Seger sax man Alto Reed and 35 years of Live Bullet

by Ryan Snyder

Alto Reed discusses the seminal album Live Bullet. He performs his horn with Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band at the Greensboro Coliseum Saturday night. (photo by Steve Galli / CBS)

It was 35 years ago this month that, hyperbole warranted, an all-timer entered the live rock record lexicon. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Live Bullet was more than just a multimillion seller; according to Seger’s long-time sax player Alto Reed, it was a turning point for the songwriter and his band. Live Bullet is the story of a good band becoming great, and never looking back on it. You can find the imprint of Reed — a blues hound, proud papa and the sincerest of devotees to Seger himself — all over it, from the icy sax that became the signature of “Turn the Page” to being the engine that drives the album’s epic closer “Let It Rock.” Reed has lived for the stage every day of his life since the time of Live Bullet, and here he offers a few memories of playing on it and life after Seger.

Y!W: Everything on this album, from the mix to the performances themselves, sound flawless. Was this just a case of the stars aligning for one night?

AR: It was a great two nights. It wasn’t really a tour per se, back then we just did as many shows as possible. I remember showing up to sound check and seeing a microphone taped to every microphone and I knew what that meant. It was pretty amazing that there was this high-pressure reality of recording, but it was also our first really big show in Detroit. We were on the road so much every night playing that we were very well versed in those songs. We had a set that was just not all high-energy rock and roll, but it was a journey for the audience.

Y!W: There seemed to be some uncertainty while the shows were taking place whether it would actually be released. What tipped it in favor of release?

AR: We had never done it before, so there was no way of knowing it would be an album. Bob, being the honest guy that he is, didn’t want to go onstage and say, “Hey everybody, you’re going to be on an album!” We had the 16-track rolling outside and he said, “You just might be on an album.” I was like, “Hey, we just might be on an album.”

It did sit there for a while and I had almost forgotten what we had because we had started working on the Night Moves album when we heard it would be released. We all thought Night Moves would come out first, but Punch (manager Edward Andrews) was adamant that this would have to precede whatever else we were going to do, because this was something very special. It was a 16-track recording. Not digital, not 48. Sixteen, with microphones taped to other microphones. It was just meant to be.

Y!W: What was your reaction to hearing the album for the first time?

AR: The whole thing was magic. We knew we had an amazing album captured. Live Bullet was really the defining moment of us as a band, and Bob as a songwriter and who our audience was in terms of their enthusiasm and understanding of Bob’s storytelling. He’s such a great storyteller that he can take a common story and tell it in an uncommon fashion that it just clicks with everyone out there.

Y!W: I’ve read rumors that Bob has been recording a lot and plans to put out a new album soon. Can you describe your contributions?

AR: We’ve been recording over the years and there’s a lot of material that never made it to albums. We kept piling a lot of songs because Bob’s so prolific. It was really an ongoing process where Bob would write for about a year, we’d record for about a year and then tour on that for a year. Then the process would start all over for a year.

Y!W: Bob recently said in an interview that he may not be on the road too much longer. Have you thought about what you’d do musically when that time comes?

AR: I’ve been building my brand for quite a long time. I put out a smooth jazz album in the early ’90s, but my heart has always been in rock and roll. I started then doing some shows on my own that evolved out of smooth jazz and Seger and blues that I love to play with some great layers out of Detroit. That evolved into this all-star band with Drew Abbott and Jamie Oldaker.

At that time, we were contemplating whether we could go out and do a Seger show without Bob, because at that time Bob didn’t seem to want to tour. It never felt right to do that, but we all wanted to play. I got this demo from this singer in Canada named Steve Dickinson and I thought I was listening to Bob. I called him up and I had no idea that he could write as well and I told him I wanted him in this all-star band. He agreed and we started playing shows. Next thing I know, Bob is calling rehearsals and wants to record a new album. I’d like to think that helped motivate him.

I’m hoping that Bob wants to do more shows. There’s nothing quite like what we do. I also realize that he’s been thinking about how to ease back from it. He’s worked a long time to get to this point and the audience will miss him, but I’m going to work to bring a part of him wherever I go.

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band will perform at the Greensboro Coliseum this Saturday.