I would like to draw attention to Bob Seger’s early work, which is sadly very unknown outside of my hometown of Detroit (where we knew his music and owned the record albums in the late 1960s and early 1960s. 70s; it even topped the Beatles sales in the Detroit subway). Most of his pre-1975 work isn’t even available on CD (surprisingly enough, for anyone in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
He did not achieve great success nationally until 1976, with Live ball and Night movements. I remember taking the train west in 1978 and a guy who kept talking about Bob Seger, like it was something new. I was as proud as a peacock that I had known him for eleven years (starting with the 45 Heavy music, which my sister owned). We liked it first.
His previous wonderful music has been recounted on Live ball. At that time he was considerably more “savage” and “savage” than he was after 1976 (the live version of Heavy music looks like Perry Como compared to the fascinating original). He sang like a white version of James Brown, with just as much soul and the intensity increased about three times (if you can even imagine that: but hearing is believing).
His voice was then a little higher and with more vibrato (we can still hear this “trembling” style in, for example, the song Night movements). Granted, most of us loosen up a bit as we get older (musicians are no different), but it seems like something is lost too. By definition, those who have passed a certain age can hardly maintain the enthusiasms and “vigor of youth”.
His old band (The Bob Seger System) was almost as powerful and sounded like a late ’60s proto-punk version of The Clash or The Ramones, while the Silver Bullet Band sounds more like neo-Chuck Berry. , which is good, just considerably different in style and approach. A music review website gives an idea of the difference between his early songs and the famous canon of classic (and much better known) songs:
“Great stuff from Bob. Hard to believe it’s him. Quality rock / psyche / blues / garage hybrid.
“For anyone who thinks Bob Seger sucks and hasn’t heard this album before you got the surprise of a lifetime. As he got older, Bob became more tame and conventional.
“Nobody believes it’s the same classic Seger rock radio when they hear that big lp [Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man]. “
For you young people who hardly know what a “recording” is: “lp” means “long read” or “recording album”.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, of All the music guide rated Seger Ramblin ‘Gamblin’ Man album (1968). The album is (it seems obvious to me) of variable quality. I only like five of the eleven songs myself. But these five are killer cuts. Erlewine largely agrees with my assessment:
The Bob Seger System puts it all in Ramblin ‘Gamblin’ Man, dabbling in folk, blues-rock, psychedelia and stacked rock & roll synonymous with Detroit. Typical of such a large start, not everything works. . . . But the songs that work are absolute freaks, evidenced by the title song, a thunderous track of self-mythology driven by relentless beat, screaming organ riff and gospel chorus. It’s an incredibly awesome record, and while nothing here quite matches it, the songs come close to it. . . are perfect examples of stripped-down, bluesy and hot-tempered Michigan rock & roll. Tales of Lucy Blue has a scary and threatening side, Ivory is a large Motown-style raver, and Downstairs at home rides a manic riff and a simple blues harp to be one of the best rockers on the record. Then there is 2 +2 =?, a fierce anti-war song in the vein of Creedence Clearwater Revival Lucky son, but here Seger can’t imagine why the sweet boy from high school is now buried in the mud. It’s a creepy, visceral song that ranks among the best anti-Vietnam protests. . . . an exciting and imperfect beginning which ends up being a symbol of its time by its very diversity.
These five are the same that I like. He mentions one more, the closing cut. If you want to hear amazing rock and roll, buy this album. See also the amazon.com reviews.
The other great “lost” album from Seger’s first phase of “rocker unknown companion” is Bastard (1970). Every cut is fabulous on this record, and the style is always more funky and soulful than the previous album, which fell (in retrospect, stupid) too often into Grateful Dead-type psychedelia (but of a much more interesting type that has at least kept one awake).
James Brown was where he is (and looking to the future), not the “sound of San Francisco”. Soul and funk have had a profound and lasting effect on music, as hippie music is pretty much now relegated to the trash cans of the musical madness of the past. One of the comments (suitably, from a Michigander) on the Amazonian page because this album gives a good idea of the soundscape of Bastard:
Unless you grew up in Detroit you’ve probably never heard of this album. . . . Why this recording is not a staple of classic rock waves is a mystery. Every song on this album (or CD if you can find one) is top notch hard rock by Bob Seger. This particular group was smoking! . . This is a prototype of classic old hard rock. Fantastic vocals, steamy leads and thunderous drums. This jam requires maximum volume and throbbing eardrums afterwards. A totally unrecognized classic. Once again, why this album was not a success at the time remains a mystery. I would say Seger was just a regional group at the time and the competition. . . Beg, buy or steal a copy of Mongrel; you will not regret it. LAUNCH IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So buy new speakers!
Erlewine offers another one-off review:
. . . superb. . . Never before, and never since, has Seger rocked as recklessly and viciously as he did here – after a stint in the wilderness, he found his voice again. He is so self-assured, he elevates his Ramblin ‘Gamblin’ Man characters Lucy Blue and Chicago Green at mythical status in the spray Lucifer, perhaps the greatest song on this lean, muscular record. This assurance isn’t limited to the fierce rockers who dominate the album – Evil Edna, Child of the road, Bent over my dream, and Song to Rufus all of them hit harder than today’s MC5 – but at quieter times like Big river, where he first discovered the melancholy and passionate ballad style popularized later with Night movements. The fact that the system connects on the two illustrates that Seger is not only the head of a great band, but is on the way to becoming a first-class songwriter. . . . the really remarkable thing is that Bastard presents a group so powerful and a songwriter so distinctive, that it still rings the bell decades after its release.
Here are the other pre-Live ball Bob Seger’s “first” albums (linked to Amazon pages):
Noah (1969; mostly not written by Seger, and he suffers from it. Notable cuts are Eyes of Innervenus and Death corridor)
Brand new morning (1971; an album of ballads)
OP smokers (1972; includes song of the dynamite 1967 Heavy music, the ultra funky, irresistible Turn on your love light, and a crackle Bo Diddley)
Back in 72 (1973; title cut is magnificent; the rest not as good)
Seven (1974; quite a weak effort, in my opinion, but not without moments)
Beautiful loser (1975; good enough to have been a big hit. Contains the fabulous Kathmandu, the little-known classic Black night, and four others made famous the Live ball)
Also note the first songs (and singles) History of the east side (1966), Blacksmith of persecution (1966; similar to that of Dylan Underground homesick blues), and Looking back (1971). The latter appears to be unavailable for purchase at the present time. But the version of it on Live ball is really good (some will say: better than the original). You can also listen to the original on You Tube (with lots of great photos)
Update (Dec 2018):
Heavy Music: Complete Recordings of 1966-1967 Cameos released in September 2018 and contains Heavy music, History of the east side, Blacksmith of persecution, and other obscure songs.
Additional information and videos about Bob Seger:
The Bob Seger dossier (packed with trivia about everything Seger)
BobSeger.com (official site)
“Where did all the Bob Seger albums go?” “ (NPR Music, 3-29-17)
All Bob Seger lyrics from A to Z (Lyricsfreak)
Hopefully many of you reading this, who love Bob Seger and aren’t familiar with his early tracks (or those who didn’t know anything about him until now), will buy some of it. Let me know what you think!
Detroit’s “Blue-Eyed Soul” singer: Bob Seger 
(originally 9-23-06; revised and updated 12-26-18)
Photo credit: Bob Seger (bottom right) and the Silver Bullet Band in 1977 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]