A roots rocker with a classic raspy, shouting voice, Seger wrote and recorded songs that deal with love, women and blue-collar themes and is an example of heartland rock. Seger has recorded many hits, including "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man", "Night Moves", "Turn the Page", "Still the Same", "We've Got Tonight", "Against the Wind", "You'll Accomp'ny Me", "Shame on the Moon", "Like a Rock", and "Shakedown", which was written for Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). Seger also co-wrote the Eagles' number-one hit "Heartache Tonight", and his iconic recording of "Old Time Rock and Roll" was named one of the Songs of the Century in 2001.
With a career spanning six decades, Seger continues to perform and record today. Seger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012. Seger was named Billboard's 2015 Legend of Live honoree at the 12th annual Billboard Touring Conference & Awards, held November 18–19 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.
Seger was born at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Charlotte and Stewart Seger. At age five he moved with his family to Ann Arbor. He has an older brother, George.
Seger's father, a medical technician for the Ford Motor Company, played several instruments and Seger was exposed to music from an early age. Seger was also exposed to frequent arguments between his parents that disturbed the neighborhood at night. In 1956, when Seger was 10 years old, his father abandoned the family and moved to California. The remaining family soon lost their comfortable middle-class status and struggled financially.
Seger attended Tappan Junior High School, (Ann Arbor, Michigan) (now Tappan Middle School) and graduated from Pioneer High School in 1963 (at the time it was known as Ann Arbor High School). He ran track and field in high school. Seger also went to Lincoln Park High School for a year.
As far as his early musical inspirations are concerned, Seger has stated, "Little Richard – he was the first one that really got to me. Little Richard and, of course, Elvis Presley." "Come Go with Me" by The Del-Vikings, a hit in 1957, was the first record he bought.
Bob Seger arrived on the Detroit music scene in 1961 fronting a three-piece band called the Decibels. The band included Seger on guitar, piano, keyboards, and vocals, Pete Stanger on guitar, and H.B. Hunter on drums. All of the members attended Ann Arbor High. The Decibels recorded an acetate demo of a song called "The Lonely One", at Del Shannon's studio in 1961. As well as being Seger's first original song, "The Lonely One" was Seger's first song to be played on the radio, airing only once on an Ann Arbor radio station.
After the Decibels disbanded, Seger joined the Town Criers, a four-piece band with Seger on lead vocals, John Flis on bass, Pep Perrine on drums, and Larry Mason on lead guitar. The Town Criers, covering songs like "Louie Louie", began gaining a steady following. Meanwhile, Seger was listening to James Brown and said that, for him and his friends, Live at the Apollo was their favorite record following its release in 1963. Seger was also widely influenced by the music of The Beatles, once they hit American shores in 1964. In general, he and local musician friends such as future Eagle Glenn Frey bought into the premises of 1960s pop and rock radio, with its hook-driven hits; he later recalled himself and Frey thinking at the time, "You're nobody if you can't get on the radio."
As the Town Criers began landing more gigs, Bob Seger met a man named Doug Brown, backed by a band called The Omens. Seger joined Doug Brown & The Omens, who presumably had a bigger following than the Town Criers. While Doug Brown was the primary lead vocalist for the group, Seger would take the lead on some songs—covering R&B numbers. It was with this group that Seger first appeared on an officially released recording: the 1965 single "TGIF" backed with "First Girl", credited to Doug Brown and The Omens. Seger later appeared on Doug Brown and The Omens' parody of Barry Sadler's song "Ballad of the Green Berets" which was re-titled "Ballad of the Yellow Beret" and mocked draft evaders. Soon after its release, Sadler and his record label threatened Brown and his band with a lawsuit and the recording was withdrawn from the market.
While Bob was a member of The Omens, he met his longtime manager Edward "Punch" Andrews, who at the time was partnered with Dave Leone running the Hideout franchise, which consisted of four club locations from Clawson to Rochester Hills, where local acts would play, and a small-scale record label. Seger began writing and producing for other acts that Punch was managing, such as the Mama Cats and the Mushrooms (with Frey). Seger and Doug Brown were then approached by Punch and Leone to write a song for the Underdogs, another local band who recently had a hit with a song called "Man in the Glass". Seger contributed a song called "East Side Story", which ultimately proved to be a failure for the Underdogs.
Seger decided to record "East Side Story" himself, and officially left the Omens (though he did retain Doug Brown as a producer). As Bob Seger and the Last Heard, Seger released his version of the song with Hideout Records in January 1966, and it became his first big Detroit hit. The single (backed with "East Side Sound", an instrumental version of "East Side Story") sold 50,000 copies, mostly in the Detroit area, and led to a contract with Cameo-Parkway Records. Though the name "The Last Heard" originally referred to the collection of Omens and Town Criers who recorded "East Side Story" with Seger, it soon became the name of Seger's permanent band, which consisted of former Town Crier Pep Perrine on drums, Carl Lagassa on guitar, and Dan Honaker on bass. Following "East Side Story", the group released four more singles: the James Brown-inspired holiday single "Sock It to Me Santa", the Dylan-esque "Persecution Smith", "Vagrant Winter", and perhaps the most notable, "Heavy Music", released in 1967. "Heavy Music", which sold even more copies than "East Side Story", had potential to break out nationally when Cameo-Parkway suddenly went out of business. It was actually a top 100 hit in Canada, where it topped out on the national RPM charts at #82; in the US, it just missed the Hot 100, peaking on the "bubbling under" chart at #103. The song would stay in Seger's live act for many years to come.
After Cameo-Parkway folded, Seger and Punch began searching for a new label. In the spring of 1968, Bob Seger & the Last Heard signed with major label Capitol Records, turning down Motown Records, who offered more money than Capitol. Seger felt that Capitol was more appropriate for his genre than Motown.
Capitol changed the name of the band to The Bob Seger System. In the transition between labels, guitarist Carl Lagassa left the band and keyboard player Bob Schultz joined. The System's first single with Capitol was the anti-war message song "2 + 2 = ?", which reflected a marked change in Seger's political attitudes from "The Ballad of the Yellow Beret". The single was again a hit in Detroit and hit number 1 on radio stations in Buffalo, New York and Orlando, Florida, but went unnoticed almost everywhere else, and failed to chart nationally in the US. The single did, however, make the Canadian national charts, peaking at #79.
The second single from The Bob Seger System was "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man". It was a major hit in Michigan, and it also became Seger's first national hit, peaking at #17. The song's success led to the release of an album of the same title in 1969. The Ramblin' Gamblin' Man album reached #62 on the Billboard pop albums chart. Glenn Frey (later in the Eagles) had his first studio gig singing back-up and playing guitar on "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man".
Seger was unable to follow up this success. For the next album, singer-songwriter Tom Neme joined The System, ultimately writing and singing the majority of the tunes featured, for which the group was heavily criticized. The album, called Noah (1969), failed to chart at all, leading Seger to briefly quit the music industry and attend college. He returned the following year and put out the System's final album, 1970's Mongrel, this time without Tom Neme. Bob Schultz left the band as well, being replaced by Dan Watson. Mongrel, with the powerful single "Lucifer", was considered to be a strong album by many critics and Detroit fans, but failed to do well commercially.
After Mongrel (1970) failed to live up to the success of Ramblin' Gamblin' Man (1969), The System dissipated. For a short period of time following the breakup, Seger had ambitions to be a one-man act. In 1971, Seger released his first solo album, the all-acoustic Brand New Morning. The album was a commercial failure and led to Seger's departure from Capitol Records.
Seger, having regained an eye for bands, began playing with the duo Teegarden & Van Winkle, who in 1970 had a hit single with "God, Love and Rock & Roll". Together they recorded Smokin' O.P.'s (1972), released on Punch Andrews' own Palladium Records. The album mainly consisted of covers, spawning a minor hit with a version of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" (#76 US), though it did feature "Someday", a new Seger original, and a re-release of "Heavy Music". The album reached 180 on the Billboard 200.
After spending the better part of 1972 touring with Teegarden & Van Winkle, Seger left the duo to put together a new backing band, referred to as both My Band and the Borneo Band, made up of musicians from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jamie Oldaker, Dick Sims, and Marcy Levy were all members of My Band before joining Eric Clapton's backing band. In 1973, Seger put out Back in '72, recorded partly with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a renowned group of session musicians who had recorded with the likes of J. J. Cale and Aretha Franklin. According to Seger, there was a financial misunderstanding with the musicians: they offered to record him "for $1500 a side", which he took to mean $1500 per album side. When he found out that they meant $1500 per song, he left after recording three songs but resolved to work with them in the future. Back in '72 featured the studio version of Seger's later live classic "Turn the Page"; "Rosalie", a song Seger wrote about CKLW music director Rosalie Trombley (and which was later recorded by Thin Lizzy); and "I've Been Working", a song originally by Van Morrison, a strong influence on Seger's musical development. Despite the strength of Seger's backup musicians, the album only reached 188 on the US charts and has since faded into obscurity. Even so, Back in '72 and its supporting tour mark the beginnings of Seger's long-time relationships with future Silver Bullet Band saxophonist Alto Reed, powerhouse female vocalist Shaun Murphy, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Over the tour, My Band would prove to be unreliable, which frustrated Seger. By the end of 1973, Seger had left My Band in search of a new backing band. Throughout 1974-75, Seger continued to perform in local venues around his hometown while known as the Bob Seger Group including one renowned concert in Davisburg, MI called the 'Battle of the Bands'.
In 1974, Seger formed the Silver Bullet Band. Its original members were guitarist Drew Abbott, drummer and backup-singer Charlie Allen Martin, keyboard-player Rick Manasa, bass guitarist Chris Campbell, and saxophone player Alto Reed. With this new band sitting in occasionally, Seger released the album Seven (1974), which contained the Detroit-area hard-rock hit "Get Out of Denver". This track was a modest success and charted at #80 nationally.
In 1975, Seger returned to Capitol Records and released the album Beautiful Loser, with help from the Silver Bullet Band (with new keyboardist Robyn Robbins replacing Manasa) on his cover of the Tina Turner penned "Nutbush City Limits". The album's single "Katmandu" which was featured in the 1985 movie Mask starring Cher (in addition to being another substantial Detroit-area hit) was Seger's first real national break-out track since 1969 "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man". Although it just missed the US Pop Top 40 – peaking at #43 – the song received strong airplay in a number of markets nationwide including Detroit.
In April 1976, Seger and the Silver Bullet Band released the album Live Bullet, recorded over two nights in Detroit's Cobo Arena in September 1975. It contained Seger's rendition of "Nutbush City Limits" as well as Seger's own classic take on life on the road, "Turn the Page", from Back in '72. It also included his late 1960s successful releases – "Heavy Music" and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man". Critic Dave Marsh later wrote that "Live Bullet is one of the best live albums ever made ... In spots, particularly during the medley of "Travelin' Man"/"Beautiful Loser" on side one, Seger sounds like a man with one last shot at the top." An instant best-seller in Detroit, Live Bullet began to get attention in other parts of the country, selling better than Seger's previous albums, getting progressive rock radio and album-oriented rock airplay, and enabling Seger to headline more shows. Yet still, Seger had a popularity imbalance. In June 1976, he was a featured performer at the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit in front of nearly 80,000 fans. The next night, Seger played before fewer than a thousand people in Chicago.
Seger finally achieved his commercial breakthrough with his October 1976 album Night Moves. The title song "Night Moves" was a highly evocative, nostalgic, time-spanning tale that was not only critically praised, but became a #4 hit single on the Billboard pop singles chart as well as a heavy album-oriented rock airplay mainstay. The album also contained "Mainstreet" (written about Ann Arbor's Ann Street), a #24 hit ballad that emphasized Seger's rock credentials as well as guitarist Pete Carr's haunting lead guitar. The album also featured the anthem "Rock and Roll Never Forgets". Night Moves was Seger's first top ten album in the Billboard album chart, and as of 2006 was certified at 6 million copies in the United States alone – making it the biggest-selling studio album of his entire career. Furthermore, it activated sales of Seger's recent back catalog, so that Beautiful Loser (1975) would eventually sell 2 million and Live Bullet (1976) would go on to sell some 6 million copies in the United States. Indeed, Live Bullet stayed on the Billboard charts for 168 weeks and it remains one of the ten best-selling live albums of all time.
The following year, original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin was hit by a car from behind while walking on a service road, and was left unable to walk. David Teegarden, drummer for Seger on the Smokin' O.P.'s (1972) album, replaced him. Despite the loss, Seger followed up strongly with 1978's Stranger in Town. The first single, "Still the Same", emphasized Seger's talent for mid-tempo numbers that revealed a sense of purpose, and reached #4 on the pop singles chart. "Hollywood Nights" was an up-tempo #12 hit rocker, while "We've Got Tonight" was a slow ballad that reached #13 on the Hot 100. (The latter became an even bigger hit when country music superstar Kenny Rogers and pop singer Sheena Easton teamed up for a 1983 treatment of it that topped Billboard's Country and Adult Contemporary charts.) "Old Time Rock and Roll", a song from George Jackson and Thomas E. Jones III that Seger substantially rewrote the lyrics for, was not a big pop hit initially, but achieved substantial album track airplay. Moreover, it would later become one of Seger's most recognizable songs following its memorable Tom Cruise-dancing-in-his-underwear use in the 1983 film Risky Business. Indeed, it has been ranked the second-most played Jukebox Single of all time, behind Patsy Cline's "Crazy". The iconic recording of "Old Time Rock and Roll" was named one of the Songs of the Century in 2001. (Seger has ruefully remarked that not taking one-third writing credit on his recording was "the dumbest thing I ever did" financially.)
Seger also co-wrote the Eagles' #1 hit song "Heartache Tonight" from their 1979 album The Long Run; their collaboration a result of Seger's and Glenn Frey's early days together in Detroit.
In 1980, Seger released Against the Wind (with ex-Grand Funk Railroad member Craig Frost replacing Robyn Robbins on keyboards) and it became his first and only #1 album on the Billboard album chart. The first single "Fire Lake" featured Eagles Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, and Glenn Frey on backing vocals and Muscle Shoals guitarist, Pete Carr, on 12-string acoustic. Fire Lake reached #6 on the Hot 100, while the title song "Against the Wind" reached #5 as a single and even crossed over to the Top 10 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. "You'll Accomp'ny Me" became the third hit single from the record, reaching #14. Against the Wind would also win two Grammy Awards. As of 2006, both Stranger in Town and Against the Wind had sold over 5 million copies each in the United States.
The live 1981 album Nine Tonight encapsulated this three-album peak of Seger's commercial career. Seger's take on Eugene Williams' "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You" became a Top Five hit from Nine Tonight and the album would go on to sell 4 million copies.
Seger released the acclaimed The Distance in the final days of 1982. During the recording of this album, Silver Bullet guitarist Drew Abbott left the band due to his frustration with Seger's frequent use of session musicians in the studio, and was replaced by Dawayne Bailey. After the album's release, David Teegarden also left the band due to internal conflict, and was replaced by ex-Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer. Critically praised for representing a more versatile sound than that of his recent material, The Distance spawned numerous hits beginning with Rodney Crowell's "Shame on the Moon". It was the biggest hit of the Silver Bullet Band's entire career, hitting #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and holding at #2 for four consecutive weeks – behind Patti Austin and James Ingram's "Baby, Come to Me" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" – on the Hot 100. It also crossed over to #15 on Billboard's Country Singles chart. The follow-up single, "Even Now", just missed the Top 10 and "Roll Me Away" peaked at #27. The driving album track "Making Thunderbirds" was a popular music video filmed in Detroit and well-received on MTV. Seger's multi-platinum sales dropped off at this point, with The Distance peaking at #5 and selling only 1.9 million copies in the United States. (This album was belatedly released on 8 track tape; Capitol reportedly had no plans to do so, but Seger, guessing that a good many of his fans still had 8 track players in their vehicles, prevailed upon the label to release the album in that discontinued format as well.)
In 1984, Seger wrote and recorded the power rock ballad "Understanding" for the film soundtrack Teachers. The song was another Top 20 hit for Seger in late 1984. In 1986, he wrote and recorded "Living Inside My Heart" for the film soundtrack of About Last Night....
Seger was no longer as prolific and several years elapsed before his next studio album, Like a Rock emerged in the spring of 1986. The fast-paced "American Storm" was another Top 20 single aided by a popular music video featuring actress Lesley Ann Warren, and "Like a Rock" followed, reaching #12 on Billboard's Hot 100. Later, it would become familiar to many Americans through its association with a long-running Chevrolet ad campaign (something Seger explicitly chose to do to support struggling American automobile workers in Detroit). Seger's 1986–1987 American Storm Tour was his self-stated last major tour, playing 105 shows over 9 months and selling almost 1.5 million tickets. Like a Rock reached #3 and eventually sold over 3 million copies although it has never been certified above platinum.
On March 13, 1987, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their contributions to the music industry at 1750 Vine Street.
The following year Seger's "Shakedown", a somewhat uncharacteristic song off the 1987 film Beverly Hills Cop II's soundtrack, became his first and only #1 hit on the pop singles chart. The song had originally been intended for Seger's fellow Detroiter Glenn Frey, but when he lost his voice just prior to the recording session, Frey called in Seger to take his place. Seger changed the verses of the song but kept the chorus the same. The song earned Seger an Academy Award nomination as co-writer in the Best Original Song category the following year.
Bob Seger's next record was 1991's The Fire Inside, at a time when glam metal, grunge and alternative rock were taking the forefront. His new music found little visibility on radio or elsewhere. The same was true of 1995's It's a Mystery, although the album was certified gold (500,000 copies sold). However, in 1994, Seger released Greatest Hits; the compilation album was his biggest-ever record in terms of sales, selling nearly 10 million copies in the United States as of 2010. Seger did go back on the road again for a 1996 tour, which was successful and sold the fourth-largest number of tickets of any North American tour that year. (Seger was once known for his concerts in small venues, as witnessed with his appearance at the 18th Amendment in Omaha, Nebraska.)
Seger took a sabbatical from the music business for about ten years to spend time with his wife and two young children. In 2001 and 2002, Seger won the prestigious Port Huron to Mackinac Boat Race aboard his 52-foot (16 m) sailboat Lightning. He subsequently sold the boat. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 2004. Fellow Detroiter Kid Rock gave the induction speech and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm proclaimed that date Bob Seger Day in his honor. In 2005, Seger was featured singing with 3 Doors Down on the song "Landing in London" from their Seventeen Days album.
Seger's first new album in eleven years, titled Face the Promise, was released in 2006. In its first 45 days, it sold more than 400,000 copies. The album sold over 1.2 million copies, returning Seger to platinum status and staying on the Billboard chart for several months. His supporting tour was also eagerly anticipated, with many shows selling out within minutes. Showing that Seger's legendary appeal in Michigan had not diminished, all 10,834 tickets available for his first show at Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena sold out in under five minutes; three additional shows were subsequently added, each of which also sold out.
In 2009, Seger released a compilation album titled Early Seger Vol. 1, which contained archival material from the 1970s and 1980s, including some fully or partially re-recorded tracks from his albums Smokin' O.P.'s (1972) and Seven (1974) and some never-before-released songs. The album was initially only available for purchase at Meijer stores and then later for download at BobSeger.com. Seger contributed piano and vocals on Kid Rock's 2010 album Born Free. Seger staged a successful arena tour during 2011, accompanied by the release of a two-CD compilation album, Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets. On May 28, 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder proclaimed that date as Bob Seger Day for his more than 50 years of sharing his celebrated musical talents with fans all over the world.
On December 30, 2011, before a sell-out crowd at the Mandalay Bay Resort Arena in Las Vegas, Seger closed another successful tour. On October 30, 2011, he told AnnArbor.com director Bob Needham he was returning to the studio to complete another new album for release in the fall of 2012, followed by another supporting tour.
On June 14, 2012, Seger was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. On January 10, 2013, Seger announced another tour in the US and Canada.
Seger performed a duet of "Who'll Stop the Rain" with John Fogerty on Fogerty's album Wrote a Song for Everyone, released in 2013.
Seger's latest studio album, Ride Out was released on October 14, 2014. Ride Out was accompanied by a highly successful arena tour of the United States and Canada.
On December 22, 2016 Seger performed "Heartache Tonight" as the Kennedy Center honored the Eagles.
On January 18, 2017 Seger gave away the single "Glenn Song" on his website as a tribute marking the one year death of Glenn Frey (from Eagles) with whom Seger was close friends.
Starting on August 2017, Bob Seger embarked on a 32-city Runaway Train tour lasting until November 17, 2017 in Chicago.
On September 22, 2017, Seger announced his new album I Knew You When and released "Busload of Faith", a cover of the Lou Reed song from the 1989 album New York, as the first single taken from the album. I Knew You When is scheduled for release on November 17, 2017, which also marks the last day of Seger's Runaway Train tour.
Seger's first marriage in 1968 lasted for "one day short of a year". He had a long-term relationship with Jan Dinsdale from 1972 until 1983. In 1987, he married actress Annette Sinclair and they divorced one year later. He married Juanita Dorricott in 1993, in a small private setting at The Village Club, in Bloomfield Hills; they have two children. Seger lives mainly at his home in Orchard Lake Village, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He owns a condo in Naples, Florida.
Politically, Seger has characterized himself as a centrist: "[I'm] right down the middle", he remarked. He supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. He tackled antiestablishment themes in early songs such as "2+2=?" (1968) and "U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)" (1974), according to Brian McCollum of the Detroit Free Press. On his 2014 album Ride Out, he addressed topics such as gun violence, and wrote "It's Your World" about climate change. On the subject, he said, "There are a lot of culprits in climate change, and everybody's responsible, myself included. Nobody gets a free pass on this one. We've got to change our ways and change them fast."