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18th October 1977: American rock singer and songwriter Bob Seger, and his Silver Bullet Band, Drew Abbott, Robyn Robbins, Alto Reed, Chris Campbell and Charlie Allen Martin, in London, for their first British tour. (Photo by Malcolm Clarke/Keystone/Getty Images)

Written by: Gary Graff

Alto Reed, the longtime saxophone player in Bob Seger‘s Silver Bullet Band, died today, Wednesday, from colon cancer. He was 72.

Seger, who visited with Reed earlier this month, issued a statement saying, “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 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.

“We worked with Alto often and when we booked our first headline arena gigs at Cobo Hall [in Detroit], 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 forever.”

Doni was able to talk to Gary:

And Alto’s daughters, Chelsea and Victoria, also issued a statement:

“Last night, under the light of the full moon and surrounded by family at home, our beautiful father passed gently on to the next realm. 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. He lead an extraordinary life, marked by passion, determination, and dreams come true; an action packed adventure filled top to bottom with love, magic, dear friends, family, and unspeakable joys. The stuff of legends, really…

“We are overwhelmed by and so appreciative of the love and support we have received from friends and those who feel like family during this sensitive time; it means the world to us, truly. And tomorrow, on New Year’s Eve, we will be celebrating his incredible life; we hope everyone that loved him will do the same.

“In lieu of flowers we will be accepting donations in his name towards the Detroit Symphony’s Detroit Harmony Fund, whose goal is to put an instrument in the hands of every student in the city of Detroit. We also encourage friends and fans who loved him to honor his life through regular screenings and other early prevention methods for colon cancer.

“P.S. Dad, we hope you have fun, flying high over everyone playing your sax, just like you did in the 70s. This time, no wires.”

In addition to his daughters, Reed is survived by his grandson, Harry Radler, and his sister, Nancy Neumann and her husband Dave. He also leaves behind his partner Christiana Van Ryn, his stepdaughter Sophia Van Ryn and his ex-wife of 21 years, Monica Reed. Memorial plans are pending.

Reed, born Thomas Neal Cartmell in Detroit, also played with Grand Funk RailroadTed NugentLittle FeatFoghatDave MasonSpencer DavisThe Blues BrothersGeorge ThorogoodRobin GibbThe Motor City Horns and others.

Take a listen to all of the interviews Big Jim did last week.

Alto Reed performs The National Anthem on the sax:

Alto Reed performs Turn the Page in studio:

Alto Reed on his sax setup:


Check out this photo from Alto at the Michigan Jam in 1977