Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Nov 30th 2011 1:29PM by Deborah Evans-Price
"I like to think I'm bolder now, I really do," Seger tells Spinner, explaining his creative season. "I try to write something really different if I can. That's the challenge. I'm really fortunate to still be working at this age, so I'm not in the mood to repeat myself."
The 66-year-old Michigan-born rocker made the leap from regional favorite to national success with 1975's 'Live Bullet,' a double album recorded live in Detroit with the Silver Bullet Band. Since then, he's populated America's musical landscape with such enduring hits as 'Against the Wind,' 'Night Moves,' 'Like a Rock,' 'Turn the Page' and 'Old Time Rock and Roll.'
Released Nov. 21, 'Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets' is a two-CD set that includes such classics as 'Roll Me Away,' 'Shame on the Moon' and 'Hollywood Nights,' the original mono version of his first hit, 'Ramblin' Gamblin' Man,' and his take on the holiday classic 'Little Drummer Boy,' which makes its first appearance on a Seger album. The 26-track collection also includes his most recent singles, a cover of Tom Waits' 'Downtown Train' and the classic-rock hit 'Hey Hey Hey Hey (Going Back to Birmingham),' penned by Little Richard.
"I've been a huge fan of Little Richard all of my life," Seger says of his decision to record the tune. "Almost all of us came from Little Richard, [including] Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee [Lewis], Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly. Little Richard was one of my personal favorites. I liked the way he sang really, really hard and with a lot of energy."
Seger's own unique energy, musical integrity and heartfelt blue-collar passion have fueled sales of more than 51 million albums, garnering 11 platinum and seven multi-platinum RIAA certifications. His 'Greatest Hits' album has sold more than nine million copies in the United States and boasts a 17-year streak on Billboard's Top 200 Albums and Catalog Albums charts. In 2010, it was named the No. 1 Catalog Album of the Decade, besting titles by the Eagles, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and other heavy hitters.
When talks started with his longtime label, Capitol/EMI, about a new hits package, Seger admits he was hesitant.
"At the time, I didn't want to do it because I was all fired up about the new record," he says. "I had no idea we were going to start downloading this year, and I didn't feel it was right to cut my record company of 45 years out of the picture, so I felt like they should have something for Christmas, and this was the thing that made the most sense."
In September, Seger fans were treated to a free six-track bonus EP on iTunes celebrating the release of the digitally remastered albums 'Nine Tonight' and 'Live Bullet.' During that week-long promotion, Seger gave fans 1,698,000 free downloaded tracks.
"I just thought it was time," he says of making his music available digitally. "We're one of the last ones to do it and I wanted people to have the opportunity to get it."
Talking about 'Live Bullet' brings back memories for Seger.
"It really took off like a comet, and of course, that was 12 years leading up to that album," he says, referring to all the dues he and the band paid prior to their big breakthrough. "Some of the people, like [bassist] Chris Campbell, had been with me since 1969, and that came out around '75. We had played so many shows. The previous year, '74, we played 350, so that's how hard we were working, and we were pretty tight when we did 'Live Bullet' that night. Did I have any idea that it would be that big? No, and I was very grateful for that."
Throughout the years, Seger has found it gratifying to see the way his songs have taken root in his fans' lives.
"There are certain songs, like 'Old Time Rock,' for instance -- they play it at weddings," he says. "I've seen so many kids perform it in talent shows and stuff like that. I remember when I was first starting out in the bars in '62 and '63 and people wanted to hear 'My Funny Valentine' and 'Stardust.' They wanted to hear 'Misty' and 'Summertime.' They wanted to hear classics, and in kind of a funny way now, stuff like 'Against the Wind' is a classic, and it's very, very flattering."
Seger's current tour kicked off Nov. 2 in Ypsilanti, Mich., and concludes with a Dec. 30 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. After five decades of performing, Seger still loves the road.
"I really enjoy being with the people I play with -- that's a big part of it," he says, his raspy voice still teeming with excitement. "I enjoy their company, my crew, the band. We just move through the country like an army. It's fun just being with everybody. I always feel very grateful to be up there, and the audience gives us such great feedback."
Though he toured last spring, Seger was off the road during the summer. "I can only get my drummer in the winter," he says of Don Brewer. "He plays with Grand Funk all summer and usually takes the winters off, but this is his sixth tour with us. I love playing with him."
In concert, Seger tries to serve up as many hits as possible and says his approach is to "go faster and fastest and then drop down to a ballad.
"For some reason, that works good for me," he says, adding that he and Brewer share an affinity for one number in particular. "Our favorite is 'Hollywood Nights.' It's just a train, and he plays great. We really look forward to that every night."
After the tour wraps, Seger says, the first thing he plans to do in the new year is begin work on his next record.
"I'm going to write until the end of March," he says. "I'm looking forward to that, a three-month period of pure writing."
As far as his approach to writing new material, Seger says it's still the same.
"I'll come up with a title that I'll really like, and I'll start there," he says. "It's a very mysterious process. I just start playing music, and then eventually, I'll sing something, a line of a verse, a line of a chorus, and it will take me. The line that I end up singing is related to the music that I'm playing, and I go from there and try to figure out where I'm going with it."
Among the new tunes Seger has already finished is a song titled 'Ride Out.'
"That covers an awful lot of territory," he says, "and that might be the title song. There's an awful lot of lyrics in it pinched into a small area and goes from line to line of different subjects. It's pretty bizarre, and I really like it. Another one is called 'Wonderland,' and I don't know how to describe that either, but again, I'm trying to write stuff that's different. I'm a big science fan, and 'Wonderland' has some science in it."
In addition to creating his own music, Seger still loves discovering new sounds. At present, it's folk duo the Civil Wars.
"I listen to music all the time and ... right now the Civil Wars' song 'Barton Hollow' knocks me out," he says. "I just look for something that's creative and unusual, and I'm not the only one; Kid Rock loves the Civil Wars, too. We both said that that is our favorite country song of the year. I have no idea who they are. I've seen their video a couple of times, but their harmonies are spectacular, and it's a very unusual song. When I hear something like that, it's kind of like, 'Gosh, I wish I'd written that!' That's the stuff I really like."
Seger hopes to have his new album finished and out next year and plans to tour in support of the new release.
"I just take it tour by tour, really," he says. "At my age, that's about all you can do. I will finish the next record, and right now, I'm planning on touring the next record ... I don't know if there will be several more [albums]. I'm going to be 70 in three and a half years, so it might be time to go away fairly soon. But as long as I'm still enjoying it and I think I'm doing something worthwhile, I'll continue to keep doing it."