Ted "Fucking" Nugent.
He calls himself this frequently. During a 45-minute phone conversation, he must've said "Ted fucking Nugent" at least a dozen times. The man is mesmerizing and drunk on confidence, even if he never takes a drink. There really is no one else quite like him, and maybe that's a good thing. If there were two of him, there might not be room on this planet for the rest of us.
Nugent will be playing Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix on July 1 as part of his Sonic Baptizm (yes, that's how it's spelled) tour, and will play selections from his storied career, including selected cuts from his most recent LP, Shut Up & Jam (2014, Frontiers Records) which is, no irony intended, a remarkably good record. Whether you like his politics or not — Nugent is an outspoken Donald Trump supporter with a similar history of making outrageous, inflammatory statements and racist social media posts — Nugent plays some great rock 'n' roll. He is also one of the biggest music fans you'll ever get a chance to meet, especially of his own songs.
"'Sonic Baptizm' is a term that is universal about how all human life is guided by the songs that they embrace in life. I can't wait to play these fucking songs. If I wasn't Ted Nugent, I would be in the front row watching this motherfucker," Nugent says.
Nugent was part of one of the most important music scenes in rock 'n' roll history with his early band, The Amboy Dukes, who hailed from Detroit. Nugent, who had previously been in a band called The Lourds, spearheaded a reformation of the "Dukes" in 1965, and had a hit with them, "Journey to the Center of Your Mind," in 1968, but to Nugent, this was a clearly a formative time.
"Oh, those guys were monsters. Andy Solomon on the keyboards and Hammond B3, Greg Arama on bass guitar, and Dave Palmer on the drums — are you kidding me? They were monsters. I was the worst musician in the band … You put on those headphones and listen to what my boys did. That was absolutely astonishing musicality. The places we went and the music we created — I didn't know anything about music theory. I knew about music pragmatism," Nugent says.
Theory or pragmatism aside, to hear the tenor of Nugent's voice change as he speaks about the early years of his career and the influence of his fellow Detroit musicians is pretty jarring. It also quickly becomes clear that Nugent is a walking rock 'n' roll encyclopedia, at least where his hometown is concerned. Perhaps it's his lifelong commitment to sobriety, but Nugent can remember the make and model of the instruments his heroes were playing, as well as the amplifiers they were using.
"There was unbelievable music competition [in Detroit]. Don't forget to mention the impetus and creators of it all, Billy Lee and the Rivieras, who eventually changed their name to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. They set the bar for musicianship, and that's what everybody aspired to [in Detroit]. Jimmy McCarty is the one who inspired me to get a Gibson Byrdland and a Fender Twin Amp. You want to have a headphone spirit orgy? Put your headphones on and listen to 'Jenny Takes a Ride' by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels," Nugent urges, excitement evident in his voice.
Nugent is adamant about the place in history for many of the best bands that came from the area. In addition to his complete adulation of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Bob Seger was mentioned, and Grand Funk Railroad, among others, but some of his highest praise was reserved for the MC5. The "5," as Nugent referred to them, were among the cream of the crop.
"Those guys [MC5] were world-class virtuosos who honed their music to incredible James Brown-like tightness, so they could play, but the Stooges and The Up were just kind of hippie embarrassments. I don't mean to be mean towards them, and god bless 'em, I'm sure they tried, but they were wonderful garage bands, but don't tell me their music moved anybody. I don't believe that,” Nugent says.
Apparently, Nugent is not a fan of Iggy and the Stooges, even though Iggy Pop is often referred to as the godfather of punk and held in incredibly high esteem in rock music. To hear Nugent describe them, the band was a joke.
"With all due respect, Iggy and the Stooges were cute. They were like a pliant cartoon band. They couldn't play. They didn't have any chops. They weren't tight. There was no musical adventure in those young boys. I'm sure they had the right attitude, but they were so stoned all the time that the music never really coalesced. It never really got tight like the Rascals or Vanilla Fudge or the Amboy Dukes," Nugent states somewhat defiantly, but he's also clearly entertaining himself and couldn't resist adding his own band to the mix.
"If I listed my top favorite songs, they'd all be mine. No music is as much fun to play as mine. There's no other 'Stranglehold' out there," Nugent says, referring to the first song off of his 1975 solo record, Ted Nugent.
"Stranglehold" is an eight-minute, 22-second opus of epic proportions with one of the sexiest, down-and-dirty riffs in rock 'n' roll history. Apparently, though, Nugent's record label at the time, Epic, did not like the song or want Nugent to record it for the first record.
"They didn't want to record 'Stranglehold.' They said … someone at the meeting actually said, 'There's no chorus that uses the title. What's the chorus?' I said there is no fuckin' chorus. It's a fucking song. Why is it a song? Because I say it's a song," Nugent says.
"[The record company flaks] were telling me I needed keyboards here and background vocals there and I needed choruses ... I had a vision of what I wanted to do. I told them to shut the fuck up. This is my music and I created it. Fuck you. If you don't like this boat, get off. Don't tell me to redesign the boat, it's my boat. Look at the big fuckin' name on this boat. It says 'Ted Fuckin' Nugent.' If you don't like the Ted Fucking Nugent boat, then get a different boat. Don't tell me to rearrange mine."
This is classic Ted Nugent. Someday, when your grandchildren are looking up confidence in the dictionary, there will be a picture of Nugent. He prides himself on being right, and after speaking with him for almost an hour, it's easy to understand why. He's got it all figured out.
"If you attempt to debate me, I will eat your family tree and shit sawdust. You don't get peace and love any other way than by blowing up people who are against peace and love. Peace and love doesn't happen on its own. You have to kill people who are against it. That's my politics," Nugent says, but he wasn't quite finished.
"There's a lot of hate out there for me because people think I murder innocent animals and that I'm mean because I think you should earn your own way … I'm so proud that they hate me for those reasons, because those are the reasons I'm a pretty good guy. The hate rolls off my back like hygiene off of Michael Moore," Nugent concludes, but not before saying, "Semper fi and Godspeed."
Ted Nugent is scheduled to play Celebrity Theatre on Friday, July 1.
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