The Seger File

An unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger Last updated May 2002 Edited by Scott Sparling sparling@segerfile.com


Mongrel

August 1970
Bob Seger (vocals, guitar)
Dan Watson (organ, piano, vocals)
Dan Honaker (bass, vocals, guitar)
Pep Perrine (drums, percussion) Seger, Honaker, Perrine and Dan Watson
 

Data

Mongrel reached 171 on the Billboard album chart.


Seger: "The Mongrel album was very big for about six months there [in Detroit]. It was also huge in Florida. We got something like $15, 000 a night there, which was ridiculous for us in those days, because we'd go into Georgia or some place the next night and make $500 tops. And the club owner probably lost money on us at that price." Robert Hilburn, May 22, 1977, Los Angeles Times. "Bob Seger, Rock's Prodigal Son."

 


Standout cuts

Highway Child," "Big River," "Lucifer," "Leaning on My Dream," and "River Deep--Mountain High."

Seger: "The whole idea was the mongrel, the American of any nationality, who grows his hair long and tries to sink into a culture." Dave Marsh, May 1972, Creem. "Doncha Ever Listen to the Radio...How to Remain Obscure through Better Rock 'n' Roll: Bob Seger, Best in the Midwest."

"Evil Edna"

Seger called it "...a song about the sexual ethics of the very young, and the changes they're going through." Dave Marsh, May 1972, Creem. "Doncha Ever Listen to the Radio...How to Remain Obscure through Better Rock 'n' Roll: Bob Seger, Best in the Midwest."

"Lucifer"

One of Seger's best cuts ever; I know several Seger fans who put it at the top of their personal "Seger Top Ten" lists, and it's way up there on mine. The energy, attitude and confidence is palpable throughout.

"Highway Child"

Almost as powerful as "Lucifer," and the rebellious, political lyrics are arguably better..."Think I'll watch my tv set and let America steal my mind." And this one: "Kesey next to me now, darling, straighter than a railroad track."

Speaking of famous (or semi-famous) counterculture icons, I read once (in the August 26, 1986 Detroit Free Press article, "Will Storm Signal an End to Touring?" by Gary Graff) that John Sinclair sings backup vocals on "Highway Child."

Sinclair was the manager/promotor of the MC5 and was involved in Michigan's short-lived White Panther Party, which espoused rock 'n' roll and revolution, in solidarity with Black Panther Party, though the White Panthers were definitely less interested in politics and more interested in parties. Still, in my high school, you could get sent home for wearing a White Panther pin.

The idea of Sinclair singing backup on "Highway Child" is vexing for two reasons. First, the song contains the lines: "I've seen 'em dumping garbage in my rivers and lakes/I've seen 'em send up John Sinclair, you know two joints is all it takes." Since Sinclair had already been arrested for selling two joints and sentenced to ten years, how could he be singing backup?


(John Lennon referred to Sinclair's arrest in his song "John Sinclair," as follows: "It ain't fair, John Sinclair...they gave him ten for two/what else can the bastards do? We've gotta gotta set him free." Seger and Lennon played at the Sinclair Freedom Rally in December 1971. Lennon and Ono got top billing of course: Seger was third on the bill. The concert was the subject of a documentary, called Ten for Two by film maker Steve Gebhardt. Unfortunatetly, due to a dispute with Yoko Ono, the film has never been released; it is shown once a year or so at various benefits in Ann Arbor.)

But there's a second, even more convincing, reason why Sinclair couldn't be singing back-up. There are no back-up vocals on "Highway Child." Give a listen.

"Song to Rufus"

A scorching, fast-tempo blues about a drug dealer: "I'm a junk runner, honey, hotter than the noonday sun..."

"Big River"

An early "Seger medium" with much of the feeling that would later be captured in a string of top ten mid-tempo hits. Listen: "Take some advice from a loser/who's been living too long alone..." The same threads of loneliness and loss that run through all his work are present here, and just as heartfelt -- maybe more so, because of his youth. With these lyrics, as with so many others, you can find yourself thinking back to the ten-year old whose father left him.

"River Deep-Mountain High"

According to Joanne Zangrilli, writing in Goldmine, November 1990, "River Deep--Mountain High," which features live concert noise, was actually recorded in the studio. I've never heard this confirmed, but when you listen to the CD version on headphones, the theory seems possible. The crowd noise certainly seems to come out of nowhere near the end of the track. If you really pump the volume up, you'll hear an interesting comment or two from band members after the song ends.

Ultimately, I don't care whether this is a studio or live track: it is, simply, one of the most powerful and inspired vocals in rock history, period. If you've never heard it cranked up and furious, scorching your brainpan, you're missing something major, just as if you had never heard "Purple Haze" or "Respect" or "Light My Fire." The difference, of course, is that those songs achieved anthem-like success, and Seger's version of "River Deep" is a long-forgotten album cut -- but the quality, the intensity and the impact is the same, despite the difference in popularity. You can hear James Brown in Seger's vocal, but that's just his starting point. He cranks it up from there, taking us into rock territory. You'll never hear anything this soulful and this powerful anywhere else, as far as I'm concerned -- certainly not from the string of vocalists that Seger is often compared to, i.e., Fogerty, Van Morrison or Springsteen. I remember once reading Van Morrison comment that Seger was "doing my act." Uh-uh. Without taking anything away from those other greats, they couldn't touch this. So why didn't it become a rock radio staple? Who knows? That's part of the mystery of early Seger.


Track List and Song Samples

The song samples are provided not by the Seger File, but by a national record store chain. Since Mongrel is out-of-print, apparently they want you to hear what you can't buy. I'm only too glad to help out in that regard.

1. Song To Rufus

2. Evil Edna

3. Highway Child

4. Big River

5. Mongrel

6. Lucifer

7. Teachin Blues

8. Leanin On My Dream

9. Mongrel Too

10. River Deep-Mountain High


Promotion

 

Mongrel was promoted with full-page ads showing Seger onstage, with the headline, "Mongrel is a bitch!" The slogan is unexplained -- although I suppose there's a clever dog reference there. I just take it to mean Mongrel rocks, which it does.

 


Packaging

The album cover art is, shall we say...strange? Well, it was the sixties, remember. (Actually 1970.) I can just hear some Capitol exec saying, "I know -- let's put a painting of a pudgy looking girl and a dog on the cover!"

I think the album would have charted about 50 points higher if the back cover had been on the front. The photo on the back is dynamite -- a young, beardless Seger onstage in a jammed stadium. The photo was taken by Thomas Weschler at the Cincinnati Pop Festival. As AOL Seger-boarder Tall Yank once pointed out, the Seger pictured onstage is the solid, strong youth later remembered so perfectly in "Like A Rock."

 


And, to those of you who have asked: yes, Mongrel was originally issued (in 1970) as a gatefold. The LP was reissued in 1975 and 1980 without the gatefold.


Reviews

Rolling Stone reviewed Mongrel on January 7, 1971. Ben Edmonds called the album "...easily [Seger's] best work to date, but there are still some crucial musical problems he must come to grips with if he is to realize the tremendous potential he displayed on his earlier Cameo-Parkway singles (most notably 'Heavy Music' and 'Persecution Smith')." [The reference to "Persecution Smith" seems strange to me, since it's such a Dylanesque sound. "East Side Story" would be more like it.]

Edmonds continues: "[Seger] writes marvelous rock and roll songs in the virile 1965 mold, somewhat of a lost art these days." The problem, he says, is the band, which "like Mountain" is overblown and pretentious and "often degenerates into 'heavy' overstatements of the most cliched sort." Edmonds called "Lucifer" the strongest cut on the album.

 


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