. Trumpeter Mark Byerly lives in Rochester Hills and fellow trumpet player Bob Jensen makes his home in Royal Oak. Saxophonist Keith Kaminski calls Mount Clemens home.
How they got the gig:
Seger says that adding horns for the tour “was a last-minute idea” inspired by one of Bruce Springsteen’s tours that included a horn section. “I said, ‘God this is cool. It was just so strong,’ ” Seger recalls. “I said, ‘Let’s just try it.’ ” Rutherford had become friendly with longtime Seger tour manager Bill Blackwell, who referred the Motor City Horns for the gig. “It was a total surprise,” Rutherford says. “We literally got the call for this within 10 days of the tour leaving. We had to do all these arrangements within the span of, probably, 12 hours.”
More’s the better: The section started out playing on five songs in Silver Bullet rehearsals, and its role has since grown to 13 songs in the repertoire. “A lot of time it’s just been, ‘Hey, horns, I want to add you to this song,’ ” Rutherford says. “We run through it once (at sound check) and then play it that night.” Seger promises he’s not done increasing their role in the show, either. “We keep inching them in a little bit more,” he says. “They’re very effective when they come on. They’re like our turbocharger; when we really want to shift into triple digits, we get the horns out.”
What about Bob?: “A lot of artists sometimes don’t know how to use horns,” Rutherford notes, “but Bob knows exactly where he wants us and what sound he’s looking for. He’s very good at communicating what he wants. We do the arrangements, but it’s nice to have his direction.”
What it means for their career: After the Atlanta concert, the horns wound up playing a recording session for a rap act called Red Dirt, and the group is writing songs for an album of its own. “We all do our own things as individuals, but it’s nice now to have this tour and be together for an extended period of time,” Rutherford says.
JIM "MOOSE" BROWN
Silver Bullet role: Guitar, keyboards. “If a song is calling for an extra guitar part and that’s what Bob wants to hear,” Brown says,” that’s what I’ve got to do. Whatever he feels like I would support, that’s what I do.”
Who is he?: Brown, 44, was born in Dearborn and raised in Beverly Hills before his family moved to Arkansas when he was 14. He took himself to Nashville in the early ’80s, where he played theme parks and honky tonks before becoming a touring musician, including a stint with Marie Osmond’s band. After 1994, he hunkered down as a studio player, with credits that include Hank Williams Jr., Phil Vassar, Brad Paisley, Darryl Worley and Steven Seagal. His songwriting career has blossomed, too, particularly after he co-wrote the charttopping Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffett duet “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 2004.
How he got the gig:
“When you get the call from Bob Seger himself — and he did call me himself — you’ve got to pay attention to it,” Brown says. He was referred to Seger by friends who had worked on “Face the Promise,” which was recorded in Nashville, and Brown says his Michigan genes played a role in his decision to return to the road. “He’s one of my musical heroes,” Brown says of Seger. “My older brother and sister were way into Bob Seger. My brother used to go see him perform in malls back in the ’60s. They’re flipping out that I’m in (the Silver Bullet Band).”
What’s in a (nick)name?:
“A friend of mine, we worked together in the studio for years. The very first time we met, he looked at me and said, ‘I’m gonna call you “Moose.” ’ I’ve had it ever since.”
What about Bob?: “The humble, gracious person that he is on stage is every bit who he is off it. And he has the most incredible set of ears I’ve ever been around. A lot of artists I work with really rely on the band to come up with their sound, but he has a very strong idea of who he is and what his music is, and he hears everything around him.”
What it means for his career: Brown figures the Silver Bullet gig will give him a bit more visibility but won’t necessarily attract more interest for his songs. “I try to stay clear of that and let my publishing company handle it. I don’t want to subject myself to the rejection — especially when you’ve had something big and can see the potential of what can happen, that letdown is just not fun. I have a running joke that when an artist puts a song of mine on hold, I go ahead and get mad right then ’cause it’s probably not gonna happen.”
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band and Steve Azar perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 28th) and 8 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 30th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road east of I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are sold out but premium seats are being auctioned at www.ticketmaster.com. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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