Alto Reed, longtime saxophonist of Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, dies at 72

Tyler Aquilina
·2 min read

Larry Marano/Getty Images

Alto Reed, the saxophonist known as a longtime member of Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band, died Wednesday after a battle with colon cancer. He was 72.

"Alto has been a part of our musical family, on and off stage, for nearly 50 years," Seger wrote in a statement published on social media. "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."

Born Thomas Neal Cartmell in 1948, Reed was, like Seger, a Detroit native, and a member of the Silver Bullet Band from its earliest days. His most famous performances included the saxophone solo on "Old Time Rock and Roll" and the intro to the classic rock radio favorite "Turn the Page."

"We worked with Alto often and when we booked our first headline arena gigs at [Detroit venue] Cobo Hall, we asked him to be a part of those shows," Seger wrote in his statement. "No doubt his iconic performance on 'Turn The Page' helped lift us to another level. He has been with us on that stage virtually every show, ever since. And whether it was 'Turn The Page,' 'Mainstreet,' or 'Old Time Rock And Roll,' audiences roared every time he played his part. In our band, Alto was the rock star."

Reed also performed with various classic rock acts including Foghat, Little Feat, and Grand Funk Railroad, but remained closely associated with Seger throughout his career, touring with the Silver Bullet Band for more than 40 years. "Saturday night could have been the first time that saxophonist Alto Reed blared out that mournful horn riff," EW's Sarah Rodman wrote of Reed's "Turn the Page" performance during a 2019 stop on Seger's farewell tour.

"It’s a wonderful thing that I get to do," Reed told The Grand Rapids Press during that tour. "I hate to sound too schlocky, but I find that sometime during the night I’ll scan the audience... and I’m thanking them while doing the show, thanking everybody in the arena."

"Back [in the early days], it was hungry in a different way," he added. "Back then, I was a live wire. Now, I’m focused. I strive for perfection every night. Now, there’s such huge satisfaction night after night being part of such a great group of musicians and being with a great singer-songwriter like Bob Seger. That’s what I’ve wanted to do all of my life."

Reed is survived by two daughters, his partner Christiana Van Ryn, his stepdaughter Sophia Van Ryn, and his ex-wife Monica Reed.

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