LIKE A ROCK, SORT OF

Despite his flair for Camaro-Rock, Bob Seger is still important to the legacy of Detroit music. Ever seen pictures of him from back in the Bob Seger System days? Long hair snaking down his back, Lucky Strike dangling from his sneering lips, Seger was definitely a nails-for-breakfast Detroit rocker. Smokin O.P.’s, his 1972 release, even cops the Lucky Strike logo for its cover art. Sure, he chopped the locks in favor of an Eddie Money-style layer job. (Which could be a Samson-esque metaphor for his music pussy-ing out…). And he can never be forgiven for tripe like “Mainstreet” or “Shakedown.” But forever-shirtless Iggy Pop looks more like The Oldest Chili Pepper these days; and Alice Cooper does indeed play a lot of golf (“I’m Eighteen” holes?). So Seger’s in good company when he disses his D-Town Rock and Roll roots.

But back in the day (1968), there was the Bob Seger System, rocking out the bars and VFW halls in the Detroit/Ann Arbor circuit. The System released an album, “Ramblin’ Gamblin Man,” and the title track built a nationwide following after solid Michigan-area support. Its opening half-time drum beat gives way to a funky Hammond B3, which builds the shambling melody of a song about a rambling and gambling fellow. Not ground-breaking lyrics, but I bet if you saw Seger and his long hair screaming them out in a dingy backroom Detroit bar, you’d have thrown your hands in the air. The track possesses a great mix of Detroit-style, messy rock with a funky organ that wouldn’t be out of place on a hard-edged soul album. Which, coming out of Motown, isn’t exactly surprising.

It’s odd how success will make a band trade in its best components for the shiny new model. After achieving widespread acclaim for the “Live Bullet” and “Night Moves” LPs, Seger and his Silver Bullet Band collective went on to record the poor-man’s Springsteen rockers that are featured prominently on today’s classic rock radio. Much of the grit of his early work was lost forever, only clawing its way back into the music briefly, like in the vaguely disconcerting herky-jerky backbeat of “Hollywood Nights.” Sure, “Night Moves” and “Like a Rock” are nice enough songs. But they’re about as Detroit as a Le Car.

But Seger’s later work as a professional pansy shouldn’t diminish his early, rip-roaring days. Even though he is a member of classic rock radio’s glitterati, a great song like “Ramblin’ Man” is rarely played, letting it keep its vitality. And in that song’s scorching, gospel-funk chorus, Seger puts the hood up and shows off his Detroit rock engine, even if he’s since downgraded to something a lot cheaper and less balls-y. But that’s okay, Bob: Rock and Roll (and D-Town) never forgets. Which in your case, can be a good OR a bad thing.

JTL

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