Bob Seger with Bruce Springsteen at the former Pine Knob Music Theatre at Clarkston, Mich., on Sept. 2, 1978.
Being in the right place at the right time is important, of course.
But it helps to have a camera.
Tom Weschler was a 15-year-old musician and band manager in Detroit when he first ran into Ed “Punch” Andrews, a local entertainment mogul, in 1965. Andrews was managing up-and-coming Detroit rocker Bob Seger, and Weschler, who had saved his money from a car-wash job to buy a Nikon camera, asked if his band could play at a local club Andrews owned.
Through his association with Andrews, Weschler got a job as a roadie for Seger and eventually became the singer's road manager and friend.
He was there when Seger scored his first regional hit, “Heavy Music” in 1967, and when “Ramblin' Gamblin' Man” made the national charts the following year.
Seger performing at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1980.
It would be a crazy eight years filled with touring and performing before Seger scored another Top 40 hit (“Night Moves” in 1976), and by then Weschler had dropped off the road to pursue other endeavors, including raising a family.
But he had snapped photos every step of the way, and his inside view of Seger's fabled early years has been documented in a new book, Traveling Man — On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger (Wayne State University Press, $27.95), co-written with Detroit music writer Gary Graff.
It isn't strong enough to call Weschler a shutterbug. The guy was more like a shutterbeast.
How many photos did he sort through before settling on the 200 included in Traveling Man?
“Oh my goodness, I had 40,000 of Seger among my 260,000 photos,” Weschler said in an interview.
He said he “lucked out” a few years ago by signing a deal with an online music-photo firm, Backstage Gallery, that scanned all of his photos at the highest resolution.
Having his photos — almost all taken with Kodak Tri-X film — converted from prints and negatives into digital format enabled him to sort through his massive collection more efficiently.
Seger at a press conference in 1983.
There are photos of Seger and band members recording in the studio, practicing at concert sound checks, hanging out at a farm they rented in Rochester, Mich., playing baseball, signing autographs, and, of course, in the spotlight live on stage.
There are pictures of Seger posing backstage with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, and there is no shortage of women in Weschler's collection.
He makes it clear in his memoir and in the interview that one of the main reasons he was drawn to Seger and the rock scene, especially as a shy teenager, was to meet girls.
“I concentrated on the girls a lot. And there was always plenty of great music and lots of girls whenever Bob was around,” he said.
He said he shot a Led Zeppelin concert in Chicago in July, 1969, and took 50 photos of girls in the crowd for every shot of Zeppelin on stage.
“People say you missed most of the show, but if you saw the girls in the photos you'd know it was worth it,” Weschler said with a laugh.
Now 60, he said he and Seger are both movie buffs, and one of his jobs while serving as road manager was to find out what films were playing in the local theaters.
“That was one of his favorite things. Instead of trashing hotel rooms, we'd go to a movie,” he said.
When he first met Seger, he knew right away that the singer had something special.
“The voice, man, that was it, right out of the box. There were good bands in Detroit, and some were better than his bands as far as playing, but nobody could sing better than the ramblin' gamblin' man. He's the best,” he said.
The book project came about after Weschler had gathered some photos for a gallery exhibit in 2002. Graff, who has been covering the Detroit music scene since 1982, saw the potential for a book.
At first, the two planned to publish a book with a cross-section of rock bands and artists that Weschler had shot. But Graff soon realized that the one thing Weschler had that was unique was an inside look at Seger's early years.
“We bounced around some ideas before we settled on the one that was most obviously in front of us,” Graff said. “Tom has this treasure trove of Seger photos, so many of which have never been seen and so many from this mystic period of his career.”
Some of the text was written by Weschler and edited by Graff, while other sections were written by Graff based on interviews with the photographer.
“In a lot of ways the book is about Bob Seger, but it's also about Tom's time with Bob Seger. It's not a biography but it is a memoir of someone who was on the inside,” Graff said. “I wanted it to be like you were riding shotgun with him during those years.”
Weschler was glad that Graff kept some of the “street talk” in the final product, with some of the saucy language capturing the colorful personalities and the era.
Graff said he was slightly concerned over the possibility of having the book slapped with a parental-advisory sticker, but was glad it wasn't deemed necessary.
He said Seger, who turned 64 this year and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, is the prime example of Midwestern rock and roll.
“Not to take away from John Mellencamp or Michael Stanley or any other great Midwest rockers, but I think Seger's the heart of what we call heartland rock,” Graff said. “Bob is a guy who wears things on his sleeve. He does not write in flowery language. He's not a guy who uses a lot of metaphor or gets particularly arcane with his lyrics.
“In songs like ‘Night Moves' and ‘Main Street,' the images are vivid and clear. You don't have to sift your way through a lot of what he's talking about. And the themes are so elemental to the Midwest and the heartland experience — feeling like a number, the various relationships and love affairs he writes about. These are what we call meat and potatoes, but it's not as easy as that sounds.”
Weschler said he told Andrews about the book and Andrews advised him not to show it to Seger until it was done, presumably because the singer is a perfectionist and any prepublication involvement might have slowed things down.
“Bob's been hanging out up north with his family lately, but he's also been doing some writing and going in the studio. I think he's got something planned,” Weschler said.
He said he is planning another book, this time featuring some of his previously unpublished photos of such rock icons as Zeppelin, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix.
“It's been a good ride with the camera,” Weschler said.
Contact David Yonke at:email@example.com or 419-72-6154.
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