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Bob Seger's past spotlighted on "Heavy Music" collection

By GaryGraff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Bob Seger's newest release is something old. And many of his fans couldn't be happier.

Billed to Seger and his mid-'60s band the Last Heard, "Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967" coming Friday, Sept. 7 collects 10 rare recordings made by the quartet at Detroit's United Sound Systems studio. Some, such as the title track and "East Side Story," were well-known regional singles that have survived over the years, while other tracks haven't been widely available practically since their release.

Remastered and comprehensively annotated, it's a time capsule of early Seger material that fans have been clamoring for at least in authorized fashion for decades.

"It's going to introduce this part of Seger's career to a whole new audience that hasn't heard them, and I think that's pretty cool," says Scott Sparling, who operated the Seger File fan site online and now on Facebook. "Those singles have got this raw energy that's very cool. If you discovered Seger from his 1970s hits, you're going to be in for a surprise a really good surprise."

Teri Landi of ABKCO Records has wanted to put together a Seger compilation for nearly a decade. Though "East Side Story" which Seger originally wrote for another Detroit band, the Underdogs was first released on longtime manager Punch Andrews' Hideout Records label, it was eventually sold to Cameo-Parkway, which subsequently released the Last Heard's other singles "Persecution Smith," "Vagrant Winter," "Heavy Music" and the seasonal "Sock It to Me Santa." After acquiring the Cameo-Parkway catalog, ABKCO held the rights to release the material whenever it wanted and did license a couple tracks for compilations but the company was sensitive to Seger's preferences, especially since he's been outspoken in his reservations about that early material.

"You want people to be happy with it," Landi explains. But she never gave up hope that the green light would one day flash.

"Bob Seger is such a major artist, artistically, and a big touring act in a period of time when arena rock became really huge," Landi says. "So I think it's important to show his early work. When you listen to these recordings they just explode right out of your speakers. You get a shade of what's to come."

"Heavy Music" also displays the diversity of Seger and the Last Heard guitarist Carl Lagassa, bassist Dan Honaker and drummer Pep Perrine even during his early 20s. While the title track, "East Side Story" and "Vagrant Winter" are gritty hard rock, "Persecution Smith" is a Bob Dylan-style talking blues while "Florida Time" is an unapologetically buoyant Beach Boys knockoff. And "Very Few" finds Seger crooning like a young Nat King Cole.

"That one really points in a direction that's coming," Landi notes, "certainly the ballads on (the 1971 album) 'Brand new Morning' and ahead to tracks like 'Jodi Girl' and 'We've Got Tonight.' There's a real beautiful sensitivity that you hear first on 'Very Few.'"

The original tapes, Landi says, were in "fairly good condition" as she set to work on the project, bringing in Seger's longtime remastering engineer Robert Vosgian to perform the same duties for "Heavy Music." "You want to make sure you don't do too much," says Landi, who researched the extensive recording information in the accompanying booklet herself. "This stuff has to remain pretty crunchy and raucous. You don't want to smooth it out too much, nor do you want to put a lot of production into it. It's not meant to sound like that."

The vinyl editions of "Heavy Music" are being pressed, appropriately, by Third Man Pressing in Detroit. Seger himself who's preparing to return to the road in November to resume the tour he postponed last fall due to spinal surgery is not actively promoting "Heavy Music." But the tour will certainly call some attention to the compilation and, Landi hopes, illuminate a period of his career that's been obscured for far too long.

"It's pretty great stuff," Landi says. "It's a really great glimpse into what early Bob Seger sounded like. I'm happy we finally made it happen and happy it's housed in a package I'm really proud of.

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