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Wednesday, November 4,2009

There I am

Photo book puts readers on and off-stage with Bob Seger

by Bill Castanier
Just like in a family scrapbook, the first thing you notice flipping through “Travelin’ Man: On the Road and Behind The Scenes with Bob Seger,” the new book by Tom Weschler and Gary Graff about the rock music legend, is how young everyone looks. And they should: the earliest photo of Seger in the book was taken in 1969, when the then 24-year-old front-man was still learning his night moves down on Main Street in Ann Arbor.

“Travelin Man” may be the first legit book about Seger, but in reality, it is as much about Weschler, who was Seger’s road manager from 1969-’72, and, more important, the informal house photographer for the Michiganborn star and his crew for several decades. His role with the band and friendship with Seger gave Weschler unprecedented access.


Graff, a noted music writer from Detroit, wrote most of thede scriptive and background prose in the book. He calls Weschler “a professional snapshot photographer,” which he means as the highest compliment.


Perhaps that’s why this book is so charming and honest; it’s an onstage, backstage and offstage photographic look at a superstar.


Graff, 48, also thinks the book differs from typical rock volumes, because it shows Seger before he became a sensation outside of Michigan with hit albums, like “Live Bullet” and “Night Moves.”


Weschler, 60, was always fascinated by photography. He got his first Brownie camera when he was 9, but it was The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" that propelled him into rock photography, a career he continues to this day. “I shot the Beatles on TV and printed some shots in my mom’s bathroom to take to school the next day to impress the girls,” Weschler said.


Weschler’s work especially impressed a senior at school who immediately saw an opportunity to make a buck. She and Weschler went into business together, selling prints of his Beatles shots at their suburban Detroit school. He didn’t get the girl, but he did take home a couple of hundred dollars and the shutterbug.


Over the course of his career, Weschler has amassed nearly 250,000 images. His photo collection includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, The Doors, J. Geils, Janis Joplin and The Byrds, in addition to tens of thousands of images of Seger.


Graff said at first he and Weschler set out to put together a general photo book on rock using his images. “Then you see all the Seger photos and go, ‘Dummy.’”


“Travelin’ Man,” which features a foreword by John Mellencamp and afterword by Kid Rock, contains some 170 photos of Seger, ranging from a 1969 shot taken at the Oakland Mall to his 2004 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


The book, published by Wayne State University Press last month, is selling well, reaching the No. 5 spot for rock biographies on Amazon.com.


Because of their close ties with Seger and his manger, Punch Andrews, Graff and Weschler were able to access band records to compile a timeline of Seger’s career, along with a cast of characters. A couple of those characters, including Andrews, first pulled Weschler into the Seger enterprise.


But it was a series of coincidences that hooked Weschler up with Seger’s band. At the time, Weschler was working at Artists Music, delivering and setting up equipment for musicians. When one of Seger’s roadies fell ill, Weschler was offered a job. Soon he was named road manager.


After his Seger gig ended in 1974, Weschler worked for a number of music magazines, including Creem, and he opened his own photographic and design studio.


One thing that helps Weschler’s photos connect with viewers is their casual, you-were-there atmospheric look. “You get to see the band at work and at rest, which photographers today can’t do; everything is controlled,” Weschler said. “Nowadays there are rules about where and how long you can shoot. Photogs may get to shoot three songs, and the band isn’t even sweating.”


Graff and Weschler know fans and publishers want a tell-all about Seger, but Weschler said, “There’s nothing to tell. All the stories in the book are my stories. You would never see Seger throwing a TV off a hotel balcony in New York City.”


Graff, who has written extensively about rock music and musicians, said Seger and his band weren’t boy scouts, “But any of the issues they may have had were private.”


Weschler hopes someday, someone will write a proper biography of Seger and use his photographs. There certainly are plenty left; Graff said the hardest part of the putting the book togther was deciding what to leave out.


Whatever they left out doesn’t matter; it’s what they included that counts, and the never-before seen shots of Seger in the studio and at home in his Rochester farmhouse are gems.


Weschler’s favorites in the book include the shot he took of Seger and Springsteen together for the first time at Pine Knob in 1978. But his personal favorite is a shot of Seger from the back, facing a huge audience at Jackson’s Goose Lake International Music Festival in 1970. “That’s Mr. Lonely, out there — all by myself,” he said.


Tom Weschler & Gary Graff


Authors of “Travelin’ Man: On
the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger” 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10
Schuler Books & Music, Meridian Mall, Okemos FREE (517) 349-8840 www.schulerbooks.com




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