Bob Seger's "Live Bullet" may in fact be the vehicle that can finally launch him into his rightful place in contemporary music. The album was recorded live Sept. 4 and 5, 1975 in front of a sold-out and adoring local audience at Cobo. The rapport between artist and audience was intensely magnified.
"Live Bullet" contains many of the Seger songs that should have become million sellers, including "Heavy Music" and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." It also contains well-worked versions of Tina Turner's forceful "Nutbush City Limits" and Van Morrison's "I've Been Working." There are also some deeply personal Seger songs, some of which were born out of his professional frustration, like "Katmandu," which he patterned after the Beatles' "Born in the U.S.S.R.," "Get Out of Denver," which is only a riff or two from vintage Chuck Berry and the haunting and innovative "Turn the Page."
'Live Bullet' puts Seger over the top
I would like to say that "Live Bullet" is the album that will put Seger over the top. But I felt the same way about "Beautiful Loser" before this and "Back in '72" before that and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" before that and
You'd think 12 years of playing excellent rock 'n' roll and being royally received in Detroit, the rock capital of the world, would be enough. But the rest of the country hasn't been listening. Maybe they will now with "Live Bullet."
Seger figures he rates about a "six" on the commercial-appeal scale of one to 10 in the music business. (Note: A "one" would be local bar band status and a "10" would be that select group of superstars, which include the Stones, Zeppelin and Dylan.)
In other words, he's slightly more popular than the average "name" rock 'n' roller.
And what do you suppose a midlevel pop star like Seger earns annually from touring and record sales? (Remember Seger's recording company is no slouch, it's a major name -- Capitol, the Beatles' label.) A cool million? Wrong. A hundred thousand? You're getting warmer.
Now nothing is wrong with $25,000 but you -- like me -- had probably figured a little higher. After all, we've grown up on the buy-a-guitar-get-it-in-tune-and-you'll-be-a-rock 'n' roll-millionaire-soon myth.
"It's really a feast or famine business," says Seger. "And there are very few of us at this midlevel. In most cases you usually got guys who spend years just lookin' for a gig."
Then, of course, you've got Elton, the Who and the rest pulling down a few million a year on the outrageous end of the financial spectrum. Of course, Seger adds, a midleveler has good years and bad years and nobody knows more about the ups and downs of the music biz than our Bob Seger who, after 12 years of providing some of the most excellent rock 'n' roll this side of Paul McC, is still looking for the album or single record that's going to propel him into his rightful position at the top of the pops.
In 1970, Seger made $75,000. That was the year "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" sold nationally. But from 1971 to 1973 -- Seger's Warner Bros. period when he was back to paying dues -- he only earned between $7,000 and $8,000.
Last year he signed with Capitol, toured as a kicker act mostly with Bachman-Tuner and earned $25,000. And currently, the royalty checks are just arriving for his moderately successful "Beautiful Loser" album that had the semihit song "Katmandu" on it last summer and Seger figures he's already gone over $25,000 in 1976.
A Seger live performance usually earns him and his Silver Bullet band $5,000 (they divide the tour money evenly). But it also costs him $5,000 to get himself, the band and the equipment to the first concert -- now he flies but he used to drive a beat-up Winnebago -- and then nets a few thousand the next night in a nearby town.
If his recently released "Live Bullet" album breaks him open nationally, his concert fee will go up with his personal income. In Detroit, at least, where Seger is appreciated, he can sell out Cobo twice (and did last fall) and currently, promoter Steve Glantz is planning to headline Seger at 80,000-seat Pontiac Stadium on June 26.
The bar route
It's a whole lot safer and secure just playing local bars, Seger says, but the bar route is more costly artistically, he adds.
"You can make more than $25,000 playing some bar," he says, "But bars today want nothing but Top 40 songs and disco tunes. The audiences are unattentive too, and for me, it's not worth it."
The small club-bar scene in Detroit has stagnated, he says, and that is the primary reason why new acts aren't breaking out like they were five years ago when places like the Eastown and Grand ballrooms launched the careers of folks like Alice Cooper and the MC5.
"There's no place left in Detroit for a musician to show what he can really do," Seger says. "I've got a good band living next to me (in Waterford Township) who play good original stuff, but they haven't gotten a gig in over a year."
If he's right, and Seger is our foremost local expert on the subject of "paying dues," this explains why recently all Detroit can boast about are the two backup singers for Tony Orlando -- big deal -- who came out of here.