Alto Reed Dies: Bob Seger’s Longtime Sax Player Was 72

Erik Pedersen
·3 min read

Alto Reed, who played saxophone for multiplatinum Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band for nearly half a century, died Wednesday of colon cancer. He was 72.

Seger posted a note about his “lifelong friend and bandmate” on social media: “He was amazing – he could play just about anything,” he wrote. “In our band, he was the rock star.” Read the full post below.

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Born Thomas Cartmell in Detroit in 1948, Reed was known for his showmanship onstage and his signature sax riff on “Turn the Page.” He first started playing with Seger in the early 1970s, played on its Back in ’72 albums and joined the band for its first headlining arena shows at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. By 1974, he was a full-fledged member of the Silver Bullet Band, which was about to break nationally with “Live” Bullet (1976), which was recorded at Cobo Hall and featured a scorching version of the Reed-fueled “Turn the Page” that remains a staple on classic rock radio. Metallica covered the song on its 1998 album Garage Inc., with a guitar riff subbing for the sax.

Reed joined Seger and several other longtime bandmates for a 2018-19 farewell tour, during which he played the familiar guitar riff from “Mainstreet” on sax. His horn also helped drive such Seger classics as “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” and the 1978 hit “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

He was part of the band during its 1970s and ’80s heyday, playing on the multiplatinum albums Beautiful Loser, Night Moves, Stranger in Town, Against the Wind — which was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for six weeks in 1980 — and the 1981 live set Nine Tonight. The singleAgainst the Wind” won the group it only Grammy, for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, and also scored a second nom that year.

The group scored eight consecutive Top 10 discs from 1976-94, including Greatest Hits, which has sold more than 10 million units in the U.S. alone. The band’s The Distance, Like a Rock, The Fire Inside, Face the Promise and Greatest Hits 2 also sold at least 1 million units, and 1996’s It’s a Mystery went gold.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band also racked up seven Top 10 singles, ranging from the 1976 classic “Night Moves” to the group’s lone chart-topper, “Shakedown,” from the 1987 film Beverly Hills Cop II. The title cut from Like a Rock peaked at No. 12 in 1986 but became nearly as familiar as any of the group’s songs as the featured cut in a long-running TV ad campaign for Chevrolet trucks during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Seger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, but his Silver Bullet Band was not recognized.

Along with his Seger work, Reed performed with such acts as Little Feat, Foghat, Dave Mason, Spencer Davis, Grand Funk Railroad, Ted Nugent, the Blues Brothers, George Thorogood and the Motor City Horns. He also co-fronted the Reed & Dickinson Band with Steve Dickinson.

Reed is survived by daughters Chelsea Reed Radler and Victoria Reed and their spouses; his partner, Christiana Van Ryn; her daughter, Sophia Van Ryn; and sister Nancu Neumann. In lieu of flowers, Reed’s family requested that donations in his name be made to Detroit Symphony’s Detroit Harmony Fund.

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