December 13, 2006 at 1:00 am

March 11, 1977

Money paves the way for chart-topping success

The claim that if a record is "in the grooves" it's assured of becoming a hit is a myth and one believed only by the most na´ve aspiring pop singers and audiences.

Sure, a song has to have lyrical and melodic strength but the most important aspect of when a star is born is the push he gets from his record company and management.

Take the classic case of Detroit's Bob Seger, a performer who has been clearly "in the grooves" for the past 12 years yet has been unsuccessful until Capitol Records relented and decided to back his talent with hard cash.

Capitol's recent campaign blitz on Seger's "Night Moves" -- billboard, radio, TV and newspaper ads, trade magazine promos -- has probably been the overriding reason why both the album and its title cut single are resting mightily on everybody's Top 10 charts now.

"Capitol went to the wall on merchandising for us this time," says Punch Andrews, Seger's personal manager, friend and confidante. "They busted their a--s for us and put a lot of money behind him to promote him properly."

Andrews, 35, heads up Hideout Productions in Birmingham, housed in a converted two-story frame home near the downtown district. He's been with Seger from the beginning and opted to remain with him through all the lean years instead of going to work in his father's produce company.

"I've stuck around because I knew the guy (Seger) was amazing," Andrews says. "He can write, sing, play all the instruments and produce and I knew someday he'd make it."

Second time around is different

Seger's affiliation with Capitol is in its second time around. He was dropped from the label after a series of "cold" products in 1971. But Andrews says he knew from the outset that this time would be different.

"Don Zimmerman became the president of Capitol and he told me he would deliver the album to the charts and really work it. No, nobody can work a record if it's not really good, but they had enough reports from the field that 'Night Moves' was an excellent album and they felt Seger could become the new star of the '70's."

Another major factor in bringing Seger to the national consciousness, Andrews says, is his new booking agency, A.I.T, based in New York. "They got us booked into the 10,000-seat halls opening for monster acts like Kiss and Blue Oyster, exposing Bob to their audiences. Now, we're headlining."

Andrews also credits a third factor -- the blossoming of Seger's backup band, Silver Bullet.

"They're a tight operation," Andrews says. "It used to be a crap shoot for encores at concerts but now we've got 'em screaming for more at every date. The band will make mistakes on stage but they cover them up, then go back to the dressing room and hash 'em over and get it right. They've got their momentum really going."

Some of that performing momentum has been stalled since Bullet drummer Charlie Martin's auto accident two weeks ago broke his legs. Martin isn't expected to return to the band for "three to six months depending on how fast he recovers," says Andrews. In the meantime, the Seger traveling show has drummer Jamie Oldaker on loan from Eric Clapton's band.

Martin's absence will mean a few changes for the Seger band. For one thing, Andrews says, the band won't be trying out as much of its new material on the road until he gets back. That means the Seger concert set he's touring now will remain basically the same as when they played Cobo Arena a few months ago so when Seger returns to Detroit this summer at Pine Knob it will probably only be for "two or three nights" instead of five or six as originally planned.

But there are still other markets to work that Seger has never headlined before that will keep the band busy with the old show. The band is in the East this week, then they'll return home for a few days and then start out on a big western swing.

Success hasn't changed things much

Seger, reached in Buffalo Wednesday, talked about how his recent success hasn't changed things much. "It's kinda nice," said the gravel voice over the phone. "I actually got mobbed last night by some people after the show. First time that's ever happened outside of Detroit."

He continues underplaying his success: "There's only so much you can put in a suitcase," he says, "It's unusual not having to worry about next year's bills. There's a little more adulation and a lot more press."

Does he now plan to move from Detroit to a more glamourous climate?

"No way. It's home."

Adds Andrews: "It's taken me 12 years to put carpeting in the (Birmingham) office here," he laughs. "I've got a brand-new desk with a credenza."

And, of course, things have become more hectic at the office. "We have to work 10 times as hard as a year ago," Andrews says. "I've now got 20 to 30 people wanting to record his stuff instead of just two or three. I just got off the phone with Johnny Winter who wants Bob to write him a few songs and before that, there were these guys from Germany -- I never could put together what they were saying, but I think they were trying to talk me into a European tour."

And there's another change. Seger and his band no longer drive to their one-night stands in beat-up campers that carried them in the lean days on the long and winding road.

"But they fly coach, not first class," Andrews says. "Maybe it's a throwback to harder times, but I can't see where getting there four feet sooner makes all that much difference."