Bob Seger talks Tom Waits, Tom Cruise, Leonard Cohen, and Civil Wars

Bob Seger laughs often and for good reason. At 66, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer”s legacy is secure and so any career move now is a victory lap. Seger, who still tours sporadically, is on the  second leg of his tremendously successfully 2011 arena outing. On Nov. 21, Capitol will release Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band”s “Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” a 2-CD collection of his greatest tunes, as well as a few new tracks, including a cover of Tom Waits” “Downtown Train.” Additionally, Seger is working on a new studio album, his first since 2006″s “Face the Promise.”

Seger’s music has been around my whole life, and while I enjoyed many of his hits in real time, it wasn’t until the last five or so years that I really started to appreciate his music and the solidness of it, and how well it has worn. Seger was always about straight-up rock and roll, so listening back to his songs through the years, there’s no awkward new-wave or disco stage. OK, there is “Shakedown,” but for the most part, it’s an enduring, quality slab of rock that’s build on big Midwestern shoulders. It’s gritty and comforting at the same time.

Hitfix talked to Seger during a conference call with a handful of reporters on Tuesday. He was friendly and chatty during the hour-long call, answering anything we wanted to ask. Below are the highlights (or should we call them “Silver Bullet” points) from the interview.

His new studio album: Earlier this year, he told Rolling Stone that he was working on a new album that would probably consist of six new tunes and six older songs, but the good news is that he”s feeling in a writing mood. “I”m going to start writing [again] when this tour is over. The first of the year, until the end of March. I think it”s going to be all new songs. I have other plans for the old songs.” A potential tune on the forthcoming album is a new song, “Hannah,” which features Sheryl Crow and his long-time buddy Kid Rock.  He discussed two other new songs: “Ride Out,”  which “covers so many subjects… pinched into a small area. Line to line it goes to a different subject. It”s pretty bizarre and I really like it” and “Wonderland,” which is about the multiverse. “It”s my way of getting a little science in there… I”m a big science fan.”

What he enjoys most about touring now:
His greatest satisfaction comes from being surrounded by his longtime friends. “I really enjoy being with the people I play with. That”s a big part of it. I love my crew, the band, we just move through the country like an army”…It”s a celebration every time we go out there. There aren”t any bad nights any more.” As you may have noticed, he tends to only tour in the fall and winter. Incredulous as it may seem, that is dictated by the schedule of  his drummer, Don Brewer.  “I can only get my drummer in the winter, he plays with Grand Funk all summer.” 

His favorite song to play live:
“‘Hollywood Nights.” I think Don Brewer would agree with me. It”s just a train. He plays it great and we really look forward to that every night.”

[More after the jump…]

On retiring: “I just take it tour by tour,” he says. “We”ve done two [shows] so far [on this leg]. We”ve got 21 more to go. I plan on touring with the next record. I see how I feel, see how I do up there. The second I start feeling, ‘Oh, you”re getting too old for this.” I”ll pull the plug…I”ll be 70 in 3 1/2 years. It might be time to go away fairly soon.”

Why he covered “Downtown Train” for the new greatest hits: “I”ve covered so much Tom Waits. He”s one of my favorite writers. I have a real affinity to how he writes.”

He”s starstruck too:
He loved Tom Cruise”s now-iconic dance to “Old Time Rock and Roll” from “Risky Business,” but he”s never told the star. “I saw him at a roller skating rink (?!?!?). I wanted to go and say hi, but I thought, ‘He”s not going to know who I am’…I never did.”

On finally allowing his music to be sold digitally this year: “I just felt it was time. I was kind of after my management to do it. We were one of the last ones to do it. I”d like for people to have the opportunity to get it. We”re doing it piecemeal…eventually it will all be out there.” One person who won”t be downloading his music? Seger. “I don’t have and have never had an email address. I”m old school. But as far as downloads go, my only objection is I like the sound of CDs better, so I buy those. I think the sound quality is better.”

Who he”s listening to now:  “I”m listing to music all the time. I have favorite artists. Kid Rock loves the Civil Wars” song ‘Barton Hollow.”  We both said that”s our favorite country song of the year. That knocks me out.”

Weirdest rumor
: The strangest rumor Seger says he ever heard about himself started in the ’70s and it still persists: that he had throat cancer. “That”s the one that really pops out… I don”t know [how it got started]. The way I sing probably…”

Song stories: Seger graciously divulged meanings behind songs and even specific lines. So for fellow Seger fans…

*”Beautiful Loser” takes its title from Leonard Cohen. “I”ve been a huge fan of Leonard Cohen all my life and he had a book of poems called ‘Beautiful Losers” and I gravitated toward that title and put my own spin on it.”

*”Night Moves”: So was there a song he was referencing in the lyric, “Started humming a song from 1962?”  Why yes. He”s referring to one of his all-time favorites: The Ronettes”  “Be My Baby.”   (The song actually came out in 1963).

*“Roll Me Away”: “It”s about a true motorcycle trip I took in 1980…I started in Northern Michigan, went through the [Upper Peninsula]…ended up in Badlands and the Grand Tetons…it went from 40 degrees to 106 degrees…I saw it all,” he says. Not true? The romantic relationship in the song. However, the killer line, “Next time we”ll get it right” is about relationships. “I think right at that time, I was breaking up in a relationship.”

*“Against The Wind”: I was a runner. I was a failed quarterback [so] I got into running. That was the initial germ. I always wanted to write about being a runner. I don”t think anyone got that… I took that as a metaphor. It”s a good way to live life, against the wind, be brave.”