For two hours, Ted Nugent reminded 1,500 faithful fans gathered at the Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas that they were hearing “Sooouul Music!”, a phrase that the Motor City Madman screamed repeatedly, demanding that the crowd scream it right back. While Ted threw in a Sam and Dave cover (“Need You Bad”, along with a snippet of “Soul Man”), it wasn’t abundantly clear that the ear-bleeding guitar onslaught had much to do with soul music, especially when Ted launched into latter-day fare like “Klstrphnky” and “Fred Bear”, which, accompanied by a video of explicit hunting kills, tested the crowd’s stamina for both Ted’s guitar wankery and gun-fetish politics.
Still, anyone heading out to see the Nuge knows to expect the rocker’s trademark blend of foul-mouthed right-wing rants, classic-rawk shredding, and flaming-arrow stunts. Even those in attendance who think Sweaty Teddy has gone off the deep end as a red-state caricature could get behind the righteous run of classics that opened the show: “Snakeskin Cowboys”, “Wango Tango”, and “Free For Fall”. Nugent, joined by Greg Smith on bass and Dokken’s “Wild” Mick Brown on drums, lost some momentum in the middle of the show, but caught fire again with a blistering “Just What the Doctor Ordered” (with Smith channeling Derek St. Holmes) and “Cat Scratch Fever”, featuring a guest walk-on by Night Ranger vocalist and Ted’s Damn Yankees cohort, Jack Blades. At the end of the night, Ted held an Uzi in one hand and a crossbow in the other, screaming, “Freedom!!” It was a confusing moment, but it wouldn’t have been a Nugent show if he hadn’t been at turns provocative, funny, weird, frustrating, and exhilarating.
In an email exchange, PopMatters had a chance to ask Nugent a few questions leading up to the Vegas show, and he was quick to weigh in on his musical history, Washington bailouts, conservation, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2008, you celebrated your 6,000th concert, an impressive milestone. Does it still feel the same as it did, say, a couple thousand gigs ago, or does playing live occupy a less passionate place for you given your many other public activities/interests?
There are no words to adequately describe or convey my intense love for my music and the exciting dynamic musical adventure that every concert, every jam session, every moment I play brings me. Surely my music drives me crazier now than ever before, and that is REALLY saying something. The stirring privilege of collaborating with worldclass virtuosos like Greg Smith on bass and Mick Brown on drums is stimulating beyond your wildest imagination. I am a very lucky man.
How much are you bothered by the fact that many people are getting Free-For-All or Double Live Gonzo! without paying for them via illegal downloading and file sharing? Do you have any thoughts on what the music industry will look like as CD sales continue to dwindle?
All thievery is wrong and upsetting to anyone connected to logic and decency. Fortunately, I have such an incredibly diverse and exciting lifestyle that I am able to escape the violations of my fellow man. My professional management team will always optimize my commercial entities.
You and original singer Derek St. Holmes, given your occasional collaborations, seem to have a good working relationship. Your old fans would certainly love to see the two of you work together on a record and/or a tour. Have you given that any thought?
Derek is a perfect example of the world-class virtuosos I’m talking about. He put his phenomenally soulful voice to many great songs beyond the “Stranglehold” and “Hey Baby” history makers. His performance on “LoveJacker” from our Spirit of the Wild CD around 1995 is certainly magic. We who love killer music are not swayed by commercial success. We love the music no matter what. Derek joins us on stage often each year, and we talk all the time. You never know.
Intensities in 10 Cities was a great concept for an album, yet it holds up due to the strength of the songs and its epic guitar fireworks. Given that album’s concept amid the pace of your studio recordings, do you remember that period as a particularly fruitful one in terms of songwriting and creativity?
I celebrate the gushing joys of every song, every recording, every concert, every jam session, every spontaneous guitar moment, which is daily. There are no compartmentalized eras of my career to me, but rather and unending, outrageous musical adventure that constantly inspires and intensifies.
Your most underrated record, in my view, is the Nugent album from 1982, which featured “No No No”, “Habitual Offender”, and “Tailgunner” among other buried treasures. Which of your records do you think deserved a better reception, either critical or commercial?
They’re all masterpieces to me. But certainly [the] Spirit of the Wild, Craveman and Love Grenade records are loaded with songs that are awe-inspiring to perform live. I’m writing new songs that are the best of my life right now. Ferocious beasts.
I guess a follow-up question is how often do you dust off old records for a fresh listen? For instance, have you heard “Terminus Eldorado” in awhile? That song is one badass slice of greasy funk.
On my Tednugent.com TalkBack board where I communicate daily, it seems everyone loves that song. Hell, people randomly stop me on the street and rave about that little ditty. I am so black. Too funky for my Glock.
Albums like Penetrator and Little Miss Dangerous were hitting about the time radio-friendly heavy metal (or what became known as “hair metal”) was exploding as the most popular form of rock music on earth. You influenced those bands. Ultimately, you became more enmeshed with the movement yourself as part of Damn Yankees. Looking back, how did being a member of a band with Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw feel, given their penchant for a glossier, more mainstream sound than that for which you had been previously known?
I love all good music that is soulful, intense and performed tightly with passion, and certainly Jack, Tommy and Michael Cartellone are incredibly gifted masters of killer music. The Damn Yankee adventure was moving and gratifying! I am a band guy.
Did you give the Beastie Boys permission to sample “Home Bound” [as “The Biz vs The Nuge” from 1992’s Check Your Head]?
You’ve been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a few years now. How do you feel about the Hall of Fame? Is it important to you that you get inducted someday?
I hang my head in shame that a Rock-N-Roll HOF showing earned reverence for Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and all those other legendary masters is desecrated by the inclusion of clowns like Patti Smith and Grand Master Flash. I could throw up. The RnRHOF board has no soul.
Perhaps your most famous solo is the long, atmospheric middle section of “Stranglehold”. You’ve replicated that solo to varying degrees over the years in concert. Was the original recording of the solo planned out carefully, or are we hearing an improvisation on that first record?
“Take one” during my performance of the rhythm guitar track live with the band. Moving, pure, primal-scream stuff.
Obviously, you’ve become an outspoken red-state icon of right-wing agendas. It interests me that you are also an ardent conservationist. Most folks don’t think of protecting the environment, public lands, air and water, etc., as an important part of the Republican platform. Is this one area in which you lean further to the left?
An honest look at effective environmentalism would surely show that Republicans have a much better track record than the Democrats. Teddy Roosevelt safeguarded more critical wildlife habitat than any American ever. The majority of pro-hunting, fishing, and trapping legislation has always been spearheaded by Republicans. That is how wildlife is managed for optimal health and balance as an asset instead of a liability. Everyone should know that the wildlife habitat is where clean air, soil and water come from. That is my life as a hunter, fisher, and trapper. It is ridiculously simple and indisputable.
Your comments about running for office, perhaps even a gubernatorial bid, have gotten some attention. Where does this possibility currently stand?
Unlikely. My campaign manager, Mrs. Nugent, will make this decision.
Is there anything about President Obama worth your admiration, even begrudgingly?
No. Even those things that appear sincere and believable have proven to be a fraudulent smokescreen hiding a dangerous anti-American agenda.
Detroit has had a pretty dreadful time of it lately. Given the job losses and economic calamity as a result of the failings of the auto industry, to what extent is it appropriate for Washington to step in to offer a safety net for the city of Detroit and the wider reverberations for the rest of us?
To no extent whatsoever. It is the bailing out of irresponsible behavior that begets increased irresponsible behavior. Trample the weak, hurdle the dead. Get strong, learn from your mistakes, or die. So be it. Our catastrophic policy of rewarding irresponsible behavior has made us weak. Unforgivable.
You are one of rock’s most quotable soundbite specialists. When are you going to start Twittering? Or is there something about that sort of technology or social networking that turns you off?
My 19-year-old son Rocco Winchester Nugent told me that in the duck blind this morning. He is going to help me into the techno world ASAP. My Tednugent.com TalkBack board is aglow hourly with hysterical and unique Nugisms. I am a very funny man.
On Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show last season, you had a beer with him, which you described as your first in years. Have you drunk one since then, and will you drink one with me in Vegas?
I had another ice-cold Dos Equis just two days ago with my hunting buddies in South Texas. The Tex-Mex grill seemed to demand it. I believe that brings my 61-year beer consumption to 13 bottles. I think I should get drunk soon just so I can say I did.
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