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Interview:
Bob Seger rides out with new album
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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"Here we are again, only eight years later," Bob Seger says as he settles into a large leather recliner in the living room of the heavily wooded writing/recording house he keeps in Detroit's northern suburbs.

"I'm SO fast," he adds, breaking into a hearty laugh as he throws his left leg over the arm of the chair.

Seger taking a long time between albums is hardly a news flash. Since 1982 he's averaged six and a half years between new releases, and he's only put out two studio albums during the last 19 years -- although to be fair there have also been several compilations that have each contained fresh material. "Ride Out," which comes out Tuesday, Oct. 14, is Seger's follow-up to 2006's "Face The Promise," with TV appearances ahead and North American tour starting Nov. 19 in Saginaw.

Barak Obama was elected president twice during that interim, and Apple issued all six generations of its iPhones. So after 50 years of performing and 45 years since his first album, what's that magic ingredient he's looking for that takes so long to find?

"Y'know, what; it's just a good song, bottom line. As good a song as I can write," explains Seger, 69, sporting a dark Warrior motorcycle T-shirt and black slacks as he cradles a pack of Marlboros and a lighter in one hand and a silver metal ashtray in the other. "I just try to keep the quality up as high as I can.

"What happens is as I go along I say, 'Well, I like those two songs better than that third song,' so the third song gets dropped and we do more. It's an ongoing thing and I play them for everyone who's close to me and figure out which ones are the best and work the best together. That takes...time."

And even this far along it doesn't necessarily get easier, he notes.

"It's melody, lyric, maybe a little uniqueness," Seger says of his song criteria. "Do I sing it well? Sometimes I'll write a song I can't really sing and it'll get eliminated. Or it might not make it through the studio process; I might think it's a really good song but I won't like the way the studio band did it or something. It's all different things."

GETTING HIS "RIDE" OUt

Seger estimates he recorded 25 songs for "Ride Out," working mostly in Nashville with longtime engineer David Cole as well as at the creative compound near Clarkston. "And then there were another five or six that I came real lose to cutting," he adds, "but maybe were a little too esoteric or a little too one way or another way." The result is two versions of the album -- a 10-song standard issue and a 13-song deluxe edition -- that range from the bluesy rock of "Hey Gypsy," which Seger describes as "a love letter to the memory of Stevie Ray Vaughan," to the pointed environmental protest anthem "It's Your World," the lavish, epic production of "Gates of Eden," which his son Cole deemed the best song Seger's ever written, and the love song "You Take Me In," which a satisfied Seger notes had his wife Nita "reaching for the tissues" when he played it for her.

"Ride Out" also has a decidedly rootsy flavor heard in songs such as "Listen" and "The Fireman's Talkin'," as well as an intriguing batch of covers -- John Hiatt's "Detroit Made" and the Wilco/Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie song "California Stars," which Seger debuted during his 2013 concerts, as well as Steve Earle's "The Devil's Right Hand," culled from Waylon Jennings' version from the 1988 film "Betrayed," and Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicolson's "Adam and Eve," which he first heard on Great American Country's "Edge of Country" program.

Clearly the heartland rocker is immersing himself deeper into a musical scene it can be argued he's been part of, and perhaps held to define, throughout his career.

"That's what I love. I love Americana," notes Seger, who incorporated fiddle on five of "Ride Out's" songs and even had a fiddle player take part in recent rehearsals with his Silver Bullet Band, though he's "still on the fence" about adding her to the group. "A lot of the stuff I see on 'Edge of Country' or other video shows or hear on all the satellite radio channels, is Americana.

"It's genre-less. There's a little bit of rock, a little bit of country, bluegrass, whatever. That inspires me. It's fun to experiment in those genres."

And Seger adds that exposing himself to even more kinds of music over the years also factored into the songs he wrote for "Ride Out."

"I listen to more music than I ever have," he acknowledges. "I used to listen to my own stuff...but now it's like, I want to write something different. I think the thing about satellite radio that's really cool is you can listen to any genre in your car. There's so much different stuff you can listen to, and it's so much fun.

"We did a three-day leaf tour about this time last year, just me and my daughter (Samantha), and I listened to all her music -- electronic, hip-hop, young pop, and I just sat there and said, "Go ahead, run the radio. I need to hear this stuff."

THE FAMOUS FINAL SCENE?

There's another undercurrent on "Ride Out" that may raise a few fans' eyebrows. Seger says he's had people tell him the title "sounds a little final," and during 2013 he made some comments about wrapping up his career with his 70th birthday approaching in May. And certainly new songs such as "All of the Roads" ("I've done it all before/And I have gone through every door") and "Let the Rivers Run" ("When we reach our end/When our time is done") have a farewell quality to them, even though Seger claims he didn't intend to send that message.

"That's not really what I meant," he says. " 'Ride Out,' that's to clear your head from all the stuff that's making you crazy. But in the same analysis it could serve as a final title, so if I decided that enough's enough, it is kind of like summing up.

"The deciding factor for whether I leave or not is my voice, whether it holds up. I want to be graceful about it, you know what I mean? I don't want to stay too long or over-stay my welcome."

He is, nevertheless, looking forward to the tour, which currently has announced dates through Feb. 27 in Los Angeles. More are coming, Seger confirms, including concerts in the Detroit area, and while he predicts "I don't think we'll go past mid-March" he says there's also talk of some summer shows.

"I have a great time on stage," Seger says. "I have such a great band; they're so much fun to play with and they make my job easy 'cause they play great and sing great and all I've got to do is sing and make sure my voice is there.

"I'm looking forward to taking this (album) out; we've worked up every one of the songs and they sound great. They really do. The winners, the ones that translate well live, are going to emerge once we get out there. I'm looking forward to seeing what those are."

* "Ride Out," Bob Seger's first new album in eight years, comes out Tuesday, Oct. 14, in 10-song standard and 13-song deluxe editions.

* Seger and his Silver Bullet Band will perform Tuesday on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" at 11:35 p.m. on ABC (WXYZ, Channel 7 in Detroit) and Thursday, Oct. 16, on "Ellen," 10 a.m. on NBC (WDIV, Channel 4). More TV appearances will be announced soon.

* Seger and company kick off a North American tour on Nov. 19 in Saginaw. More shows, including Detroit area dates, will be announced soon.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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