When is a one-hit wonder not a one-hit wonder? When, after years of struggle and a lot of persistence and patience, he starts having a series of hits years later. In today’s excerpt from The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s, read about the early career of a Detroit musician who refused to be relegated to single-hit status – Bob Seger.
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man / Bob Seger System / Capitol 2297
(Total points: 878 / Chart debut: 12/21/1968 / Peak position: 17 / Weeks on chart: 14)
Until 1977, Bob Seger was regarded nationally as a one-hit wonder. “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” his second single for Capitol, was that hit.
Seger was born in Lincoln Park, Mich., outside Detroit, on May 6, 1945; he and his family moved to Ann Arbor, best known as the home of the University of Michigan, when he was six. Exposed to popular music from a young age, he once said that his early influences were Little Richard and Elvis Presley, and that the first record he ever bought was the 1957 hit “Come Go with Me” by the Dell-Vikings.
By 1961, he had joined a short-lived band called The Decibels, which made a demo of a Seger original called “The Lonely One” that was played on the radio exactly once in Ann Arbor. He then joined another local group, The Town Criers. In 1965, he appeared on a commercially released 45 for the first time with the group Doug Brown and the Omens, “T.G.I.F. (Thank Goodness It’s Friday)”/”First Girl” (Punch P-1008). In 1966, the Omens, under the name “The Beach Bums,” released the parody “The Ballad of the Yellow Beret,” composed by “D. Dodger” on the “Are You Kidding Me?” label (H-1010).
Seger’s association with the Omens led him to Edward “Punch” Andrews, co-owner with Dave Leone of both a small chain of Detroit-area nightclubs and Hideout Records, which also had issued the two Omens 45s. Andrews became Seger’s manager, a relationship that has lasted for half a century.
Next, Seger co-wrote the Underdogs’ “Get Down on Your Knees” (Hideout H-1012) with Brown, Leone and band member Dave Whitehouse. The next Hideout single, H-1013, was “East Side Story,” the first single credited to Seger as an artist. Released in June 1966, the 45 also credited Brown, Dan Honaker, Pep Perrine and Bob Evans on the label. It became a regional hit in Detroit; as Hideout was too small for national distribution, Andrews licensed the 45 to Cameo Records, which called the assortment of musicians “Bob Seger & The Last Heard.”
In all, the Last Heard had five singles on Cameo; the last of them, “Heavy Music” (Cameo C-494), almost made the Hot 100, peaking at #103 on the Bubbling Under chart of September 23, 1967. By then, however, the Cameo-Parkway label was in dire financial straits, and the song was lost in the shuffle.
Getting out of that mess relatively unscathed, Andrews and Seger sought a new label; after turning down a tempting offer from Motown, they worked their next deal with Capitol in early 1968. The label changed the name of the band from The Last Heard to The Bob Seger System and issued the antiwar “2 + 2 = ?” in April. Though it received plenty of attention in Detroit, and hit #1 in both Buffalo, N.Y. and in the unlikely locale of Orlando, Fla., it failed to make the Hot 100 nationally.
Seger’s second Capitol single, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” built on that modest success. Released in September 1968, the rollicking song with its persistent drumbeat and organ riff first broke, naturally, in the Detroit area. It then spread again to Buffalo and central Florida, and by the time it became the System’s first Hot 100 hit, debuting at #84 the week ending December 21, 1968, it was in the Top 10 in Cleveland and Dayton, O.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Birmingham, Ala. as well. The song steadily rose up the national chart, eventually spending three weeks at #17 in late February and early March of 1969.
When “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was recorded, the members of the Bob Seger System were Seger, Honaker, and Perrine, with Bob Schultz playing organ and a friend of Seger’s from the Detroit area playing acoustic guitar and adding distinctive backing vocals. That friend, Glenn Frey, would go west to become a founding member of the Eagles.
With the success of the single, Capitol gave Seger the go-ahead to release his first album, which was originally going to be called Tales of Lucy Blue, thus the blue theme and the woman’s image on the front cover. Instead, the title was altered to Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man before release, and it got to a respectable #62 on the LP charts in 1969. But he was unable to generate a follow-up hit single.
Eventually, most one-hit wonders go on to do other things. Though he briefly quit music and attended college in 1970, Seger never completely gave up. After many false starts, a change of labels from Capitol to Palladium/Reprise and back to Capitol, and years of touring the Midwest, his one-hit wonder status finally ended in 1977 when “Night Moves” made the top 40 of the Hot 100. He never again looked back.
Collector’s notes: “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was released on Capitol’s familiar orange and yellow swirl labels with 360 “ridges” along the outer edge of the label. The first pressing of the 45 has a credit of only “Bob Seger” at the bottom. This exists with the Capitol perimeter print at the bottom in either black or white; both versions are quite rare. Promotional 45s on a lime-green label also have only a “Bob Seger” credit on them; these may be more common than the stock version. The vast majority of 45s have the artist credit as “Bob Seger System” and have the perimeter print in white.
Fast fact: The hit version of “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was in mono and has never been mixed into proper stereo; even when it was issued on LP in 1969, it was rechanneled.