Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Bob Seger System—
Ramblin' Gamblin' Man


Released 1969 on Capitol
The Seth Man, January 2001ce
Long before he was firing blanks with the latter day AOR-friendly Silver Bullet Band, Seger formed the three-man Bob Seger System in Detroit in 1968, and their testimonial of a debut fused Seger’s gritty soul vocalizing held in the balance of unbelievably heavy power trio-ing. Cast aside all notions of Seger’s pre-dated Mellencampian schlock the likes of “Night Moves,” “Hollywood Nights” or his Raspberries rip off: “Rock’n’Roll Never Forgets” (And speaking of that song, that’s just a bunch of fist-pumping malarkey both in the manner of its execution as well as sentiment. And if it never forgets, exactly why the hell am I writing this, anyway?)

Heh, before I rephrase that, let me testify to this immaculate slice of pure Detroit glory: IT ROCKS, and rocks hard. Although extending the Motor City metaphor might be overdoing it, in the case of this album it's justified -- pumping pistons and firing all cylinders at once with rhythms every bit as relentless, straightforward and driving as only the best Detroit rock’n’roll could do. And the locked in snare/heavy bass drum pattern that Iggy borrowed from The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” on “Lust For Life” is present on “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”: along with a variety of equally strong, lumpen and thumpin’ beats. While Bob Seger handles the guitar and vocals, bassist Don Honaker and drummer Pep Perrine complete a trio that thrashes out mightily within the mikings of live-in-the-studio-and-let-the-music-do-the-talkin’ as the thump and crash meshes with Seger’s croakin’ and moanin’ about love, life, women, the draft and just plain getting it on.

On “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”, Bob’s got the fever in a big way. His gravelly vocals are Stax-Voltaging to the hilt, like the biggest soul holler feller ever and the way he squeezes out his wailings make that last quarter inch of toothpaste seem easily accessible by comparison. Pep Perrine’s drumming style is total class, clash and outrageous bombast. He must have lined not only his double bass drums with multiple layers of tin foil, but his tom-toms and snare to boot because his simple and explosive style busts into areas only John Bonham had reached at this time. And his double bass drums were customised to extend several feet longer in length and as a result looks -- and sounds -- like a pair of cannons. Honaker’s no slouch either, but they’re all so locked in together to create a single torrent of intent that comes raining down in a beautiful, beautiful noise. Noise you wish you could drown out your neighbours for all eternity with. Noise you want to kiss for being so perfect, so THERE and right on.

The V-8 heart of the title track “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” is one edifice of Michigan rock as The System throw up a ruckus like nobody’s business: at times like a rambunctious younger brother of John Fogerty who just traded in his Bayou innocence for some Motor City action. The bold, strutting “Tales Of Lucy Blue” is all “Suzie Q” with gritty promenading cock o’ the walking, Seger’s gruff voice bursting with every line he throttles out of his throat. “Ivory” sees him rip loose with guitar playing so limited and jagged with extremities as he berates a prospective dream doll “born with a face that will let you get your way” from the other side of the tracks against a driving, accusing beat with tumultuous drumming over a super-fuzzed up solo from Seger. The pace drops to introspectiveness with “Gone” as a far lighter side emerges somewhere within the post-1967 acid acoustic songwriting hangover where the shade and light of Bryan Maclean meets the token ‘flower generation’ soundtrack love song so favoured by The Strawberry Alarm Clock. You know: the whole gently struck bells through ‘sunshine and dew’ and all that. The lyrics get all wistful and whispery in a vocal raked through Leslie speaker modulations with a refrain straight outta “In Search Of The Lost Chord”: “Where have all the good times gone, my child?” But the gut-busting grit returns once more with “Down Home.” Seger’s mega-grizzled vocals are being channeled from an 80-year old bluesman propped up by a stool and bottle of likker as Perrine lets loose with rapid double bass drum cannonneering and window rattling snare rolls. The introspective “Train Man” ends the side underscored by Seger’s sweetened piano lines he’d use later on “Night Moves” and “Running Against The Wind.” But it’s used to great melodic advantage here over further Bryan Maclean refraining ala “Old Man” or “Softly To Me.”

So with the optimism of side one behind them, what do they do but unleash two mammoth power trio tracks that take up two-thirds of the second side. The entry of “White Wall” is utterly astonishing. To try to prepare anyone for this track is fruitless because its wah-wah’d laced fuzztone-distorto riffing threatens to blow apart at any moment due to its raging, sideways mayhem. The barely audible lyrics battle continually with Seger’s wah-wah’d guitar, and the sample killer line “You curse yourself aloud!/For living so weird!” emerges to be Seger at his most desperate and demented. And with each exclaimed line, the white walls of claustrophobia ring tighter and tighter, circled by lumbering bass and a mindless, hair in the eyes thrash of the pounding skins and cymbals as the vocals get caught in the cogs of the windscreen-wipering rhythm. “Brown Eyed Woman” sees Seger slip into a little sister of “Foxey Lady” type churn-out, but more fiercely lumpen. Seger’s screeching and giving it some “UH” vocal pelvic swivel punctuation to direct the track into every nearby delta of womanhood with super jagged slide guitar. Post-meltdown, a low growl of a “Ye-a-a-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h...” escapes Seger’s lips before the track’s post-coital slight return.

“2+2=?” was The System’s first 45 for Capitol in 1968, and it appears here in a different mix with all the same raging, garage punk glory. Over the deadly bass and Seger’s simple, repeated fuzz riffs are lyrics of righteous anti-war indignation. Over and over Seger repeats: “Two plus two is on mah mind!” as the cymbals get all cross-stitched in a swirling pan out. They stop on a dime long enough to trick you into thinking it’s the ending, only to return with the exact power and intensity of the repeated chorus to the fade. “Doctor Fine” is a brief instrumental where Bob switches from guitar to organ while the album’s capper, “Last Song (Love Needs To Be Loved)” sees a “Joy To The World” handclapping/testifying thing get weirdly edited to blow the beat of the sing-along.

Homegrown, greasy, loud and proud, The Bob Seger System’s first album has fierce and soulful plod-outs within an everyman and upstartin’ Detroit rock’n’roll stance. Beautiful losers, indeed.