He was born in Detroit. His father was a bandleader and musician who worked in an auto plant to support his wife and two children. He was the younger of two sons, and got less attention from his father.
When he was ten, his father abandoned the family completely, leaving for California in search of success that he never achieved. The family moved to a one-room apartment. The burden of supporting the family fell more heavily on the older son. Bob stayed up late listening to a faraway radio station. On a transistor radio and an earplug, he heard James Brown, Garnett Mimms, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and others.
He liked James Brown more than the Beatles. His favorite album was James Brown Live at the Apollo, Volume 1.
He was a good student in high school and could run a 5:05 mile, at least until he discovered Rock and Roll. He began staying out all night with his friends, cars circled in a farmer's field, listening to music on the car radios.
In 11th grade, he had a band and was playing bars three nights a week. The applause at the Junior Prom changed his life.
In 1996 he played for nearly a million fans across the country. By 1968, he had 5 Top-10 singles in the Detroit market. He was unheard of outside Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and a few other Midwest markets, but in Detroit his records outsold The Beatles.
He was on the verge of breaking the national charts in 1967 when the record company promoting his single went bankrupt.
Motown was the first major label to offer him a contract.
His work ethic became a local legend. He played 260 dates in 1975.
He broke the Top 40 with a single in 1968, then survived seven years without a successful record.
In the early '70s, he and his band drove 25 hours to Florida, played 3 straight nights, and then drove 25 hours back, because they couldn't afford motel rooms. He considered himself more a driver than a singer at the time.
In June 1976, he played in front of 50 people in a Chicago bar. Three days later, he played in front of 76,000 devoted fans in the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit.
He wrote about characters like Lucy Blue, Chicago Green, Already Eddie and other characters long before Springsteen created Crazy Janey and her mission man.
His songs, he thinks, reflect a certain morality: "What happens when you do it wrong and when you do it right."
The characters in many of his songs don't find the satisfaction or fulfillment that they thought their dreams would hold. They end up "stuck in heaven," listening to the sound of something far away -- a bird on the wing, the sound of thunder. They think back on the promise of younger years, surprised at the passage of time. Only occasionally do they find renewal. More often, they try to make some moment last; they watch it slipping past. The light fades from the screen. They wake up alone. Next time, perhaps, they'll get it right.
He was greatly influenced by early advice from Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, who said, "Do your best, 'cause it's only gonna last 2 or 3 years."
He's a perfectionist who spends months in the studio fixing problems no one else can hear. He's a Taurus, which means "You can't move him with a crane."
He admires Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell.
He believes his Rock And Roll savagery was tempered for many years by the need to produce mainstream records.
He has sold nearly 50 million albums, including 10 consecutive million-selling albums between 1975 and 1995. (thanks, Ted - Loveland, CO, for all above)