There will be some ghosts in the hallways of Detroit’s Cobo Arena when Bob Seger closes his “Face the Promise” tour there with shows on Thursday and Saturday (March 15 and 17) — both of which will be recorded for a possible new live album.
“Oh yeah, it’s gonna be pretty cool,” Seger says of his return to the (relatively) intimate, 12,000-capacity venue, where he hasn’t played since 1983. “It was actually my idea; if we did come back (to Detroit), we’d do two at Cobo.
“I just thought it would be really fun, (back) where it all started 32 years ago ...”
The veteran Detroit rocker’s career dates back much further than that, of course. But it was Cobo Hall that helped Seger’s career take off like a bullet — a “Live Bullet,” specifically, which was recorded during two shows at Cobo in September 1975 and catapulted him toward rock’s stratosphere, cementing his connection to the building.
Seger had enjoyed some modest success up to that point, including a Top 20 hit in 1969 with “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” But things also had tailed off, to the point where his then-current album, “Beautiful Loser,” was moribund despite a grueling tour schedule opening for bands such as Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith and Kiss.
Moreover, Seger’s label, Capitol Records, was expecting a new album from him for the spring of 1976 and he wasn’t likely to have one ready. So manager Ed “Punch” Andrews broached the idea of a live album to fill the gap.
“It wasn’t my idea,” says Seger, who initially
balked at the prospect. “I thought it was kind of copying Peter Frampton, who’d just had a big live album, and I didn’t want to do that. But Punch said, ‘No, it’s really something we ought to do ...’ ”
Recording Seger and his Silver Bullet Band did make some sense, Seger notes.
“The band was so good,” he says, “and the album, ‘Beautiful Loser,’ was kind of tepid. The mix wasn’t at all indicative of how the band played it, with so much more energy. We were a working band and we had a certain thing we did. I think we wanted to capture that.”
The pressure on the shows had little to do with the recording aspect, however.
“It was our first time headlining in Detroit, at least at a place that big,” recalls Silver Bullet bassist Chris Campbell. “It was the height of pride to headline Cobo back then.
“We just felt this tremendous pride. The shows were sold out. We were recording. It was just a very electric time.”
The biggest difference, Seger adds, is that “they were longer shows than we were used to doing, so we had to do everything we knew, and that gave it a little bit of pressure. We couldn’t leave anything out.”
It proved to be a masterstroke, however. From the opening explosion of Ike & Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” to the blistering version of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock,” “Live Bullet” was a twodisc, 14-song document of a sweaty, bar band sensibility expanded to an arena stage, with seminal takes of Seger originals such as “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Katmandu,” “Heavy Music,” “Lookin’ Back” and the “Travelin’ Man”/ “Beautiful Loser” medley, whose bridge section was arranged by Campbell.
“It’s really a very high-energy thing,” Seger notes. “The familiarity of playing all the time and being road dogs really comes through.”
Radio programmers around the country took notice, too, giving Seger his fi rst signifi cant airplay in years.
“Everybody in Detroit knew how great he was, but in the rest of the country he was one of the well-kept secrets,” says Southfield-based radio consultant Fred Jacobs. “In most cases bands do not perform as well live as they do in the studio, but this was an exception, and it really broke it open for him.”
Silver Bullet Band keyboardist Craig Frost, who was playing with Grand Funk Railroad when “Live Bullet” came out, recalls being “kind of jealous; ‘Holy ... listen to that band!’ There’s so much excitement that comes across. People finally got to hear what Bob was about. That was the step up to the big leagues.”
Breaking out of Detroit, where a reported 60 percent of the first 500,000 copies were sold, “Live Bullet” was Seger’s first Top 40 album (peaking at No. 34) and has gone fi ve-times platinum. The Rolling Stone Record Guide dubbed it “one of the best live albums ever made.” And its success set up an even more signifi cant breakthrough when “Night Moves” was released later that year.
“It felt like a new beginning, in a way,” says bassist Campbell. “It’s going to be very nostalgic to go back there (to Cobo) again.”
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band and Uncle Kracker perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday (March 15 and 17) at Cobo Arena, 301 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Some tickets, priced $65, are still available for Thursday’s show. Call (313) 471-6616 or visit www. olympiaentertainment. com. Listen to Gary Graff’s latest interview with Bob Seger in the Seger Center at www. theoaklandpress.com.
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