VERY FEW: People imagined that this collection would ever see the light of day. But thanks to the due diligence of ABKCO Records, the entire Cameo Records output of first generation garage rock visionaries Bob Seger And The Last Heard (pictured above in a 1966 Cameo promo photo) is at last available on both CD and vinyl LP. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell spoke with Project Producer Teri Landi, Art Director Steve Stanley and Michigan Music History CEO Mike Jackson about this landmark collection below.  (Click on above image to enlarge).

By Michael McDowell

It was the reissue that many people said would never happen.

For decades, the vaunted catalog of the legendary Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Cameo/Parkway Records (which also included such ambitious affiliate labels as Lucky Eleven, Sentar, Windy C, Wyncote, Fairmount and Vando) remained largely out of print and under the jurisdiction of ABKCO Records. But in recent years, ABKCO has begun addressing the situation in earnest, returning to print everything from Clint Eastwood's western-themed album and highlights from Bobby Rydell's vast contributions to the label to Dee Dee Sharp's Gospel collection and the two Lucky Eleven label albums by first generation garage rock legends Terry Knight And The Pack. Some of those projects were done in tandem with the UK-based Ace/Big Beat conglomerate, while others were part of a short lived agreement with the now defunct Collectors Choice label.

ABKCO has continued to make amends with the multitudes who have awaited the return to print of the work of so many of the label's vaunted alumni, whose numbers also included such greats as Chubby Checker, Charlie Gracie, the Storey Sisters, the Mike Pedicin Quintet, the Tymes, the Dovells, the Applejacks, John Paul Jones, the Orlons, the Kinks, Screaming Lord Sutch, Sounds Orchestral, Candy And The Kisses, the Ivy League, the Rationals, the Ohio Express, the Three And A Half, Bunny Sigler, Eddie Holman, Pete Best, the Rag Dolls, the Hep Stars, Jamie Coe And The Gigolos, Question Mark And The Mysterians, the Yellow Payges, Frankie Beverly, the Five Stairsteps, the Bossmen, the New Colony Six, Chris Bartley, Maynard Ferguson, Evie Sands, the Olympics, Bobby Marchan, Jimmy Velvet and Tony Orlando, to name but a few. 

There is one particular artist whose work for the label continues to be held in the highest regard by both his original audience and connoisseurs of first generation garage rock. However, that artist has been reported to have steadfastly taken exception to its ongoing availability.

The artist in question is vocalist, composer and Detroit, Michigan native Robert Clark "Bob" Seger. He both disillusioned and disenfranchised a significant percentile of his original audience by continuing to disavow not only his earliest singles for the Punch, Are You Kidding Me, Hideout and Cameo labels with the Omens, the Beach Bums and the Last Heard, but his late 1960s - early 1970s releases for Capitol with the Bob Seger System, as well. 

Bob Seger And The Last Heard have long been highly regarded as being in the upper echelons of the first generation garage rock movement developing in Southeastern Michigan at the time. The genre's ranks also boasted such giants of the idiom as the Rationals, Tidal Waves, Underdogs, Unrelated Segments, Shy Guys, Wanted, Human Beings, Capreez, Thyme, Bossmen, Terry Knight And The Pack, Tim Tam And The Turn-Ons, Question Mark And The Mysterians, Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels and the Lazy Eggs.

The reasoning behind this perspective varies from source to source. But the only other even remotely similar set of circumstances concerns the massive and essential catalog of the Dave Clark Five (originally issued in the United States on Rust, Jubilee, Congress and Epic), with band co-founder and drummer Dave Clark (one of two surviving members of the band, the other being guitarist Leonard Arthur "Lenny" Davidson) denying almost all overtures to maintain catalog availability.

Along the way, others have attempted to make amends with regards to the early Bob Seger material, with only minimal success. To wit, a contributor to one installment of the acclaimed All The Hits Various Artists collections on the CamPark label (which feature rare singles from the Cameo/Parkway vaults) even took the extraordinary step of mixing Parts One and Two of Bob Seger And The Last Heard's 1967 Heavy Music single into one continuous track with a cold ending, rather than the fade that appears on the original 45. In turn, ABKCO itself did its part to help rectify the situation by including the band's 1966 signature single, East Side Story and Heavy Music (Part One) on a four CD overview of the label's history, Cameo Parkway 1957-1967, released in May 2005. ABKCO had also kept several of the Bob Seger And The Last Heard 45s in print on their own label during the early 1970s.

But with the release of the ten track Heavy Music anthology, it appears as though ABKCO has finally succeeded where earlier attempts have failed. 

"We do our best with every release to reach out to an artist to see if there is enthusiasm on their part and (to see if they) want to be involved", said ABKCO's Teri Landi, who served as Reissue Producer for this project.

"We did so here. Punch Andrews was very eager for us to worth with mastering engineer Robert Vosgien at Capitol Studios, who has done a lot of mastering work on Seger's recordings, (both) vintage and more current".

While nothing on ABKCO's Heavy Music will be unfamiliar to Bob Seger And The Last Heard's original audience, all who have been clamoring for its ongoing availability will nonetheless have considerable reason to rejoice, including some recent converts to the cause.

"I was familiar with a couple of these early singles, and I have a copy of his first Capitol LP", said Now Sounds Records CEO Steve Stanley, who served as Art Director for this ABKCO project.

"But I must admit that I was unaware of exactly how revered this material is for diehard Seger fans. Heavy Music has been a great learning experience for me. I'm honored to have worked with the ABKCO crew on this historic project".

Prior to his affiliation with Cameo, Seger recorded for offshoot labels under the parent umbrella of the Birmingham, Michigan based Hideout label. Long regarded as one of the front runners in first generation garage rock, Hideout's artist roster included such visionaries as the Underdogs, the Pleasure Seekers, the Four Of Us, the Talismen, the Mama Cats and Ron Coden, and later the Brownsville Station, the Phantom and Jim Freeman. 

In 1965, Seger joined forces with Doug Brown And The Omens to record the acclaimed T.G.I.F., which saw release on Hideout's Punch subsidiary. The following year, in the wake of the release of Barry Sadler's enormously successful The Ballad Of The Green Berets single for RCA Victor, the Omens with Bob Seger recorded a parody of Sadler's single, entitled The Ballad Of The Yellow Beret. With composer credits listed on the label as "D. Dodger", Seger and the Omens replaced Sadler's opening lyric, "Fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die" with the decidedly different, "Fearless cowards of the USA, bravely here at home they stay". Seger's "You can't take me! I've got a bad back, I'm allergic to everything" vamp at the fade closed out the proceedings. 

Such variations on that particular theme were not uncommon at the time, in light of the Spokesmen's The Dawn Of Correction single for Decca and Jan Berry's solo The Universal Coward 45 for Liberty. Nonetheless, Seger and the Omens opted to bill themselves as the Beach Bums for this release, with the single issued on the yellow Hideout affiliate label, Are You Kidding Me? Records. 

On the flip side of that Beach Bums single was the inspiring and endearing Florida Time, a straight ahead rocker that takes its cue from the work of such bands as the Tigers, the Rip Chords, the Sunrays and the Four Speeds. Interestingly enough, Florida Time would see reissue in late 1966 on Cameo as the flip side of Sock It To Me Santa as Bob Seger And The Last Heard.

Given the circumstances in which this collection came to fruition, some sacrifices were in order. Not included are the Punch label T.G.I.F. single, nor the Beach Bums' The Ballad Of The Yellow Beret. And while it was reported at the time that the late Barry Sadler initially took umbrage with the Beach Bums' variation on his familiar theme, their lack of inclusion here could just as easily be attributed to the fact that neither track ever saw release or reissue on Cameo.

Such is not the case for the ten tracks that did make the cut, though. Foremost among them is the single that put Bob Seger And The Last Heard at center stage in Michigan's formidable first generation garage rock movement.  

That Bob Seger And The Last Heard single, East Side Story first saw release on Hideout. It had been out for several months until finally being added by the area's (and concurrently the nation's) premier radio station, Dearborn's WKNR Keener 13 on 19 September 1966. Appropriately enough, WXYZ in neighboring Southfield followed suit. East Side Story eventually peaked at #3 on WKNR's weekly music guide (behind Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels'' Devil With A Blue Dress On and the Surfaris' Wipe Out). 

Bob Seger And The Last Heard further endeared themselves to their rapidly growing audience via multiple appearances on Robin Seymour's Swingin' Time series in neighboring Windsor, Ontario. Thankfully a video clip has survived of that Swingin' Time performance, in which the song's stark lyrical account of gang violence set to one of the most perfect first generation garage rock backdrops in the genre overall resonated with all concerned. 

And while organist Brown and drummer Bob Evans participated in that landmark recording, both opted out of the band after the release of that single, leaving the Last Heard lineup to Seger (vocals/guitar), lead guitarist Carl Legassa, bassist Dan Honaker and drummer Pep Perrine (who also recorded a solo album for Hideout). East Side Story was picked up by Cameo in early October 1966, although both the Hideout and Cameo pressings remained readily available in most hometown record outlets for the remainder of the single's run.

With Cameo's Neil Bogart diligently seeking to expand the label's roster during that most productive period, Bob Seger And The Last Heard opted for a Cameo-only release with their late 1966 Christmas single, Sock It To Me Santa. A playful re-write of James Brown's Papa's Got A Brand New Bag, Sock It To Me Santa has remained a staple each Christmas season over the past half century, despite its general lack of availability for much of that period.

However, in early 1967, Bob Seger And The Last Heard returned to form (and Hideout) with the powerhouse original, Persecution Smith. The track more than made its mark by its one-two punch delivery, coupled with a rapid fire lyrical name check of a variety of socio-political concerns that deftly straddles the fence in terms of editorial perspective. The flip side, Chain Smokin' is far less subtle, with Seger and the Last Heard lamenting the health concerns indigenous to tobacco usage. WKNR Keener 13 again rallied to the cause, with Persecution Smith peaking at #9 on the WKNR Music Guide on 20 February 1967 and Cameo once again reissuing the single for national availability. 

Bob Seger And The Last Heard issued two additional singles in 1967, both of which were exclusive to Cameo and both of which are included in this collection. A masterpiece of high drama with some world class guitar work, Vagrant Winter suggested changes in musical direction that would indeed manifest themselves the following year when the band became the Bob Seger System. The flip side, the compelling ballad Very Few was potent enough to inspire a cover version by fellow area veteran rocker George "Jamie Coe" Colovas on the Enterprise label. Curiously, it was Coe who premiered the song on Robin Seymour's Swingin' Time, although in one particular appearance on the program, Coe seemed curiously and uncharacteristically reticent in the process of doing so.

But by mid-1967, Bob Seger And The Last Heard would cut what would ultimately become their most successful and acclaimed single for Cameo. That track, Heavy Music celebrates the best of all that music had to offer during that most productive of eras, with Seger even demonstrating a bit of bravado in Part Two via his proclamation of, "NSU, SRC, Stevie Winwood got nothin' on me!". Heavy Music finished at a very respectable #2 on WKNR Keener 13 on 04 September 1967, behind the Box Tops' signature Mala label single, The Letter. 

Interestingly enough, in early 1969, WKNR conducted a listeners' poll and published a listing of what the station's faithful voted as the top 113 singles of all time. Heavy Music finished at a most impressive #2 on that list (behind the Association's Cherish at #1), although the single was erroneously credited on that commemorative chart to the Bob Seger System.

For that matter, after Heavy Music, Bob Seger And The Last Heard's affiliation with Cameo was no more. In early 1968, after most impressive showings with new releases by the Ohio Express, the Olympics and Evie Sands, Cameo/Parkway ceased operations. In the process, their extraordinary artist roster was scattered to the winds. Evie Sands headed for A&M, the Ohio Express and Chubby Checker followed Neil Bogart over to Buddah, Chris Bartley embarked upon a brief sabbatical before re-emerging with Musicor, and both the Pack and Terry Knight (each of whom were recording separately by that time), as well as the Rationals, Question Mark And The Mysterians and Bob Seger And The Last Heard all headed for Capitol. The Last Heard then became the Bob Seger System, and their remarkable streak continued unabated with such landmark singles as 2+2=?, Ramblin' Gamblin' Man, Ivory, Innervenus Eyes and Noah enabling them to finish out the 1960s in world class fashion.

Since that time, attempts by Capitol and other labels to keep such consistently in demand Bob Seger System and Bob Seger solo albums as Ramblin' Gamblin' Man, Noah, Brand New Morning, Mongrel and the utterly stupendous Back In '72 (the title song of which is the most hard hitting and fitting assessment of all that went wrong in music and mainstream culture during that most unproductive of years) available have been thwarted, reportedly at least in part by the artist himself. 

Thankfully, for the time being, the situation has been partially rectified with this most welcome ABKCO collection, which is newly remastered and in mono, in keeping with the original 45 releases. In his accompanying essay, Jim Allen has provided what is certain to be a highly scrutinized account of the proceedings, although there is little in his observations with which even the most discerning purist can take exception. The bases are well covered, including rare label scans and photographs.

True to form, Steve Stanley (whose recent work also includes the Warner Brothers-inspired cover design for the great Lisa Mychols' Sugar album on the Strataplastic label) followed suit in his capacity as Art Director for the Heavy Music collection.

"Maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the era from which a project is borne is what I always strive for when working on archival releases", Stanley said.

"I've spent entire days working on disc labels! When working on a reissue, I like to study the original Art Director. Their font preferences, their color preferences. Anything I can gather. I'll investigate other releases they did during the era. If I can reach that 'feel' place with a design, where people aren't sure whether something is new or a period design, that's always the goal with a project like this".

Diligent research was also a key component of Landi's contributions in her capacity as Project Producer.

"Growing up in the 1970s, I was a big fan of Seger's Silver Bullet Band recordings", she said.

"Then I discovered Smokin' O.P.s and was completely blown away. After that, I worked my way back to the earlier Detroit nuggets with the Bob Seger System and finally the Last Heard. 

"So when I came to work for ABKCO and started archiving the Cameo-Parkway catalog of tapes, I was eager to find the Last Heard masters, just to hear them in all of their crunchy first generation glory. I've been prepping for this set for a while now".

Michigan Music History CEO Mike Jackson concurred.

"I'm just glad that we now have the ability to listen to first generation versions of Persecution Smith, Heavy Music and East Side Story", said Jackson, whose site has long championed the reissue of these Hideout and Cameo singles.

"It sure beats the battered condition 45s or the bootlegged CDs that were taken off of vinyl".

To be certain, the Heavy Music anthology is a triumph of diligent research, tempered with a modicum of artistic license without sacrificing the integrity of the project. 

"For Heavy Music, I was given some initial instruction, but had a lot of freedom to explore possibilities", said Stanley

"I'm really pleased with the way the album turned out. I'm equally thrilled that fans can finally hear this material in the best fidelity ever offered".

Even the most discerning and demanding of collectors and musicologist concurred.

"I never thought this would be available", said Jackson.

"But since the passing of Allen Klein, much of the material from the Cameo/Parkway catalog is seeing the light of day again".

While not specific at this juncture, Landi assured that there is more to come.

"I can't really comment on future Cameo-Parkway projects", she said.

"But there is definitely more is coming down the pike. Stay tuned!"

Meanwhile, with regards to the project at hand, although the artist himself may see the renewed availability of this material as (to invoke a cut from his 1970 Mongrel album) Leanin' On My Dream, for the many who have learned to separate the art from the artist out of necessity, this collection is the start of a Brand New Morning.