The tragic news came down on December 30th that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band sax player Alto Reed died at the age of 72 after a battle with stage 4 colon cancer.
“Alto has been a part of our musical family, on and off stage, for nearly 50 years,” Seger said in a statement. “I first starting playing with Alto in 1971. He was amazing. He could play just about anything…he was funky, could scat, and play tenor sax and alto sax at the same time.”
Reed laid down his most iconic sax part just weeks after joining the Silver Bullet Band in 1971 when he went into the studio to work on “Turn the Page.” “Bob said to me, ‘I hear sax on this song,’” Reed told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I said, ‘I hear it too.’ Tom Weschler, the assistant manager at the time, said to me, ‘Picture that it’s late at night. It’s a black-and-white movie, like [1955 film noir] The Man with the Golden Arm. There’s some rain coming down in the alley. You’re standing by a street lamp and there’s a light mist off in the distance and you hear this plaintive wail. What does that sound like?’”
The sound he created is one of the most instantly recognizable sax parts in rock history and has been a part of every Seger show during the past 50 years. They last played it during the final show of Seger’s Roll Me Away tour at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on November 1st, 2019. Here’s fan-shot video of the performance.
“I loved him like a brother,” Seger said in a statement after Reed died. “I may have been the leader, but he was our rock star. He was the audience favorite, hands down. He was bold and worldly. I learned so much from the guy. And he was a great ambassador to the fans. He took time for everybody, any picture, anywhere. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Most rock farewell tours are followed up within a few years by comeback tours, but Seger is 75 and truly seemed to mean it when he said he was done touring. That’s a sad thought, but it also means we’ll never have to see another sax player playing “Turn the Page,” ‘Mainstreet,” or “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Those parts belonged to Alto and he played them with Seger until the very end.