Bob Seger / Bob Seger & the Last Heard

Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967

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Most rock fans know Bob Seger had a career before 1976's Night Moves first gave him a major hit outside the Midwest, but given how much of his back catalog has stubbornly remained out of print, many don't know just how far back the trail goes. Plenty of folks are aware of the 1975 album Beautiful Loser, and the better informed even know he hit the singles charts with "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" in 1968. But Seger has been a major presence in his native Michigan as far back as June 1966 (a month after he turned 21), when "East Side Story," a tune he cut with his band the Last Heard, became a potent local hit in Detroit. Between licensing problems with the Cameo/Parkway catalog (the label that issued Seger's earliest sides) and the reluctance of Seger and his management to look deep into his history, his early singles with the Last Heard (guitarist Carl Lagassa, bassist Dan Honaker, and drummer Pep Perrine) have been dead out of print since the mid-'70s. That has thankfully changed with the release of Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967, which collects ten tracks Seger recorded before moving up to Capitol Records in 1968. While most of this music falls into the broad category of '60s garage rock, Seger was already an eclectic artist, and Heavy Music covers plenty of stylistic ground. Seger and his bandmates nimbly jump from the Van Morrison-style drama of "East Side Story" and the bluesy wail of "Chain Smokin'" to the artful folk-rock of "Very Few" and the bold but lyrical "Vagrant Winter." Even when Seger and his gang were kidding, they delivered the goods; "Florida Time" is a hilarious bit of Midwest surf pop, "Sock It to Me Santa" is a Christmas novelty that burns like Mitch Ryder on trucker's speed, and "Persecution Smith" may be the greatest fake Bob Dylan song (Highway 61 Revisited era) ever committed to wax. And "Heavy Music" is as passionate and powerful a celebration of "the big bad beat" as you could hope for, and Seger's first step into inarguable greatness. For fans who know these songs from bootleg pressings sourced from scratchy singles, the clarity of the remastering is a marvelous surprise, and the liner notes by Jim Allen sum up the period with concise enthusiasm. These tracks could be described as Bob Seger's juvenilia, but that clearly underestimates the music; Heavy Music is proof that Seger was a major talent as a singer, songwriter, and frontman right from the start, and this is as good as Midwestern rock of the mid-'60s gets. For Bob Seger fans who've never heard his first recordings, Heavy Music is nothing short of a revelation.

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