Alto Reed, the longtime saxophonist for Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, died Wednesday (Dec. 30) after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 72.
“It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the passing of our lifelong friend and band mate, Alto Reed,” Seger wrote in a social media tribute to his former bandmate. “Alto has been a part of our musical family, on and off stage, for nearly 50 years.”
Born Thomas Neal Cartmell on May 16, 1948, the gifted Detroit musician began playing with Seger in 1971 before joining the Silver Bullet Band three years later. He’s widely recognized for his saxophone solo in “Turn the Page” from the band’s Back in ’72 album, and “Old Time Rock and Roll” from Stranger in Town, the latter of which became a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979 and soundtracked an iconic scene in Tom Cruise’s 1983 film Risky Business.
“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,” continued Seger, who gave Reed his stage name after being inspired by the alias used in Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. “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.”
As a member of Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Reed won a 1980 Grammy for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal for Against the Wind. The group’s fourth studio album topped the Billboard 200 for six weeks in the spring of 1980. It was their only No. 1 album.
Aside from his work with the Silver Bullet Band, Reed performed alongside Grand Funk Railroad, Ted Nugent, Little Feat, Foghat, Dave Mason, Spencer Davis, the Blues Brothers, George Thorogood, Robin Gibb and the Motor City Horns. He co-led the Reed & Dickinson Band with Steve Dickinson and released an album together titled Tonight We Ride.
He is survived by his children, Chelsea Reed Radler and her husband Jon Radler and Victoria Reed and her husband Erik Deutsch; his grandson Harry Radler; his partner Christiana Van Ryn; his stepdaughter Sophia Van Ryn; his ex-wife Monica Reed; and his sister Nancy Neumann.
In lieu of flowers, Reed’s family requested that fans, friends and others donate in his name to Detroit Symphony’s Detroit Harmony Fund, which aims to place an instrument in the hands of every student in his hometown. They also encouraged people to regularly screen for colon cancer and learn about other preventative methods.
“His skillfulness, dedication and brilliance as an artist and performer made him a hero not only to us, but to thousands of others, if not millions,” Chelsea and Victoria wrote as part of his family’s statement. “He lived for the stage and most importantly, his role for nearly 50 years in the Silver Bullet Band with his musical family; Bob, Craig, Chris, and so many other talented musicians who played alongside him. We are truly comforted in knowing that his spirit will shine brightly on through the music that he has left behind, and the impression that he’s had on so many souls in concert.”