DETROIT — You arrive at the little cabin 40 miles north of Detroit, tucked in the woods with the turning leaves, and can't help but think: This is such a Bob Seger scene.
The rustic spot is where the 66-year-old Midwest rock icon comes to get away, think and write. Show up on the right morning, and you'll find lyric pads and rhyme dictionaries scattered about. On the wall are childhood photos of Seger's son and daughter, alongside images chronicling his five-decade career from local watering holes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"If I want to sing really loud on the front porch, nobody hears me," Seger said with a grin, gesturing at the 60-acre property around him. "I can work at 3 in the morning and not bother a soul."
Since he eased off the music scene in the '90s to raise a family, it has been come-and-go for the artist behind such hits as "Night Moves" and "Against the Wind."
This fall is all go: In November, he'll take to the road for a second leg of shows with his Silver Bullet Band. He's completing an album for release next year. And he's finally taking the digital plunge, with a pair of remastered live albums (1976's "Live Bullet" and 1981's "Nine Tonight") that hit iTunes and Amazon this week.
There was a poignant air when Seger's tour started in March. Unsure about his stamina, he was convinced retirement was at hand. But that 27-show spring run, a hits-filled affair that included six sold-out Michigan dates, earned glowing reviews on its way to a $22- million gross.
"I didn't think there was any way I wouldn't call it quits," he said. "But it went so well and turned out so much easier than I thought, I said, 'Let's just go finish it.'"
The fall run will kick off Nov. 2 in Ypsilanti, Mich., winding through markets such as Pittsburgh (Nov. 19), New York (Dec. 1) and Philadelphia (Dec. 3) before heading west for shows in Texas and California.
Seger's voice has held up well. The only real struggles are the low notes, he said, humming the chorus of his 1977 hit "Mainstreet." He'll address that this fall by adopting an in-ear monitor to better hear himself.
This latest round of touring is just his fourth in 25 years. His songs might be everywhere — staples of classic-rock radio, soundtracks and his 9-million-selling "Greatest Hits" compilation — but the man himself has been a fleeting figure.
For long stretches in Michigan, the public got just occasional glimpses of Seger, who would pop up at Detroit Pistons games and regattas, the hair a little whiter each time. Though fans clamored for tours, they seemed to understand: He was raising his family, stretching his legs, doing his thing.
"But you know what's weird now?" Seger asked. "When I was touring in the past, I always thought, 'I want to go sailing, ride my cycle or play golf.' Now I'm back to liking the music more than any of it. When you see the end coming, you want to go out with a bang.
"I'm 66. Wait — 67? No, next year I'll be 67. So I know I better get it and enjoy it while I can."
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Seger's digital adventure started Tuesday with his blockbuster concert albums, which arrived a decade after iTunes transformed the record business.
He knows all about waiting: It was "Live Bullet" that thrust him to national acclaim after years of trying, with sales eventually topping 5 million. Recorded over two nights at Detroit's Cobo Arena, the record captured Seger and his Silver Bullet Band in full flight.
"It was the show we'd been doing for two hours a night, 300 nights a year, fronting for Kiss and Aerosmith and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, all these groups, and here we were headlining our hometown," he said. "It was pretty historic for us."
Seger's digital move is more welcome news for an industry that is finally enjoying a growth spurt. Album sales are up 3 percent over this point last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, fueled by a 20 percent rise in downloads of older work.
"We're getting great digital growth on catalog, and Bob Seger is one of those iconic artists," said David Bakula, a senior vice president with Nielsen. "There's a big demographic on iTunes that isn't there to pick out the big hit single of the day, but wants to rediscover these heritage rock artists. And they're not just cherry-picking songs — they want to hear the full albums as they remember them."
The classics are all fine and well, but Seger isn't just looking back.
He continues to work on his first album since 2006, aiming for release by fall 2012. Eight songs are done, including "Hey Gypsy," a Texas-fried tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, and "Ride Out," a muscular commentary on the pace of the modern life.
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He plans to write at least four more this winter, sticking with a familiar creative method: playing and writing and waiting and rewriting.
It's always been this way. Songs such as "Like a Rock" and "We've Got Tonight" were epics months in the making — "blood on the page," as his friend Don Henley would say.
"You've really got to beat yourself up to create what Henley used to call 'rhymes with dignity,'" Seger said. "He used to tell me: 'Sometimes we can sing it good, if we're competent singers. But it's better to be able to read it good.' So I like my lyrics to read well, and I think they do."
Even the classics get rewrites: "Looking back on it now, I think 'Night Moves' was too fast. So we play it slower live and it's much more effective. I was singing the words really fast in '76, when I was young. And that does change."
Seger figures more work time is coming. He and his wife, Nita Seger, just saw their 18-year-old son off to college, and their 16-year-old daughter got her driver's license last week.
"We're moving into the empty-nest era," he said. "If I'm going to write, I've got to just be really buried in it."
And while he's not ready to commit, Seger won't rule out the possibility of more touring.
"Live Nation tells me the way I do it is smart because it makes people miss you," he said. "Which is the exact opposite of what everybody told me many years ago: 'Tour as much as you can!'
"I look at Lady Gaga. She toured so much and really built a base. And that's what you do when you're young. Then later, you let everyone miss you — it's even more special when you do go out."