Alto Reed, longtime saxophone player with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, dies at 72

Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read

Alto Reed, the saxophonist whose signature hooks and swashbuckling stage moves made him a star of Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, died Friday morning of colon cancer. He was 72.

Reed, born Thomas Cartmell in Detroit, was an original Silver Bullet member, enlisted by Seger in 1974 as the Detroit rocker sat on the cusp of a national breakout. Along with bassist Chris Campbell, he was the group's longest-serving player, touring with Seger and Silver Bullet through late 2019.

He had linked up with Seger two years prior, playing as part of the "Back in '72" album sessions — including his trademark intro to "Turn the Page."

Alongside Seger, Reed became a familiar rock 'n' roll character in the wake of 1976's "Live Bullet," his bounding stage moves and stylish presence lending a visual punch to Seger's live shows.

"I loved him like a brother," Seger said in a statement. "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."

Alto Reed of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band performs at U.S. Bank Arena on April 5, 2011, in Cincinnati.
Alto Reed of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band performs at U.S. Bank Arena on April 5, 2011, in Cincinnati.

Reed's sax lines were some of the most distinctive musical features of Seger's work — from the famous plaintive opening of "Turn the Page" to the sizzling, wailing solos on numbers such as "Old Time Rock and Roll" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets."

Detroit's Motor City Horns trombonist John Rutherford, part of Seger's live ensemble for the past 15 years, said Reed was a friendly, guiding figure on the road.

"He certainly was a showman, but he did a great job of (balancing) the showmanship with the musicality — never sacrificing the music," Rutherford said. "He was a mentor. Obviously, for us, joining a band that had been together for 35 years was sort of like being adopted into a family, and he always went out of his way to meet friends of mine."

His credits extended well beyond the Seger catalog: From the '70s onward, Reed also worked with acts such as Ted Nugent, Robin Gibb, Enchantment, Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad and more.

With singer-songwriter Steve Dickinson, he released the Reed & Dickinson Band album "Tonight We Ride," following the 1997 solo effort "Cool Breeze."

Reed also composed music for a pair of film projects by actor Jeff Daniels: "Escanaba in Da Moonlight" and "Super Sucker."

Perhaps his most-loved piece of work with Seger came with "Turn the Page," where his mood-setting sax, performed by Reed solo in a spotlight, would instantly spark roars from concert audiences. His part — which has endured as one of the most recognizable sax lines in rock history — had been crafted by Reed with an assist from road manager Tom Weschler, who encouraged him to envision a cinematic scene: a misty late-night alley under a street lamp.

His daughters, Chelsea Reed Radler and musician Victoria Reed, remembered their father in a statement Friday:

"Our hearts are deeply broken by this enormous loss, but also filled with gratitude as we reflect on his legacy and how incredibly lucky we've been to get to call such a special guy dad."

Reed is survived by his children, Chelsea Reed Radler and Jon Radler and Victoria Reed and Erik Deutsch; a grandson, Harry Radler; a sister, Nancy Neumann, and brother-in-law Dave Neumann. He also leaves behind his partner Christiana Van Ryn, his stepdaughter Sophia Van Ryn, and his ex-wife of 21 years, Monica Reed.

The family asks that donations be made to Detroit Harmony, an initiative founded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to supply musical instruments to area students.

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Alto Reed, sax man with Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, dies at 72