Bob Seger, 66, certainly hasn't forgotten how to rock. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the Detroit icon is in the midst of his second North American tour this year. (The run wraps Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, with a make-up date in South Carolina on Jan. 14.) His just-released compilation, "Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets" (Capitol), packs a career-spanning collection of hits and rarities ("Little Drummer Boy" from 1987's "A Very Special Christmas") as well as covers of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" and Little Richard's "Hey Hey Hey Hey (Going Back to Birmingham)" onto two discs. And if all goes well, 2012 will bring a new studio album, his first since 2006's "Face the Promise" (Capitol/EMI).
It must be a trip to compile Ultimate Hits and realize just how much enduring music you've made.
Well, you hope that's the case, but you really don't know. People choose to like what they like, and you can't control that, ever. What's amazing to me still, is how much airplay we've gotten down through the years. We've never really gone away, and even the Beatles have gone away for stretches of time. But we never seem to go off the radio. I'm very grateful for that.
You had a particularly fertile period between "Night Moves and The Distance," maybe even "Like a Rock." What were you taking back then?
[Laughs] I really don't know. That was an era -- [from] '75 to '81 -- when I was writing a lot of songs, even though I didn't have a whole lot of time to write. We were [performing] a lot more than we are now, and I was recording, which took much more time than it does now because I was like [Bruce] Springsteen-I was like a crazy man. I'd get in there and live in the studio, and I didn't know what I was doing, so it took me a long time. But I don't know why I wrote those songs in that time period. I don't know what was going through my mind. I was just busy.
You've been nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Is that a different kind of honor than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I'm very grateful because I really work hard on [songwriting]. I like to think that, like [Don] Henley says, I leave a little blood on the page, and work really hard on my lyrics and chord changes and structures and everything. So it's pretty heartening to get that nod. I have some stiff competition, so we'll see what happens.
You recently entered the digital realm after years of holding out.
It hasn't really changed anything for me because I've never owned an iPod. I don't download. My wife bought me an iPad and I never even picked it up -- I gave it to my son. I'm old school. I go out and buy CDs because I think the sound of a CD is better than the sound of an MP3, and even over that I prefer the sound of vinyl. My son and his friends are really into vinyl. They go down to my basement and break into my records all the time.
What's the status of your next studio album?
I've got six [songs] that I really, really like, and I'd like to have six more that I feel that way about because then I don't have to use anything old and it'll all be fresh. That's why I want to stop [touring on Dec. 30], because there's nothing for me to do here in Michigan in winter-I'm going to try snowmobiling this year, but I certainly don't ski-so I can sit and write for three solid months, January through March. I should be able to come up with something good in three months. Then come April, I'll record what I've got, we'll put it out in the fall and then do another tour.
You've made comments about coming off the road for good after this tour.
[Laughs] Well, we'll see. I take it tour by tour. I'll tell you on Dec. 31, because I don't know how my body's going to react. I could retire Jan. 1 in a heartbeat, but I never know. I'm 66. I don't know if I want to do this when I'm 67. But I still love doing it, and I love the band we've got now. So we'll see.