Guitarist, hunter, gun activist, author, TV host, outdoorsman, politician, husband, father, Madman! 300 days a year at 6:00 a.m. Ted Nugent is awake and ready to climb into a tree stand or crawl through a swamp. He’s ready to do it all over again after a break for lunch and signing a few hundred items for the many charities he is involved with. Not the life of an average rock star one might say, but Nugent definitely started as a musician with humble beginnings.
As a boy, his mother, Marion Dorothy Nugent and her sister Nancy would be his first exposure to the guitar. “My mom and Aunt Nancy would bang on the guitar and do these parodies of Puff the Magic Dragon and You Are My Sunshine. They would twist up the lyrics and have fun with them at family reunions when I was just four or five years old. There was something very resonating both figuratively and literally to them bashing out these guitar songs in a room with the family around. Obviously, I began to see Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show and listening to Dick Dale and The Deltones and hearing Walk Don’t Run by The Ventures. It was so electric and so compelling that I started bashing on the guitar when I was five or six years old and by age seven or eight I said I wanted to learn how. My dad, Warren Henry Nugent, said ok. He then told me I was going to take lessons and practice every damn day for thirty minutes, seven days a week, 365 days a year or I’m not buying you lessons. I began taking lessons and my dad made me practice and HERE I AM!”
Blown away by this new outrageous, electric and defiant revolutionary music, Nugent embarked on his career. In 1960, he had a band in Detroit called, The Lourds, who won The Battle of the Bands in 1963. “We rehearsed and performed constantly because we loved the music,” enthuses an excitable Nugent. “We we opened for a band at the Walled Lake Casino; they were called Billy Lee and the Riverias, playing along with Martha and the Vandellas, and Gene Pitney. A few years later, Billy Lee’s band changed their name to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. What I saw on the stage that night with what Billy Levise and Mitch Ryder and what he was performing; seeing Earl Elliot on bass, Johnny Badanjek on drums, oh my God! There was Joe Kubert on rhythm guitar playing an ES-335 Gibson and the mighty Jimmy McCarty playing a Gibson Byrdland through a Fender twin amp. I mean I was stunned at the authority, the integrity, the velocity, the tightness, the groove, the sound and the presence of these incredible young musicians.” This established the benchmark for Nugent. He believed that the music had to be tight, it had to be honest and the musicians had to communicate. They had to practice their asses off so they could make music together as a single force but also as individuals. “Another pivotal time that impacted me as well was what Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels did as well as when James Brown performed on The Tami Show. What James Brown and The Famous Flames did on that show was so stunning and musically powerful that many other artists from the era mentioned James Brown performance on The Tami Show as pivotal in making sure we put our heart and soul into all the music we would create. Having integrity, being honest and putting my all into my music is what Mitch Ryder and James Brown taught me.”
The Amboy Duke’s came to the scene around 1964 and their contributions to rock and roll as Nugent explains was due to the fact they came from Detroit and were all worshipers of Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard; basically all the Motown masters. “Our inspiration came from black artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Wilson Pickett and of course James Brown and Chuck, Bo and Little. All the black American soul music monsters inspired the British Invasion. If there hadn’t been a Bo, Chuck, Muddy, James, or any of the Motown masters, there would have never been any Beatles, The Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Who or Led Zeppelin. Without those Black American defiant, uppity, irreverent, outrageous artists, there would have never been The Rolling Stones or any of those artists who were our favorites. I mean there have been some killer songs come out of England and Europe over the years because the bands were inspired by BLACK AMERICAN ARTISTS! There is not a great musical statement that ever came from those places that don’t have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, dare I say?! All good music in the world was influenced by Black American Artists, CASE CLOSED! And I think they appreciate the primal scream of that black artist statement that I convey. That’s why they love ZZ Top, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Sammy Hagar and all the American artists because there’s an authenticity to what we deliver. It’s ours, it’s an American thing and they just go nuts to my music and I really appreciate how much they love my music in Europe. That inspiration was so alive and well in Detroit,” he exclaims. “The competition that Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels taught all of us whether it was Bob Segar, the MC5, Dick Wagner and The Frost, the incredible Grand Funk Railroad or Brownsville Station, we were taught by the best. There were just so many different bands, ultimately even Kid Rock, Jack White and Eminem.”
Defining there was certain ‘soulfulness’ to the music he and the other bands of that time were being exposed to, Nugent explains, “You just started working on better guitar tones, drum tones and bass tones; it just got heavier and heavier over time. Of course the increased volume made it heavier and so the competition started going toward the heavier grinding, an animal grind rhythm sound. It’s like this, you had Blue Cheer who were just playing honky tonking boogie woogie. However, they were playing it so loud and with such depth and dynamics that it became known as Heavy Metal. Those guys just went nuts and we got Metallica!”
The bands of the 60’s like Vanilla Fudge, The Animals and The Amboy Dukes that burst forth in the light of rock and roll had immediately grasped and began to celebrate musically what Les Paul had just electrified. “He had just electrified the guitar a few years just before I was born,” continues Nugent, “So by the time I was born and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge was born, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddly had shown us exactly what to do with this brand new electric guitar. Of course then there was Dick Dale and The Deltones, The Ventures, and then you cannot forget to mention The Beach Boys, there’s just so many amazing American talents. What Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and so many other incredible artists had such an impact on us and we were driven so powerfully by the tightness and the authority. The word authority, I think best describes the musical impact that drove Carmine Appice to become one of the greatest drummers in the history of the world and for The Animals to make the soulful music with Eric Burdon and creating an entire British Invasion. Of course that spawned all these amazing American artists that came to fruition with bands like The Amboy Dukes then even more bands such as Aerosmith and so many others that are still around today. That history was based on our love for the founding fathers musical creation.”
The Amboy Dukes ventured all over during the 60’s and 70’s, playing city after city, only concerned about the practice and getting to that evening’s show. The band is best known for their second single, Journey to the Center of the Mind, which featured lyrics written by the Dukes’ second guitarist Steve Farmer. Nugent, a self-proclaimed anti-drug campaigner, always claimed he had no idea the song was about drug use. “I had no idea of what was to become. Back then there was no such thing as a gold or platinum album. No one knew about anything like that and no one knew about tours. I was so intoxicated by the practice, the creation and the honing of my musical skills with my bands that is was a subconscious delirium almost. You didn’t think about selling a ticket to a concert or making a record to sell or to have it be heard on the radio, it was all about the here and now. In that garage, in that basement or that backyard practicing those Chuck Berry and Bo Diddly songs and stumbling on your own little piece of music you created yourself. We were so driven and so possessed by the here and now of every jam and every recording that it wasn’t until a few years later that I realized, my God if we’re going to the concert at the VFW hall where we’re going to make 50 bucks, we’re going to get enough money to pay for gas. Our concert should at least pay for gas,” he says laughing. “At some point I knew it was a responsibility to make sure that the product you’re creating can facilitate and support economically the pursuit of that product.”
In 1975, Nugent dropped the Amboy Dukes name and signed to Epic Records. Nugent then joined forces with Derek St. Holmes/guitar, Cliff Davies/drums, and Rob Grange/bass. They were the principal members who brought several multi-platinum albums in the 70’s. “I never ever thought about being a star or being a rock star,” states Nugent. “I see a lot of interviews with other bands that say they wanted to become a rock star so they could meet girls and I think how pathetic. We wanted to make music! I didn’t think of being a rock star and quite honestly all the deer that I hunt don’t care about how many records I’ve sold, they don’t’ care; nor do they care what a great guitar player I am. They just want to stay away from me,” he says laughing. “My hunting lifestyle has been so humbling. It keeps me grounded and understanding my relevancy or my irrelevancy that I never think of terms of success or being a rock star. I just think of it terms of being compensated properly and fairly for the products I might sell.”
Tooth Fang & Claw was Nugent’s First album in 1974, however, Ted Nugent (self titled 1975) brought Stranglehold, Free-For-All (1976) delivered Free-For-All and Turn It Up. Of course the infamous Cat Scratch Fever triggered the title song Cat Scratch Fever and Wang Dang Sweet Poontang. Nugent’s shows have almost broken the sound barrier so to speak. It was once reported that complaints were made some 18 miles away; his show was so loud. No wonder he has partial hearing loss has he explains. “We have played some ridiculously criminally loud concerts and we continue to do so,” he laughs. “I think great rock n roll is that much better when it’s louder. That’s the one thing I can say–The Amboy Dukes, The Ted Nugent Band, The Damn Yankees and all my musicians; we appreciate the dynamics that James Brown and The Famous Flames taught us. We not only get painfully loud but we also bring it down to almost an imperceptible silence to make sure the dynamics are really exaggerated. We still use a giant PA system to make sure we deliver maximum decibel levels just this side of brain damage for the audience. I have damaged my ears so badly from so many years of loud stage volume that I’ve backed my personal guitar volume down. I make sure that the band is quiet enough on stage so we don’t have to use the drum mic and monitor. We play it almost at a garage jam session volume on stage and I gotta tell ya back in the old days we would break 120 decibels easily. Now we like to keep it under 80 decibels on stage.”
Nugent and his band mates along the years, have sold well over 40 million records because as ‘Uncle Ted’ puts it, “People are still buying my records because everybody needs Stranglehold and Dog Eat Dog in their life. I know for a fact that you will never witness or find an interview by any other artist that talks about his band mates the way I do. I always celebrate what Greg Smith, Derek St. Holmes and Mick Brown did musically. Certainly Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, Michael Cartellone, Tommy Aldridge and so many, many other musicians I’ve been surrounded by forever I mean I have been so blessed as I haven’t chosen them, they chose me. All these band mates past and present. They will all tell you there are no songs more fun to play than mine. Motor City Madhouse, Stranglehold, Wango Tango, Free For All; the list just goes on and everyone just goes nuts and they can’t wait to play. Just think of my drummers! Mick Brown, Carmine Appice, Tommy Cluefetos, Tommy Aldridge, Denny Carmassi, Cliff Davies, Benny Rappa, Gunner Ross! I mean all my drummers are all in the top 1% of the drummers in the history of the human race and I’ve really been lucky I think they have all found me and all have stated how they love to play my songs and would love to be in the band and I’ve been able to facilitate as many as possible.”Being a celluloid attraction can sometimes carry with it a stigma of how they’re perceived by the public versus how a person identified as a celebrity really acts in everyday life. Who would truly think the motor city madman never sparked a joint, snorted a line or put a needle in his arm? Only unstable individuals hopped up on that grass, alcohol or pills could carry on the way he does. Sixty-five years clean and sober, Nugent praises his parents and his sobriety for his accomplishments and still believes his success stems from the way he was raised. “I’ve never done drugs, tobacco or alcohol. Let me say I have been known to chew on a cigar when I’m shooting my machine gun or have a glass of red wine around the campfire with my beautiful wife Shemane and I do take medicine if I have to, but I’ve been clean and sober my whole life and that’s a direct result of my incredible parents and them disciplining me. That’s called parenting! They disciplined me to be the best that I could be and to do everything right the first time or I would have to do it a second time. That kind of awareness and responsibility was how I was raised. If you met my brothers Jeff and John and my sister Kathy, you would see that’s just the way they turned out as well. Quite honestly, my wife, my kids, band, crew, management, and my Spirit of the Wild production team for The Outdoor Channel, everybody around Ted Nugent puts their heart and soul into everything they do. Because we want to be proud of our product and the job we do. We want to be able to sit back and listen to our music, look at the fence we painted, the tire we repaired, the Labrador retriever we trained and say YEP, that’s a great job. So it’s pride of productivity that has to be ingrained in you to be the best you can be and it starts with being clean and sober. If you’re not clean and sober you’re never going to be the best you can be.”
Having several successful solo albums, he later formed the supergroup Damn Yankees with Jack Blades of Knight Ranger, Tommy Shaw of Styx and Michael Cartellone. “Damn Yankees was an out-and-out genuine American rock and roll band,” states Nugent. “We were heavy on the rhythm and blues side of rock and roll. Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades are older guys like me and I am sure they will tell you they were raised on black American music. If you stop and think about the authenticity of Styx, Night Ranger and Ted Nugent music, it was a perfect combination with the Damn Yankees because we were all raised on the same black soul music, rhythm and blues and rock and roll.” The possibility of a Damn Yankees reunion cannot be denied as Nugent states he does keep in touch with all the guys from the band. “We run into each other all the time. In fact my band was on tour with Styx and REO Speedwagon the last couple of years and I got on stage in Bangor, Maine last year, and we played Coming of Age with Styx. We had the time of our lives and we are very proud of all the music we made and we know there is a monstrous amount of music in us still. I know if we could coordinate the logistics of a reunion for Damn Yankees and get us into the same room together, I guarantee you we would make killer, grinding, exciting and fun music again. The threat is alive and well.” Over 6500 shows are credited to his career span of four plus decades. “I am limping and I hurt all over,” he snickers. “I gotta tell ya! We just had a family reunion at my son, Fleetwood’s wedding in New York City. My brothers and sisters and I got together for the first time in our lives where we sat down for a big brunch; just the four of us. We kind of caught up on 67 years. My older brother Jeff is 67 now, I’ll be 65 in December, my younger brother John is 55 and my sister Kathy is 51. It was very emotional and as beautiful as the human spirit can experience; it was wonderful. And don’t think for a minute that we all don’t get an incredible kick out of brother Ted’s career,” he chuckles. “It’s a source of great joy and bewilderment, not in a confusing way, but in an astonishing way that this little son of a bitch who would keep jamming his ass off upstairs in his bedroom at eight years old has become Ted Fucking Nugent,” he laughs haughtily. “Just remember Les Paul had just electrified the guitar just before I was born. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddly showed us what to do with it and that music was so compelling. The rhythm and the grind and the defiance factor at what Little Richard was doing was so embraced by the youth in our claim to be rebellious. Here was this black gay guy with a pompadour singing Tutti Frutti and Good Golly Miss Molly sure likes to ball!” He laughs hysterically and continues, “Are you kidding me?? During the punk music phase, these guys like the Ramones; and I love the Ramones and all their goofiness, but they thought they were punks. You think you’re a punk huh? REALLY?? Well I gotta black guy over here with a pompadour singing Tutti Frutti! Believe me you don’t qualify as a punk Green Day!” he laughs loudly.
40 plus years of touring definitely gives fans the opportunity to catch Nugent in musical action and even the chance to do a ‘meet and greet’ as many artists are now doing. “I actually have fans from the 60’s and 70’s that went to my shows bringing their grandkids to my shows and it’s awesome! I’m not the guy that does a show and then goes back and orders room service. I meet with fans before and after shows; usually with people such as law enforcement, local politicians, teachers, families, military, local sportsmen, charities and conservationists. Those designated titles obviously are a perfect cross-section of the American society. A lot of them find their way back and we do charity work, conservation activities or law enforcement and military trainings. I’ve been very lucky to have been welcomed into these people’s lives. It’s a kick and fun to reminisce about a concert that they went to in 1964 in Detroit and then they came back in ‘74, ‘84, ‘94 and 2004 and now back for 2013 with their grandkids. We get a lot of jollies from that history and most of them have a great connection with my conservation lifestyle; the hunting, trapping, fishing outdoor lifestyle and being clean and sober. It’s a great inspiration to their kids and grandkids as it was to them to see the wildest man in rock and roll that did so CLEAN AND SOBER. It resonates and a lot of them get teary eyed when they thank me for that.”
Music will always be a strong part of his life, but even a rocker needs to slow it down a bit. Hunting, trapping, grilling, writing, signing, charity work, his TV show and even some political stances are how Ted Nugent relaxes. “I do charity work of some kind where we have an assembly line of some kind where I sign guitars, books, pictures, stickers, decals, bloody arrows, bullets, guns and bows,” he says with a determined tone. “This is done pretty much every day of the year for military and children’s charities. I can assure you if you name any military or children’s charity, I can guarantee The Nugent’s have been a part of it. That keeps me really busy and energized and I love what I do. My fire passions in life are music and the great outdoors and I’m living them beyond your wildest dream every day. You know if I am going to make and perform music like I make on stage, I have to sleep good, I have to eat good and I have to learn to SHUT UP! When I climb in my tree stand every morning….let me say this; The Motor City Madman who used to ride on stage on a buffalo and jump off amps to run around the stage with his butt on fire; do you realize that Ted Nugent gets in a tree every morning and sits like a statue for three hours? And I do it again every afternoon.”
While Nugent may hunt, trap and fish for his food, it’s not something which carries over into an activity called ‘Sport’ as most would assume. His love and knowledge of the great outdoors is so vast, he also guides and outfits hunters as well as donates hunting trips to raise money for military and children’s charities. “A lot of times I will also guide little boys and girls and wounded heroes of the military. His recent haircut has been the topic of speculation that he is ‘cleaning up’ to address a possibility of running for the Presidency. “The truth behind my hair cut is it was all on a whim. When tracking a deer, we’ll have to crawl through the pucker-brush tangle zones,” he laughs. “I think puckerbrushtanglezone is all one word by the way! All these years I’ve been crawling through these tangles, my pony tail would get caught on all this debris and I’d get mad and yell ‘You Sonofabitch’ and I’d pull my ponytail, have all this hair left in the brush and have branches come tumbling down on my head!” His hysterical rolls of laughter are contagious! “Then as I’m sweating, it get in my eyes and mouth, so I said to Shemane, ‘call your hair wench, tell her to bring a chainsaw and a machete and let’s cut this shit off.’ When she asked how much I wanted to cut, I told her to cut it all off. In fact I’m looking at my ponytail right now that we are going to donate to a charity fundraiser to auction it to raise money for military and children charities. It was just done on a whim and let me just state unequivocally, I have had the best showers this week of my life! I went to my oldest boy, Fleetwood’s wedding last week in New York. None of my children have ever seen me without long hair. I didn’t tell anybody that I was doing it, so of course my brothers and sisters hadn’t seen me with short hair in 46 years. I stood there on the steps of the event and as pulled up for the wedding I tell you jaws slammed to the pavement! They couldn’t believe it, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. You know, in life, there’s a million things that are important to the quality of life, hair is not on the list! Yep, I did shock the world but you gotta admit, in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s did I have some hair or what? Was that the greatest head of hair or what?!” he laughs proudly.
With all the good this man does he’s still the puritan’s favorite for a witchhunt be it his advocacy for the right to bear arms, his stance on gun and hunters rights or his strong support for the Republican party. Although he has never run for government office, he first publicly speculated about doing so on several occasions in the early 2000’s. However, he recently expressed an interest in running for the Presidency in an earlier interview with The Washington Post. Nugent has received repeated death threats and death hoax reports. Just three weeks ago a story ravaged the internet saying the 64-year-old rocker and avid gun activist, had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that left 22 others wounded when a car bomb ripped through his convoy in a Detroit neighborhood. Nugent’s son, Toby Nugent, reported his dad was safe and sound sitting in a tree stand in southern Michigan and stated it was all pretty laughable.
As Nugent and family may laugh at the craziness of a death hoax, he stays strong and true to his beliefs. He remains steadfast to his rights and his devotion for [and thankfulness] the American Military and Veterans. “As we approach the season of Thanksgiving and the natural season of harvest, I’d like to invite everyone to go to operationfinallyhome.org,” Nugent says with certainty in his voice. “It’s a military charity where we not only don’t use any of the donations for administration, we take a $100 donation and turn it into $400. We quadruple the donations with the incredible generosity of construction companies and suppliers. Then we build custom homes for injured military heroes and their families at absolutely no cost to them. It’s magic.”
As for Nugent himself he is writing another book, planning another album, a tour, and of course, hunting. “I’m in the middle of the greatest hunting season of my life,” he exclaims! “We are about to go to our sacred stomping grounds in Michigan this week. We have a bunch of children and military charity hunts coming up. They are very compelling, very gratifying, very touching and moving. Some of these children are terminally ill and it may well be their very last campfire ever of their lives. Then we have the military who have sacrificed their limbs and are just coming up to hunt with old Uncle Ted. It’s all extremely moving. I get my knees replaced in February or March and then I’m going into the studio soon after that to record some killer new songs for a new album. Then I have a new book that I’m writing called Ted Nugent-Bullet Proof, which is about the things I stand up for and if anybody tries to argue with me I’ll go ‘Piers Morgan’ on their skull. I’ll take the new book and the new record and go on tour in the summer of 2014 and then guess what? It will be hunting season again!” he bellows with laughter.
In mid January, we will once again visit with Uncle Ted at the annual SHOT (Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade) show in Las Vegas where we know we will hear more of what the Motor City Madman has to say. And while he may not be everybody’s cup of tea but there’s always something brewing with him and he makes no excuses for the lifestyle he leads. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, everybody should have an ‘Uncle Ted’ and what a blast it would be to wake up christmas morning in the Nugent home unwrapping our new hunting toys and go fishing with the kids from one of the charitable organizations he donates to. From the Nugent home and Screamer Magazine, Happy Holidays!
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