Alto Reed, Longtime Musician for Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Dead at 72

by Emily Morgan

Longtime saxophonist for Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Alto Reed, has died. Reed passed away on Wednesday at the age of 72 after a battle with stage four colon cancer. Reed is apart of the long list of icons we lost in 2020.

In an Instagram post, Seger shared the unfortunate news with his fans.

“It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the passing of our lifelong friend and bandmate, Alto Reed. Alto passed away this morning at his home with his family by his side after fighting a courageous battle with colon cancer.”

Bob Seger on Alto Reed: ‘He Could Play Just About Anything’

Seger also described how Reed had “been a part of our musical family, on and off stage, for nearly 50 years.” Reed began playing with The Silver Bullet Band in 1971. “He could play just about anything,” the legendary musician said. “He was funky, could scat and play tenor sax and alto sax at the same time.” Seger added, “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.”

When it comes to iconic Seger tunes, the rock-n-roll star attributes Reed with adding some legendary notes. “No doubt his iconic performance on ‘Turn The Page’ helped lift us to another level,” Seger said. “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.”

‘Night Moves’ Singer Dubs Reed with Stage Name

Describing Reed “off stage,” Seger revealed he “had a passion for discovering and experiencing new things.” Seger continued, “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!”

Seger finished his heartfelt tribute, writing, “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.”

Before Seger gave the saxophonist his memorable stage name, he was recording with his birth name, Tommy Cartmell. Reed appeared on Seger’s 1973 album Back in ’72, which featured “Turn the Page.” The 1976 version from the Live Bullet LP, included Reed’s iconic intro, which became a hit. Reed was also a co-founding member of Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, beginning with 1976’s Night Moves album.

Reed’s Family Delivers Statment

In a statement by the family, they said, “His skillfulness, dedication, and brilliance as an artist and performer made him a hero not only to us but to thousands of others, if not millions. He lived for the stage and most importantly, his role for nearly 50 years in the Silver Bullet Band with his musical family; Bob, Craig, Chris, and so many other talented musicians who played alongside him. We are truly comforted in knowing that his spirit will shine brightly on through the music that he has left behind, and the impression that he’s had on so many souls in concert.”

They continued, “But beyond all of that, to us, he was and always will be, Dad. Loving, supportive, sweet, and wise. Working front of house at our elementary school recitals, rigging up lights so we could ice skate at night, taking us tubing ’til our heads spun, rooting for the Red Wings, teaching us how to ski, fish, shoot pool, and harmonize, always sharing in deep conversation, and all the while believing unfailingly in us and our dreams. Oh, and fixing everything, everywhere, always.”

Besides flowers, the family asks for donations to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Detroit Harmony Fund. The organization provides instruments to Detroit’s music students.