SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour set. Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios. So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 PM SLT as she lets you into her world.
|The Bob Seger System (1969), Seger up front|
The summer of 1969 was a magic summer. In July, three men were heading to the moon to make that historic first landing there. While those men hurled towards the moon at 24,200 miles per hour (38,950 km/s), a U.S. Senator from my home state of Massachusetts was changing the course of that history on a bridge at an obscure place called “Chappaquiddick.” (I was living only 35 miles away when that happened.) There are few that doubt that Ted Kennedy would have been President if it weren’t for that black mark on his record. It was the same week that people were flocking to see a newly released movie about two men, Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper), who rode their Harley Panheads across the country in what would be the third highest grossing film of 1969, Easy Rider.
|From left, clockwise: Front Page Boston Globe with both Chappaquiddick and the Moon Landing making news. Senator Kennedy's Car in the water. Billy & Wyatt ride in Easy Rider. Click to enlarge.|
If guys walking on the moon and riding choppers across America wasn’t magic enough, the following month a crowd of 450,000 “hippies” gathered in upstate New York for Woodstock, three days of Peace, Love and Music. When the event went off without a hitch, despite overcrowding and lack of services and facilities, the world saw that our generation really was capable of the “love thy neighbor” philosophy that we were all embracing. It was the perfect ending to the magic summer of 1969.
None of this was as magic as having my brother home with us in Massachusetts for a couple of weeks. In 1966, my oldest brother had a falling out with our father and went to live on the opposite coast with our grandmother. He would come home each summer for a couple of weeks and I looked forward to these times very much. Despite a seven year age gap, we were quite close and I’d say he was closer to me than anyone else in the family. Back in 1967, he began recording tapes to me instead of writing letters. It was my duty to inform the family, usually over dinner, about how my brother was doing and what he was up to. Of course there were portions I had to omit and I was somewhat proud that he trusted me with this. I will go into these tapes in more detail in an upcoming Sojourn.
So, how does Bob Seger work into all of this?
On this trip, my brother came into my room to visit and catch up, which we both loved doing. We shared a great love of music so of course he was curious and picked up a couple of LP records sitting on my desk. One caught his eye especially, my copy of a newly released album by the Bob Seger System, Ramblin' Gamblin' Man. His attention piqued my curiosity because this was not one that I expected to interest him. There were a lot of bands that we shared a great love for including the Jefferson Airplane, Cream and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. By 1969, his tastes were leaning more towards the acoustic guitar performance of war protesters like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs. I like those artists too but my tastes were now also including the likes of Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple. The Bob Seger System was not one of these softer, acoustic artists nor were they a Bay Area group and they definitely were one of my harder rock bands.
I took the record from him and I placed it on my record player and set the needle down on the first song of side A. The drums started and I began to dance, flipping my hair around. Then, when the lyrics began, I sang along at the top of my voice.
“Yeah, I'm gonna tell my tale come on, come on, give a listen.
“Cause I was born lonely down by the riverside,
Learned to spin fortune wheels, and throw dice,
And I was just thirteen when I had to leave home.
Knew I couldn't stick around, I had to roam.
Ain’t good looking, but you know I ain't shy,
Ain't afraid to look it girl, hear me out.
So if you need some lovin’ and you need it right away,
Take a little time out, and maybe I'll stay.
“But I got to ramble ramblin' man.”
I had played that song enough, being my favorite on the album, that I had no trouble with the words. When my little performance was done, my brother chuckled, but not in a mocking way. You could tell he enjoyed it. He then went over to the record player and turned the record over and placed the needle somewhere on the second side.
With a grin on his face he told me, “Listen to these words.”
It was then that I finally dawned on me; he knew this album. The song began with just a bass and I had heard it before, of course, but it was not one of the songs I had on constant replay. It was called 2+2=? (pronounced “two plus two equals what”), which I found to be a strange song title. I listened as Bob began singing with the bass.
“Yes it's true I am a young man
But I'm old enough to kill.
I don't wanna kill nobody
but I must if you so will.
And if I raise my hand in question,
You just say that I'm a fool.
Cause I got the gall to ask you,”
It was here that the fuzzed out psychedelic guitar kicked.
“Can you maybe change the rules?
Can you stand and call me upstart?
Ask what answer can I find,
I ain't sayin' I'm a genius;
2+2 is on my mind.
As I listened to the words, I realized that I was listening to a war protest song. That is why my brother new it. He traveled in the kind of circles where this song was probably played. The song finally ended…
“I'm no prophet; I'm no rebel.
I'm just asking you why.
I just want a simple answer.
Why it is I’ve got to die?
I'm a simple minded guy,
2+2 is on my mind.”
My brother was looking at me as those last lyrics were sung. I think he was looking for my reaction to the song but I recall that all I could think about was that one line, “Why it is I’ve got to die?” My brother was four months away from turning eighteen and having to register for the draft. When he would get his letter, he would need to report to a designated Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). I didn’t want my brother to die; especial in some rice paddy half way around the world, in a war we had no business fighting.
But there was hope. Richard Nixon had won the election for President and took office back in January. He had won on the promise of getting us out of Vietnam and ending the war. We hadn’t heard anything on the particulars up until then but what we didn’t know was that Nixon, behind the backs of Congress and the American people, had escalated things and was conducting operations in Cambodia, a country that we weren’t even at war with. It seems that getting a bigger hammer and obliterating everything was his answer to ending the war and bringing peace. Thinking back, I’m reminded of one of my brother’s favorite singers of the time, Tom Paxton, and a line from one of his protest songs, “to help save Vietnam from Vietnamese.”
For better or worse, that was how I got to know about Bob Seger. He was an artist emerging from the Detroit music scene with his new band, the Bob Seger System. Wow! Here was a rock guy who was not only a singer, he was an entire system! I would later learn that he had recorded a couple of singles with his previous band in Detroit, Bob Seger and the Last Heard. I always thought that was such a clever name. I will include Heavy Music (1967) by Bob Seger and the Last Heard in my set Sunday night, along with every song mentioned so far.
The one thing I can say about Bob Seger is that he has always been there for me from that magic summer of 1969 onwards. Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix and others are long dead. The Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, all gone. Bob Seger is still active after all these years and actually released his latest single this year, Glenn Song, a tribute to his good friend, Glenn Frey. This post is more about my own life, but you will see that Bob Seger was always around.
That summer came to an end and the Bob Seger came out with their next album, Noah, in the fall. This one had a song, Death Row, which was notable because it is considered one of the songs of the late 60’s that inspired and heralded in the harder rock sound of the 70’s. This album has never been legitimately been reissued but I’ll still play Death Row for you on Sunday.
Nixon would finally address the nation on how we would get out of Vietnam in November and we began hearing a new term, “Vietnamization.” It was a process by which we would make Vietnam the problem of the Vietnamese and not ours. Despite his promise to bring troops home, the draft continued, my brother tuned 18 and eventually he had to report for his physical. He failed it and was deemed unfit for military service so, much to my family’s relief, he would not be going to Vietnam.
|Counter culture icons go to war. Click to enlarge.|
The war was perverse in many ways, especially to my pre-adolescent (and eventually teen-aged) mind. We started seeing our anti-war counterculture icons like peace symbols and sayings on our soldiers and their implements of war (see above). I recall watching on TV a bit about an airplane that they nicknamed “Puff the Magic Dragon.” This was a transport in which several Gatling type (rotating barrels) machineguns were mounted on one side. The plane was shown circling over the jungle canopy and I began singing out loud as it rained death down to the Viet Cong below at 10,000 rounds per second…
“Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
In a land called Honnah Lee.”
And frolicked in the autumn mist
In a land called Honnah Lee.”
|Artist rendition... Puff the Magic Dragon|
I was a freshman in High School when Bob Seger released his seventh album, aptly named “Seven,” in March of 1974. Despite it being an amazing album, it never charted and it remains out of print today. My favorite song from this one is School Teacher and I’ll play it for you on Sunday, along with other tunes from it. I must have played this one 100 times when I first got it, before I finally put it away.
Bob was there at the beginning of my senior year when he released what was his most successful album to date, Night Moves. I actually had two copies of this album, one on LP record and one on 8-track tape. This one had so many great tunes.
I graduated high school and much to my parents’ disappointment, I did not plan on going to college. I wanted to be a radio DJ and I set my sights towards that. I knew that the stations were too big around my area for someone starting out, so I decided to relocate to New England where I had both family and friends. Some of the smaller stations up there actual were having trouble finding on-air personnel. By December, I had earned my Third Class Radio Telephone License with an FM Broadcast Endorsement from the FCC and I was working as a Radio DJ.
I started only as a fill-in, working odd shifts here and there. In April, one of our regular afternoon DJ’s got a job at a much larger station in Boston. Our late night DJ moved, took the afternoon slot and I was offered the midnight shift, Monday thru Friday. Of course, I accepted it and I was now a regular on-air personality.
I usually reported to the station around 8 PM, even though my shifted didn’t start for a few hours. We all had tasks assigned to us and I also would spend an hour in the music room pulling records for my set. It was before one of my very first sets that the Music Director came in soon after I arrived and gave me a task. I was to file several newly arrived albums in the “New” section for airplay. I went through the albums and came across brand new Bob Seger! I had not seen nor heard this new one yet, Stranger in Town. As I filed the others away, I kept the new Seger LP and used it to begin my collection of records for my upcoming show in a few hours.
I relieved the DJ who was finishing and soon I was alone in the studio. The thing about the midnight shift is that everyone goes home and the on-air DJ is all by themselves for their show. I cued the new Bob Seger record up and not knowing any of the tracks on it, I picked the first song on the first side, Hollywood Nights. I had never heard any of these songs before and it was risky for a DJ to play a song they didn’t know, but I took the chance. After I cued the record to the first song, I placed the turntable in gear and set the corresponding knob to about 8 or 9. I set the lever back from cue to the upright position.
After the current song had ended, I pushed the lever above the microphone knob to the right and the red “On the Air” light went on over my head as I rotated the knob from 0 to about 8. It was just me, alone with an unknown number of listeners, as I spoke to them into the microphone.
“I got an amazing treat for all of you… Brand new Bob Seger with the Silver Bullet Band. It’s so new that I haven’t even heard it yet. Let us share it for the first time together.”
As I uttered the last sentence, I flipped the lever to the right and the turntable started turning and the song began. The guitar and the drums kicked in and it was amazing, like a musical orgasm. I had most definitely but unknowingly picked a winner. When the song ended, I put the record aside and, when I found a break during a longer song, I took the album to the other studio and set it up to record onto a cassette tape.
The following Saturday afternoon, I lit a joint and played the tape. The album was amazing with such songs as Hollywood Nights, Still the Same, Old Time Rock and Roll, We’ve Got Tonight, Feel Like a Number and others. The album would be released the following month in May and would become available in stores. Old Time Rock and Roll would be used in the movie, Risky Business (1983), featuring Tom Cruise. Stranger in Town would eventually sell over 6 million copies becoming certified platinum six times! It climbed all the way to number 4 on the Billboard Charts.
His next album, which came out in 1980, would go all the way to number 1. The title song, Against the Wind, was actually timely with a major life change of mine. I had been living a subsistence existence. I wasn’t making enough money to get anywhere and the prospect for advancement was not great.
“Never worried about paying or even how much I owed.
Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time,
Breaking all of the rules that would bend.
I began to find myself searching;
Searching for shelter again and again…
“Against the wind,
A little something against the wind.
I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.”
The lyrics said it all. It was fun but I really had no future there. I finally caved in 1980 and allowed my parents to pay for my college. I still had dreams of radio but I would never realize them.
I graduated in 1985 with an engineering degree from a university in Illinois. I realized that I didn’t want to be an engineer and while I was finishing up my degree, I earned my National Registry Emergency Medical Technician. I went home to New Jersey after graduation and proceeded to piss off the parents once again and get a job in the Emergency Medical Services. After using my EMT to start working, I began to take classes to become a paramedic. I officially earned my MICU Paramedic (Mobil Intensive Care Unit) in 1986. At about this time, Bob Seger came out with his 13th studio album, Like a Rock. The title track would become a staple theme for Chevy trucks beginning in 1991.
His career would seem to sync up with my life on more occasions to come. In 1991, while Like a Rock was becoming a Chevy Truck commercial, I lost my father and Bob came out with his 14th studio album, the Fire Inside. I announced my retirement from EMS at the end of 2005 and in 2006 Bob came out with his 16th studio album, Face the Promise. On the cover, Bob can be seen riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
This album (see below) came at a time that I was retiring from a second career. My radio career of a couple of years was rather short lived but my medic career had run a full 20 year course, including the tragedy of September 11, 2001. I left my house that fateful morning not to return for five days with only the clothes on my back and a couple of personal effects. I retired with eight citations, including one for valor in 1991. My father would live long enough to read about the incident in the paper but he did not survive to see the medal ceremony.
I was embarking on a new chapter of my life and this new Bob Seger album in many ways pointed the way. Seeing him on the cover on his Harley invoked the image of my brother on his. I began a mundane third career and tried to cope with my PTSD, a parting gift for 20 years of service in “the trenches.” When my father had retired, he was given a gold watch. I was given a substance abuse problem and nightmares.
Bob was quiet for twelve years as I coped and tried to get by. In therapy, my therapist and I decided that I’d get a motorcycle. This would hopefully give me a means to cope. All of my brothers had ridden and I had ridden on the back many times, much to my mother’s chagrin. Why shouldn’t I get one? In 2014, I took the New Rider Course and got my license, setting the stage for the purchase of my very own Harley-Davidson. That same year, Bob finally released his next album, his 17th studio album, aptly named from my perspective, Ride Out. This album has a motorcycle and open road theme to it, its cover (seen below) showing a roadway reminiscent of Easy Rider (1969), mentioned above. In many ways, Bob and I had come full circle.
DJ Sue’s Vault…
Above is my copy of the record that started it all, Ramblin' Gamblin' Man. I look at the cover and I’m instantly transported back to that magic day in 1969 were I belted out the title tune, hair flying everywhere, for my brother.
Bob has been there for me throughout my life, through my high points and low points. Only sometimes as it was happening did I realize this synchronicity. Usually, it only hit me during times of contemplative retrospect. Bob and I have been through a lot together and now I wonder how much more there is for us to share. This year (2017) Bob released Glenn Song, a tribute to his good friend, Glenn Frey, on the one year anniversary of his death.
I have never seen Bob in concert and maybe I should fix this. Maybe I owe him that in thanks, buy a ticket and thank him (from a distance) in person. Thanks Bob!
Join me Sunday night (AWT 7-9 PM slt) as I relive all of these memories. Every song mentioned above is on my set list. I’m sure, whether you are a Bob Seger fan or not that you will enjoy this one. You will find yourself saying, “Hey, I know this one,” often. Pretty much every tune will be high energy and get you dancing in your seat.
Today I have let you into my life in a way I have never before. I’ve known many of you for so long that I wanted you to know what made me tick. Much of this many of you already knew. Now I have strung it together as a cohesive whole. I love you all.
|Recent picture of Bob Seger|