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Longtime Bob Seger sax player Alto Reed dead at 72

Alto Reed onstage in 2007
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images)

Bob Seger's longtime sax player Alto Reed has died at the age of  72.

The news was confirmed by Seger, who wrote, "It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the passing of our lifelong friend and band mate, Alto Reed. Alto passed away this morning at his home with his family by his side after fighting a courageous battle with colon cancer.

"Alto has been a part of our musical family, on and off stage, for nearly 50 years. I first started 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.

"We worked with Alto often and when we booked our first headline arena gigs at Cobo Hall, we asked him to be a part of those shows. 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.

"Off stage, Alto had a passion for discovering and experiencing new things. He taught me how to sail on Biscayne Bay, we swam with the sharks (unintentionally!), and he often introduced us to local foods and restaurants he had discovered. I called him Captain. He was bolder than I was. I remember visiting him in the Miami area and I found him feeding the manatees in a lagoon behind his house. Most of us feed the seagulls, Alto fed the manatees!

"Alto started a family and was a fabulous father. He helped raise two talented, beautiful, intelligent young ladies. Over the years, his passion for music, life and new adventures never diminished. We loved him like a brother and will miss him forever."

Reed had also played with Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad, Little Feat, Otis Rush, Dave Mason, Spencer Davis, The Blues Brothers and George Thorogood, 

In 2013 Reed told Deadline about how he came up with the iconic sax part for Turn The  Page – later covered by Metallica – saying, "Bob said, 'I’ve got a song that I can hear some sax on.' I was anxious to get on any track I could, so I said, 'Let’s listen to it.' 

"He put in a master tape that he brought from Detroit, and I said, 'Oh man, I definitely hear sax in this.' I asked him, 'What did you have in mind?' Our assistant manager, Tom Wechsler, says, 'Alto, picture you’re in New York City, in a black-and-white movie like The Man with a Golden Arm.’ It’s late at night, and there is rain on the street and in the alley. You’re standing beneath a street lamp with a light mist coming down, and off in the distance you hear this plaintive wail.'

"I picked up the alto sax while I was sitting there, and I go, 'Duh-duh … duh-da-da.' I played that opening lick and there was total silence in the control room. I thought, 'Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have played that.' I looked at Bob and said, 'Was that OK?' Bob looked over at Wechsler and said, 'Was that OK? Tell him another story, and let’s see what he can do with that!'

"That is really what I have done with Bob over the years; he tells me the story and I find the complement to it. How much more fortunate can a sax player be than me?"

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović. Likes cats.