Here Comes A Great Big Moon: Nine Tonight at 40

With his second spectacular live album with his Silver Bullet Band, Bob Seger affirmed his superstar stature

Bob Seger on the inside cover of Nine Tonight (Image: Capitol Records)

Coming on the heels of the three best albums of his entire career, Night Moves, Stranger in Town and Against the Wind, Nine Tonight provided the perfect recap for a hit-laden trajectory that was in full swing for Bob Seger.

Having evolved from a cult fan favorite and Midwest regional rocker to a national phenomenon with massive selling albums, loads of radio play and a growing catalog of mega-successful singles, Seger was at the top of his game, selling out stadiums and rocking his way across the U.S.A. A heartland hero in the strictest sense — easily the equal of Springsteen, Mellencamp and Fogerty — Seger was, by 1981, residing comfortably on rock’s highest plateau. 

Consequently, it made perfect sense that Seger and his Silver Bullet Band would opt for a victory lap, even though they already had a high standard to meet. Their previous live album, Live Bullet, had helped pave the way for Seger’s subsequent success after being rightfully heralded as one of the greatest concert collections ever offered. Fortunately, the resulting Nine Tonight, released 40 years ago this month, had all the elements needed to ensure its own rewards.

The majority of its tracks came from the three critically acclaimed solo albums released during the five years prior, and with a song selection that included “Hollywood Nights,” “Against the Wind,” “Mainstreet,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Night Moves” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” 0— a veritable greatest hits indeed — there was no way it could have ever gone wrong. The Silver Bullet Band was, by then, one of the most formidable backing bands any artist could ask for, a well-oiled, road-tested unit that was easily the equal of the E Street Band and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band Nine Tonight, Capitol Records 1981

With the late Alto Reed on sax, Drew Abbott on guitar, Chris Campbell on bass, David Teegarden on drums, Craig Frost on keyboards and Shaun Murphy, Kathy Lamb, Colleen Beaton, June Tilton and Pam Moore filling out the roster as backing vocalists, they clearly had the means to transform the studio recordings into powerful live showstoppers.

Truth be told, Seger hedged his bets in his choice of live locales. Cobo Hall in Detroit was ground zero for his rabid following, given that he had long since emerged as a hometown hero. The Boston Garden offered a rapturous reception as well, as evidenced by the enthusiastic crowd response that permeates practically every song.

For those that were still unaware at that point, Nine Tonight enabled them to get up to speed. The faithful were rewarded with three tracks that had yet to make an appearance on any Seger set to date — “Nine Tonight” (previously released on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack) and a pair of well-chosen covers in the form of the soul standard “Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You” and Chuck Berry’s perennial classic “Let It Rock.” Not surprisingly, Seger clearly makes each his own. Notably, the latter is the only holdover from Live Bullet, a clear indication that Seger had more than enough material to bank on by that time. So too, he had long since affirmed the fact that he was equally adept at churning out both riveting rockers and tender ballads. The inclusion of such brazen crowd-pleasers as “Her Strut,” “The Fire Down Below,” “Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight,” “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” affirmed the former, while equally adept takes on “Mainstreet,” “We’ve Got Tonight” and “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” confirmed the latter. 

 

AUDIO: Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band “Nine Tonight” (studio version)

At the time of the album’s release, I was working for Seger’s record label, Capitol Records. I had opportunity to work with him at two of his Florida concerts, and I witnessed the fact that he was a total pro. I was based in Florida, one of the first places Seger scored success outside of his native Michigan, and I can attest to the fact that the enthusiasm heard on Nine Tonight was no fluke. Ironically, I also saw two different sides to the man himself. He could be personable and gregarious one night, but aloof, cranky and stand-offish another. I chalked the mood swings up to the rigors of the road.

I still have a cherished souvenir of the efforts I contributed in the promotion of that particular album. Punch Andrews, Seger’s manager, was always very kind to the label folks that lent their support, and would consistently send the field staff gold and platinum album plaques. Along with those accorded for Stranger in Town and Against the Wind, a platinum album for Nine Tonight still has a proud place on my office wall.

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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