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Bob Seger remembers Alto Reed, his "bold" and "brave" friend and bandmate

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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Bob Seger may be the leader of the Silver Bullet Band. But he maintains that flamboyant saxophonist Alto Reed "was our rock star."

The Detroit-born Reed (real name Thomas Neal Cartmell), died on Wednesday, Dec. 30, at the age of 72 from colon cancer. He played with Seger since the early '70s and was part of the original Silver Bullet lineup in 1974, appearing on 14 studio albums and two live sets.

Reed was diagnosed earlier this year and informed Seger about his situation earlier this month. "He called me to say goodbye," said Seger, who immediately traveled for one last visit with him. "He was real stand-up, no self-pity, just, 'It's my time.' It was difficult for him to say the stuff he wanted to say, because by telling me goodbye he was saying he was giving up, and that's always really hard."

Seger said that "brave" and "bold" are his favorite ways to describe Reed, who he met in 1971 and brought in for the 1973 album "Back in '72," for which Reed recorded the iconic solo on the song "Turn the Page." "He was just generous, wonderful, creative -- enormously creative," Seger recalled. "He tried everything. He would do backwards somersaults on trapezes! Who does that?! He was such a brave guy.

"He was very worldly, too. I learned so much from the guy. He was so accomplished in so many things."

Seger credits Reed with teaching him to sail, nicknaming him Captain during the early 70s. Seger was also responsible for Reed's stage name, inspired by the aliases used by members of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. "We were driving to Toronto to record, and it was kind of a joke," Seger remembered. "I said, 'You ought to be Alto Reed,' and then, 'Before you say 'Are you out of your...mind to me,' you're going to be very famous, and you're gonna like that you can have your real name to go buy stuff and then be Alto Reed on stage.'

"A couple of days later he said, 'I'm gonna be alto Reed,' and he actually changed his name, which is cool."

Musically, Seger said that Reed, "just had a sound. He had his own array of stuff on the side of the stage,. I don't remember too many people playing two saxes at once, like he used to, or that big bass saxophone he had." Seger also changed the live arrangement for his 1976 song "Mainstreet" after hearing Reed use the track's guitar hook while warming up before a show.

"I listened through the wall in the dressing room and thought to myself, 'Omigod, that should've always been a sax thing. It fits the song better," he said. "I said, 'Alright, you're opening 'Mainstreet' from now on. I'll deal with the guitar player.' So he did it for the next 46 years."

Acknowledging Reed as "the audience favorite, hands-down," Seger added that Reed "was a great ambassador to the fans. He took time for every fan, any picture, anywhere. After a show, if we were all tired, he was always willing to go to the after-party and meet and greet everybody. He was our best ambassador, really."

Leaving Reed for the last time, Seger said the two road warriors did not spare their feelings about each other. "He said, "I want to thank you for my wonderful life,' and he meant it. And I said, 'Back at you, buddy. You more than earned it.'"

Memorial arrangements for Reed are pending. His family requested donations in his name to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Detroit Harmony Fund, which provides instruments to music students in Detroit.

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