This romp of a rocker finds Bob Seger in character as a drifter who gets by on street smarts and determination. He's good with the ladies, but he warns them not to get attached: he's a ramblin' gamblin' man, and won't stick around.
Running a compact 2:23, it was Seger's first big hit. It charted at #17 despite receiving no airplay in most major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Seger was very popular in Detroit, but despite being a talented singer/songwriter at the beginning of the singer/songwriter era, he couldn't get any heat in most coastal cities. It wasn't until his 1975 Beautiful Loser album that Seger broke nationally.
A 19-year-old Glenn Frey performed acoustic guitar and backing vocals on this song shortly before he left Detroit to find fame and fortune in Los Angeles. Frey had kicked around in a few Detroit bands, but this was his first professional recording experience. He called Seger "the most important individual" in his music career because of the support and encouragement Seger provided. Three years after moving to California, Frey co-founded the Eagles.
Aside from a love of music, Seger and Frey had another bond: They were dating twin sisters at the time.
Seger and his band were called "The Bob Seger System" when this song was released. It was just their second single on Capitol Records (after "2+2=?"), which they joined after their previous label, Cameo-Parkway, folded.
After hearing the Spencer Davis Group hit "Gimme Some Lovin'
" with its distinctive Hammond B-3 organ riff, Seger went for a similar sound on "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," and made the B-3 a staple of his live shows. Bob Schultz, who was a member of Seger's band, played it on this track.
You don't hear much about "ramblin'" these days, but it was a common term in the '60s and '70s. A few years later, The Allman Brothers had a big hit with "Ramblin' Man
This song had a profound effect on John Mellencamp, who was 16 years old when he heard it while riding with some buddies in Seymour, Indiana. He made the driver pull over so they wouldn't lose the radio signal, and the DJ announced it was Bob Seger. "That was the beginning of a long love affair with Bob Seger's music, thoughtful and bad ass in one measure," he said in Mellencamp: American Troubadour by David Masciotra. "If there really is such a thing as Midwest Rock, it started for me that night."