Little Victories: Bob Seger’s The Distance Turns 40

The Detroit rock great released this Silver Bullet Band classic in the last week of 1982

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band 1982 (Image: Capitol Records)

Bob Seger had already travelled quite a distance, both literally and figuratively by the time he released his twelfth studio album The Distance during the final week of 1982.

His trajectory had taken him from the role of a no-nonsense Detroit-based rocker — as epitomized by such early standards as “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Get  Out of Denver” and, eventually, “Old Time Rock and & Roll” — to the more meditative musings of a heartland hero, courtesy of brilliant ballads like “We’ve Got Tonight,” “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” and “Against the Wind.”

In many ways, then, The Distance was the culmination of those earlier triumphs, boasting songs that still managed to stir body and soul both physically and emotionally. Lead-off track “Even Now,” like the best Seger songs, did both, its surging sentiment about a misplaced love affair  shared with drive and determination. “Shame on the Moon,” written by Rodney Crowell, opened an avenue into contemporary Americana, a pursuit that further entrenched Seger in the burgeoning realms of the best rootsy rockers — environs also occupied by Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and John Fogerty. 

That populist approach paid off with Top 5 placement on the Billboard album charts, while also spinning off one of Seger’s most enduring singles, “Roll Me Away,” a song that uses the idea of wanderlust as a metaphor for the pursuit of higher ideals and a better life. Although it gained only mid-chart status, it still resonates as one of Seger’s most moving anthems, one that lends itself to the ideal of constantly moving forward in the pursuit of perfection, or at least, the next best thing.

So, too, the ballads “Comin’ Home” and “Love’s the Last To Know” rank among Seger’s more expressive examples of shared sentiment. 

Naturally, there was plenty of grit and gravitas in true Seger tradition. His voice, a powerful instrument when it comes to expressing both empathy and emotion, was, as always, riveting and fully fueled. The stomp and swagger of “Makin’ Thunderbirds,” “Boomtown Blues,” “Little Victories” and “House Behind a House” in particular ensured that his status as an uncompromising rocker would remain firmly intact. 

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band The Distance, Capitol Records 1982

Notably, his Silver Bullet Band, an erstwhile ensemble that served the same backing role for Seger as the E Street Band offered Springsteen, was now officially down to a trio that included longtime foil Alto Reed on sax, former Grand Funk Railroad contributor Craig Frost on keys and bassist Chris Campbell. That said, Seger also employed a sizable number of outside contributors, among them the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (Barry Becket on piano and organ, Pete Carr on guitar, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood and Randy McCormick on electric piano), the Eagles’ Don Felder on guitar and backing vocals, E Street’s Roy Bittan on piano, drummer Russ Kunkel, percussionist Bobby Hall, Little Feat’s Bill Payne on keys, Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals, and Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel and Davey Johnstone, the latter of the Elton John Band, as part of his guitar arsenal.  

As a promotion representative for Seger’s label, Capitol Records, yours truly found it to be more than a milestone. I had already had the distinction of working on three previous Seger albums as far as helping to attain airplay in my home state of Florida  — Stranger in Town, Against the Wind and the live LP Nine Tonight, for which I received the gold and platinum album plaques that still adorn my office walls. Seger’s longtime manager Punch Andrews was always appreciative of the field force, and the fact that his charge was always a reliable radio favorite on my turf seemed to ensure an enduring affinity. Interestingly enough, Seger himself had a varied personality when greeting the Capitol reps after a show. He could be aloof at times, but abundantly gracious at others.

Nevertheless, to borrow the title of one of the album’s are enduring songs, “Even Now,” The Distance remains one of many high points in the Seger canon. Other great efforts would follow, and though he may now come across as an elder statesman of sorts, his rugged resilience has never been in doubt. Don’t think about rolling him away just yet. 

 

 

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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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