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Interview:
Bob Seger's down, not out, with new album and 2018 tour plans
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

» See more SOUND CHECK

Bob Seger cracks that he’s “down and out” at this home in Oakland County.

But hopefully only for the moment.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is convalescing from spinal surgery he underwent during October at University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, repairing a disk condition that brought a premature end to his Runaway Train Tour just 13 shows into its 33-date run. “And it was going so good, the tour was,” Seger, 72, laments over the phone. “The band was playing so great. I hated to stop.

it was also less than a month before the release of his latest album, “I Knew You When,” which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Current Rock Albums chart, No. 2 onTop Rock Albums and No. 25 on the Billboard 200. Seger and his Silver Bullet Band were able to play its first single, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Busload Of Faith,” a few times -- including on Sept. 23 during the last concert at the Palace of Auburn Hill’s -- but he was anxious to add more of the songs to the show and give the album its due.

Seger isn’t exactly made for being sidelined, mind you. He’s following doctor’s orders and going through physical therapy. The surgery did not have to go through the front of his throat and therefore shouldn’t affect his voice, while the pain, Seger says, is down to “one out of 10,” but remains constant and “nagging.” And the inactivity, he acknowledges, is “maddening.”

“Unfortunately I can’t sing or play or lift anything more than five pounds, not over my head, until (the pain) is gone,” says Seger, who began noticing symptoms of a ruptured disk early in the tour, after a show in Rochester, N.Y.

“I can’t go to a show, I can’t go to a game. But they warned me of this. They said it was going to really hurt for about three months afterwards.

“They say, ‘We can’t guarantee it’ll ever go away,’ but that’s what doctors have to say. But if it doesn’t (go away), I’m done, dude. I think it’s going to be OK, I really do. But, God, it’s taking a long time...”

GLENN SONGS

“I Knew You When” will give fans their Seger fix until his return, which he hopes will be by mid-March. The 10-track album (13 on the deluxe edition) was inspired by the January 2016 death of his longtime friend Glenn Frey of the Eagles, a Royal Oak native who Seger first met back in 1966 and who sang on his first national hit, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Shortly before attending a memorial for Frey last spring in Los Angeles Seger was perusing his vaults and found “I Knew You When’s” title track, a song that dates back to 2003.

“I heard that and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this even sounds faintly like an Eagles song. This would be a great title for a Glenn tribute record,” Seger recalls. After getting the blessing of Frey’s widow he “started studying the old stuff and writing new stuff and recording a couple of covers, and a year and a half later it was done.”

Related: Bob Seger gives the Palace a famous final scene

Recording in Nashville and at Yessian Music studios in Southfield with engineer Gerard Smerek Seger’s catalog trolling unearthed tracks from the past two-plus decades, including “Runaway Train,” “ Blue Ridge,” “I Knew You When,” “Forward Into The Past,” “I’ll Remember You” and the Led Zeppelin-influenced “The Sea Inside.” The album also features four tracks recorded with the late Little Feat drummer Riche Hayward and includes a complete version of “Glenn Song” that Seger released earlier this year on the first anniversary of Frey’s death.

With its homages to Frey and covers of songs by the late Reed and Leonard Cohen (“Democracy”) -- as well as the passings of myriad other musicians while the album was being made -- a sense of mortality hangs alongside “I Knew You When.” But Seger doesn’t consider that its focus.

“It’s celebrating the struggle that Glenn went through,” during his musical career, explains Seger, who kept the photos of Frey and his family that are part of the album package around him during the process for additional motivation. He also performed with the group a couple of times after Frey’s death and recorded a guest DJ spot on the Eagles’ new SiriusXM channel. “In a way I was a lot luckier than Glenn, and I think he kind of envied me because I didn’t have to deal with three or four other people. I always get to do exactly what I want, and that was maddening to him.”

THE FIRE STILL INSIDE

As for watching other peers pass away, Seger notes that, “It’s tough ‘cause you’re living with it every day you’re working on it. It’s been a bad year and a half. I’m kind of glad it’s behind me, but I’m glad I did it.”

Beyond Frey, the album’s opening track “Gracile,” was inspired by a book Seger read about the history of civilization, while politics inform songs such as “Blue Ridge,” a Civil War metaphor for present-day politics, “Runaway Train” and his choice of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy.” “Have you ever seen the country more divided politically?” Seger says “It’s kind of like a political civil war right now, everybody just divided down the middle.”

For “Runaway Train,” meanwhile, he altered some lyrics, with the Reed estate’s permission, to reference President Donald Trump and the Flint water crisis. “Some of it’s political, yeah, but mostly it’s about Glenn,” Seger notes.

As the album sinks in, Seger is looking forward to putting his health problems behind him and returning to the road, with a particular eye towards the 20 postponed dates. “Those people have been great; They’ve held on to their tickets all this time, so that’s the first thing we’ve got to do, but I don’t know when, exactly,” Seger says. .

And rest assured he hasn’t taking his enforced time off just sitting still.

“Rather than waste my time or watch TV or something, I just listen to a lot of music right now,” Seger says. “I’m going to just keep drilling myself with my favorite songs and my favorite singers and music that I like and analyzing it -- Why do I like this? Why do I like that? -- and get ready for writing.

“That’ll be the first thing I’ll do. I’ll do a little bit of writing before the tour, and then I’ll have to start rehearsing for the shows.”



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