Detroit already has big-league Tigers and Lions and its assembly-line menagerie of Cobras, Cougars and Impalas. But now a new beast is stalking Motor City: the “Gorilla.” No, it’s not a hardtop with hair, but music-industry argot for a record hit of Kong-like proportions. The reason is Bob Seger, who’s joining such Detroit monster makers as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Ted Nugent. Seger’s double-platinum Night Moves, one of the biggest LPs of 1977, rocketed him from regional cultdom to superstardom. Now his follow-up LP, Stranger in Town, and the single Still the Same suggest that Seger is at 33 belatedly approaching apedom.
For many of the past 15 years the modest Seger felt more like the “trucker” of musicians. Working one-night stands around the Midwest, he and his bands loaded up cars, vans and (ultimately) a Winnebago to make what he dryly calls “the Grand Tour.” Seger logged up to 90,000 miles a year and as recently as 1975 played a battering 260 dates, “most of them one-nighters. We’d kick the hammer and go 300 miles for a single show, then drive back after the performance because we couldn’t afford hotel rooms. I guess,” he says, “it was sheer determination that got me through.”
That and vocal cords as raspy as barbed wire and a knack for writing clever lyrics (“Ain’t it funny how the night moves/When you don’t have as much to lose”). With plenty to win, Seger has propelled his five-man Silver Bullet band from warm-up act (they opened for Aerosmith, Foghat and Kiss) into an industry that in units, at least, rivals General Motors.
Seger was born in Detroit, where his father was a first-aid worker in a blast furnace at Ford’s Rouge plant and a moonlight clarinetist in local dance halls. When Bob was 6 the family moved to Ann Arbor and four years later his dad split, leaving his mother to raise two children in mostly black neighborhoods. A high school jock (he clocked one 5:05 mile) and honor student, Seger “stopped studying and flunked everything when I discovered girls and rock. In 11th grade I was playing bars three nights a week. I barely managed to finish with a D average.”
He formed his first band in 1963 and rocked around local joints, bowling alleys, strip clubs and Ann Arbor frat parties. Six years later he had a national hit, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, and seemed on the edge of breaking out. “I saw my father then for the first time in five years in California,” Bob recalls. “He was so proud of me. Three weeks later he died in a fire in his apartment. He didn’t get to see my career go down the tubes for another five years.” (So, meanwhile, did a one-year marriage. “It just didn’t work out.”)
To escape ravenous fans (girls have been known to strip to catch his eye during concerts), Seger is living in his fourth house in three years. It’s no Malibu sand castle but a 10-room farmhouse, guarded by vicious German shepherds, on 10 acres 50 miles from Detroit. Seger shares it with Jan Dinsdale, his woman for seven years and, lately, his bookkeeper. “I’m into more money than I ever dreamed,” he admits. “But I’m conservative. I’ve got some of it in General Motors bonds.” (Some of the rest is in a BMW 530 and a Chris-Craft Commander.)
A Detroit Tigers zealot, Seger attends games whenever he’s in town, disguising himself by stuffing his shoulder-length hair under a baseball cap. He may be the one rock star who realistically views his place on the scoreboard of life. “Rock’s just a business and a way for me to express myself in song,” he says. “But don’t let it get to you. A good U.S. senator accomplishes a helluva lot more than I do. Rock isn’t so important in the big scheme of things. Not in places like Bangladesh anyway.”