The Bob Seger System - Ramblin' Gamblin' Man (1969)
Bob Seger recorded 'The Bob Seger System', also known as 'Ramblin' Gamblin' Man' in 1968. The album scaled the charts to number 62, and two 45's, 'Ramblin' Gamblin' Man'/'Tales of Lucy Blue' and 'Ivory'/'Love Needs To Be Loved' charted out at numbers 17 and 97 respectively (the songs predictably did considerably better in Bob's hometown of Detroit, Michigan, where he has been an icon since the late 1960's). Despite this promising debut, it would be another long eight years before Bob would achieve national prominence.
The sound and look of 'Ramblin' Gamblin' Man' reflect the psychedelic persuasions of the era it was produced in. While that adds some interesting twists to the disc, it didn't turn out to be Seger's favored genre. Bob did much better as a flat-out rocker, as several songs on this disc attest to, or in the more mainstream persona he adopted in the mid-1970's, primarily pushing romantic ballads. Every time Bob cuts loose on this disc it's a raging success, but the remainder of the tracks meet with mixed results.
Three songs are hands-down winners, beginning with the churning title track, and continuing with one of the first and most stinging Vietnam protest songs, '2 + 2 = ?' ("...you say he died for freedom, if he died to save your lies, go ahead and call me yellow, 2 + 2 is on my mind..."), through 'Ivory' with its fuzzy yet slick lead guitar, and heavy, hand-clap beat. 'Down Home' is another good rock number focused on a dysfunctional family. It's harmonica, bass, and drum driven melody supports the tale of Chicago Green, Aunt Mary, Little Willy, and Eddie. 'Tales of Lucy Blue', despite it's decided psychedelic leanings, manages to deliver a haunting and just a bit sinister lead guitar, and engaging lyrics ("...empty words falling on ears which have never heard, hollow lies comin' from lost, hung up and lonely guys..."). Perhaps 'Lucy Blue' is the lady portrayed on the front insert art, covering her heart and unmentionables, and standing on an icy peninisula that is the mirror-image of Bob's home state of Michigan.
Let's also give a nod to 'Black-Eyed Girl' (Seger's homage to Van Morrison's 'Brown-Eyed Girl'? Hardly.) It is a gutsy blues song that takes off about mid-way through with an elastic slide guitar solo. But the remainder of the songs are a one-time listen. 'Doctor Fine' is an uninteresting one-minute instrumental; 'White Wall', while interesting, can't decide between funky blues, full-fledged power rock, heaven-sent vocal harmonies, or mind-bending psychedelia, all fueled by a torrid-paced percussion, and capped with an appropriate, "Wow!"; 'Gone' seems to be an ode to a drug overdose, a soft, acoustic, flower-power textured ballad with an echo-chambered vocal; 'Love Needs To Be Loved' is the most obvious tribute to psychedelia, an uninspiring knock-off of 'All You Need Is Love' or 'Get Together' ("...women were sent from heaven above, and love needs to be loved..."); and 'Train Man' is an undistinguished acoustic ballad that does manage to break into some funky, distorted guitar to finish up the disc.
While there are some great moments to be cherished on 'Ramblin' Gamblin' Man', it's easy to see why Seger has chosen not to reissue this disc. While fans rightly savor the title track, '2 + 2' and 'Ivory', the remainder of the songs probably detract more than add to the legacy Seger has promoted of himself. You won't even find most of the quality tracks on Seger compilations or live performances. But I believe Bob's being a bit too sensitive about the image thing. There are plenty of people who appreciate his early work every bit as much, or even more, than the tracks that eventually won him critical acclaim. Those people may, in fact, be Bob's most stalwart fans, and it would seem they have earned access to his formative works. Hopefully Bob will recognize that someday, and acquiesce to reissuing his first six albums ('Ramblin' Gamblin' Man' through 'Back In '72').
1. Ramblin' Gamblin' Man 2:23
2. Tales of Lucy Blue 2:29
3. Ivory 2:24
4. Gone 3:29
5. Down Home 3:03
6. Train Man 4:07
7. White Wall 5:21
8. Black Eyed Girl 6:34
9. 2+2= 2:50
10. Doctor fine 1:06
11. The Last Song (Love Needs To Be Loved) 3:05