This is one of the few songs Seger recorded that he didn't write. It was written by the songwriters George Jackson and Thomas Jones, who worked for Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where the song was recorded. Although Seger worked on the lyrics, he didn't take any songwriting credit. This means that Seger doesn't own the publishing rights to the song, and Jackson and Jones control when it is used in movies and commercials.
According to Seger, he was feeling generous that day, and says not seeking composer credit was "the dumbest thing I ever did." Seger claims he changed all the original lyrics except for the "old time rock and roll" part. He made sure to take a dig at Disco music, which was fading in popularity.
Seger recorded this with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
, a famous group of studio musicians who owned their own recording studio in Alabama. Other singers they had worked with include Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Rod Stewart. They gave many songs a feeling of authenticity, which was important to Seger because his last album was very successful and he didn't want to be perceived as selling out to pop radio.
Jerry Masters, who was a recording engineer at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, told us the story: "We cut a demo on the writer of the song, George Jackson, there at the studio when we didn't have anything else to do. It was a great demo, along with some others we cut that day. Seger liked the song so much he tried to cut it himself, but after numerous tries, with the Swampers and with his band, he finally gave up. He and Punch Andrews decided to buy the demo track from us and put his vocal on it, and that ended up being the record. It's a classic. We also did 'Night Moves
,' and several more that were on the Silver Bullet Band
LP. So the classic 'Old Time' was in reality a demo we cut on the writer a couple of years earlier."
The original demo for this song had George Jackson on vocals, which didn't work when pitching the song to Bob Seger. David Hood, who was the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bass player, told us, "After we got through recording it, we listened to it and thought, Well, pretty good, but George is a black guy. And he just didn't sound like a rock and roll singer. So Jimmy (Johnson, MSSS guitarist) and I were working with a rock group that we were trying to produce at the time. We brought in the singer from that group, a young man named Dennis Gulley, and put him on the track, the rock and roll track. And when we heard his version of it, we thought, Wow, that sounds just like something that Bob Seger would do.
We had been recording with Bob for some time by then. We knew that Bob didn't really cut other people's stuff very much, but we thought, well, there's a chance. So we sent it to Bob. He liked it, wanted to make a couple of changes to make it suit him a little bit more. So he came back in and re-recorded the song with us and also recorded it with his band, the Silver Bullet Band, and it just never came off. And so he ended up putting his voice on our demo, the demo that we had done at our Studio B with George Jackson. They just took George's voice off, put Bob's voice on there, and that's the hit record."
The lead guitar player on this was not a Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section player. It was Forrest McDonald, a young man just passing through who happened to stop in the studio that day. When we spoke with David Hood, he told us the story: "He happened to come in the parking lot in his mother and daddy's car with them, and Jimmy was out on the back porch. I believe his first name was Howie, but he probably goes by another name. But anyway, that's very true. He came into the parking lot one afternoon and Jimmy was out on the back porch. And he says, 'Well, I'm a guitar player and I'm wanting to learn how to play on recording sessions. And I think I'm good.' He says, 'Well, got your guitar with you?' He says, 'Yeah.' Jimmy says, 'Well, come on in.' And they put him on the track. His mother and daddy never even got out of the car. They sat in the car in the parking lot with the air conditioning running. And they put him on the track playing guitar and it's on the record, it stayed on there. It was a good enough part that they kept it on there."
The George Jackson - Muscle Shoals connection is through Malaco Records of Jackson, Mississippi ("America's Last Soul Record Label"). Jackson was a staff songwriter for Malaco, and Malaco often recorded their sessions at Muscle Shoals. He was also a part owner of the studio. (thanks, Rick - Ottawa, IL)
This was used in the 1983 movie Risky Business in a famous scene where Tom Cruise danced to the song in his underwear. This scene quickly entered the zeitgeist, leading to parodies, tributes, even Halloween costumes. Seger is OK with having his song closely associated with an underwear-clad Cruise - he says he gets a kick out of it.
This was used in a commercial for Friskies cat food, with the lyrics changed to: "Just take the Friskies off the shelf, your cat can eat them all by himself." It was later used in popular commercials for the video game Guitar Hero, which parodied the Risky Business scene.