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Friday, October 21, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bob Seger's More Of A Family Man Than Music Man

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

DETROIT - Bob Seger and his wife, Nita, are in the kitchen of their lakeside home in central Oakland County, Mich., trying to open a drawer that's secured by a magnetic, child-proof lock.

The part on the outside can't seem to catch the latch on the inside, which is holding the drawer closed. "Who put it in there?" Seger asks. "Cole," responds Nita, referring to their almost 2-year-old son.

They look at each other, roll their eyes and laugh. What can they do? - except to hope that there's nothing too important inside the drawer.

It's all part of parenting, which Seger has taken to with the same kind of fervor he sinks into his hardest rock 'n' roll. Even with a new song on the radio - a cover of Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie" - and his "Greatest Hits" album due in stores Tuesday, Seger makes no bones about where his priorities lie these days.

"Having a child, being happily married . . . the difference is astounding," 49-year-old Seger explains as he sinks into a recliner in the paneled family room of the house. "The fire's still there" to make music, he says, but "it's a battle I fight every day. It's not the gusto; you just don't have the time to do it as well as you want to.

"I've just changed my whole value system; I know what's important. I want to be a good dad. I want to be a good husband. That's my top priority. And if I can still do my work well, great.

"That is really unusual and feels funny, but it just feels right

right now. I'm feeling my way through this."

Pays tribute to his son

How crazy is Seger about his son - and with the thought of the couple's second child, due in early April? There's a picture of Cole, at 17 months, on the back of "Greatest Hits"; it was taken by Nita Seger in Naples, Fla. And "In Your Time," one of the album's two new songs, is a heart-tugging ode to Cole about the experiences that await him.

Friends like David Cole, a producer and engineer from Nashville, say the change in Seger has been profound. And positive. "He's more settled than I've ever seen him," Cole said at the Segers' 1993 wedding. "It's great to see him this happy."

The issue for Seger these days is balancing the dedicated homebody with the ambitious musician - he's one of rock's superstars, with nine consecutive million-selling albums. He hasn't taken his Silver Bullet Band on the road in more than seven years, not even to promote the release of his last album, 1991's "The Fire Inside."

And when he mentions a possible tour for the fall of 1995, following a hoped-for spring release of a new album, Seger talks about scaling back the number of shows rather than doing the months of concerts that he did during the first two dozen years of his career.

"Right now there's a lot of personal stuff that's important to me that I never tended to, ever," says the twice-divorced Seger. "Back then, especially during my screaming period of '75-'85, I just phoned everything in. There was no time. It was one straight focused onslaught.

"After 12 years of playing, when we finally hit it," with "Night Moves" in 1976, "it was like `If you want to ride this train, you better be prepared to ride fast because we're not stopping,' " Seger remembers. "It was tough on everybody because we were so driven . . . to take this thing as far as we could."

He was driven by other factors, too. Growing up in the '50s, Seger witnessed "an era when pop stars, even Little Richard, were old hat after two, three years." Growing up poor, he adds, instilled a drive "to make sure I had that big stack of chips I could fall back on before I kicked back at all."

Time of reflection

But staying off the road, he claims, was largely circumstantial. Following the 1986-'87 "Like a Rock" tour, several members of the Silver Bullet family had children, and Seger wanted to give them time to settle in. He also lost his mother in 1989, which led to a period of reflection.

"I really started to think, `Who am I doing it for now? Both my parents are gone; is it just for me?' " Seger says. "And then when Nita came along, and then Cole, it was like `OK, this is another new change, and I don't want to blow it. So I got serious about that.' "

But as he said, the creative fires still burn. More than 80 rock radio stations are playing "C'est La Vie" - a raucous rendition banged out at American Recording studio in Farmington Hills, Mich. - while VH-1 executives are awaiting a new video for "Night Moves." All of that has retailers expecting big things for "Greatest Hits."

In the meantime, Seger has recorded all or part of 26 songs for the next album - including one, "Haunted Eyes," about Kurt Cobain - with three more to record during December. With working titles of "It's a Mystery," "Locked and Loaded" and "Rite of Passage," he describes the new songs as "more extreme . . . the rockers rock harder and the ballads lay out further and it's a little more out on the edge."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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