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Interview: TED NUGENT

Rock Stars...

Ted Nugent may be an unreconstructed unashamed republican rocker with some hugely unfashionable views on contemporary American society, but after nearly 40 years of treading the boards as a huge concert draw in the States he isn't about to demure.

On the contrary 'The Nudge' is a man for whom the libertarian life and the core concept of freedom lies at the cornerstone of his being. Its already five years since he set out his manifesto for life in his book 'God, Guns & Rock & Roll' but if you overlook his penchant for stirring up some media frenzy you'll find a man who lives his life the way he plays his guitar, with total intensity.

Not only that but he puts his views across in such a machine gun volley of rhetoric and with the same fervour of a fire and brimstone southern preacher, that you periodically have to do your duty and bring the diatribe back to what we are here for, namely music.

Yes folks Ted Nugent the self styled king of gonzo rock - full of attitude, swagger, and in Ted's case total intensity - may be 59 but he talks the talk and walks the walk, and for good measure he still fires off speed metal riffs which have influenced generations of hard rockers.

What might come as a surprise to outsiders is that this OTT character for the most part lives a self disciplined, healthy lifestyle, and he extols the virtues of the great outdoors. And it is this lifestyle - a quasi return to the primitive man - that he claims is the explanation for his irrepressible energy levels.

To quote Ted is to quote a man for whom the occasional apparent contradiction is swept aside by references to his subjective view of freedom, and his personal mission statement, namely to pursue a dream of excellence and 'to be the best that I can be'. And in the field of arena rock where every note, every grimace and every OTT posture counts, Ted is untouchable.

Having made name for himself with the Amboy Dukes (puzzlingly the band took their name from a New Jersey street gang) Ted went solo and hit it big in the mid 70's. He's continued to pull big crowds in the 80's even if his recidivist titled albums fell out of the loop of the contemporary music scene. But he came back with a bang with the Damned Yankee's in the early 90's and here we are in 2007 with his first major label release in the UK for years, with 'Love Grenade' on Eagle. Ladies and gentleman, we give you 15 action packed minutes with Ted 'The Nuge' Nugent!

Ted Nugent
Photo: Ted Nugent website

'Love Grenade' is only your first album in five years, is this because your music had to take a back seat to other aspects of your hectic lifestyle?

Not really. You know it may appear to you that I have this crazy life with loads of things going on, but I've always prioritised the things that are most important to me in my life such as my family, and my hunting, fishing and charity work. I think I've been smart enough to take time out since as far back as the 70's in the school season. My son Rocco is in senior high school now so I spend as much time with him as I can. I also get to hunt, fish, trap and do my charity work for the military families, share my campfires and I even find a little time to noodle on my guitar.

You know this life is so darn good for you it makes me want to blow up when I get back to playing (laughs). I'm so recharged and so full of vitality, that I can go out and brutalise myself and play this ridiculously punishing rock & roll tour that I'm doing at the moment, which is playing night after night to sell out auditoriums all round the country. The current tour is the most ferocious tour of my life. I'm 59 and I'm really healthy and have stupid amounts of energy. I eat venison and it keeps me in good shape.

You know my charity work last year gave 250 Million meals of venison to different charities, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

I'm really an example of the aboriginal primal lifestyle and it recharges your batteries constantly. The power of nature is so healing that it constantly renews my vitality. And that's why I think it's really important for kids to be given the opportunity to re connect with nature, which is why I run the Ted Nugent Children's camp. In fact once the hunting season is over I've have such peace and tranquillity and make a renewed connection with my fellow human beings.

You know I've had families who brought their little 8 year old with leukaemia come to me one of my camps and it I really made me value my health so much. So to get back to your question, it's not until after I've done all those things that I get to going back to play my guitar. There's a design to my personal schedule but when I play its completely autonomous. I have absolute control of my life but there are two sides to the whole thing, the rock beast and the very spiritual side.

Are you aware of any contradictions between your music lifestyle and the clean living life you live away from the rock and roll lifestyle?

I don't thing there is any contradiction between the way I think you should lead your life and the rock lifestyle that I enjoy. My music derives its emotion from the music of the Howlin' Wold, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters etc, whose music, passion and emotion came from the same hunting grounds that I go to now. The blues came from the feelings of their families being freed from slavery, and is so emotionally pure. I may be the only primal scream in existence that has been to the same kind of Muddy Waters campfire - the kind that existed before his mum and dad were enslaved.

Black music offers a meaningful connection with hunters and gatherers, the enslaved people, who ended up being so shattered by their shackles that their music couldn't be anything else but a celebration of freedom, it's so intense.

And really that is what those songs on my new album like 'Funk U', 'Aborigine', 'Geronimo' and 'Spirit of the White Buffalo' are really all about.

Do you spend a long time working on songs like that?

The songs came out of me like a good shit after a Mexican meal (laughs), they just poured from my fingers. It's music that will open the eyes of people. My guitar is my own personal primal scream, it's the same thing that influenced people like Bo Diddley and all those black r&b people that Jimmy Page later milked for Led Zeppelin.

Did the rest of the songs on the new album take a long time to write?

I don't really look at a time thing when I come to a new project, except for the fact that we have to obviously record it in a given period. Once I've decided to record the thing just grows and I follow when the songs come out. I mean I was just jamming 'Bridge Over Troubled Daughters' for about two years, and that song 'Still Raisin Hell' is something we've been playing for about three years now, and 'Girlscout Cookies' is something that came to me at a sound check.

So I don't really spend hours hoping for new songs, because they just pour out of me, and I have the very best musicians imaginable to play them. I mean I had the very best guys on the album with one of the greatest drummers I ever worked with Tommy Clufetos and the very best bass player imaginable, Barry Sparks. The same applies to my tour band who are awesome and the very best guys in the world to tour with.

Why did you go back to record 'Journey to the Centre of The Mind'?

Well I didn't really go back. It was pretty much the same thing as how the rest of the songs come to me. We were rehearsing and having a BBQ at my ranch, killing some dear, fishing, shooting machine guns, just following a stream of consciousness, and enjoying an uninhibited independence celebration, and that's pretty much what we do when the time comes to play. And the music we create is sometimes as unexpected and spontaneous as a hard on. And someone just started to play the rhythms from 'Journey' and the guys asked me how I managed to do that when I was 17.

Being 17 at the time and musically illiterate I didn't know either and so they explained to me how it worked and how the theory allows you to get from one point to another. Tommy also knew the song and so we started to play it, and it was really cool. I think it was Tommy Aldridge who said, 'you know it's nearly 40 years since you first did that', and it all fell into place, we just had to do it again, so that's how it all came about.

And yet for a clean living, self disciplined guy, you produced a psychedelic classic?

Well a lot of that came from the experimental rhythm guitar player Steve Farmer. I was clueless as to what 'Journey' was about, except that I realised the title was based on the movie, 'Journey to the centre of the Earth' Now I consider it to be like a good man or person who will sit down at a camp fire and look inside himself, and optimise his life, and look after his family, his town, his neighbourhood, his country, and his body, and appreciate his fellow man.

So how do you deal with being Ted Nugent the rock star and Ted the reflective man that looks inside himself as above?

There's no real difference. If you've read any of my stuff or seen my 4 TV shows you will realise that they are different sides of the same person, but it's all the same message, you do your best that you can every day of your life.

Do you ever feel trapped by your rock caricature?

I'm never been trapped in any sense of the word. My music is so raw, and my lifestyle is so raw, in fact I may be the only real McCoy you ever talk to. I'm living with my intellectual and spiritual dream, and carrying on what my dad taught me about self discipline and how everything has a cause and effect.

Going back to your early career with the Amboy Dukes you worked with Frank Zappa who produced your 'Call of the Wild 'album back in '73. How did that come about, and how did you find working with Frank?

It all went back to 1967 when the Mothers of Invention came to Michigan. And the Amboy Dukes had this old van, though I guess you guys would call it a lorry. We were at that point a kind of Motown review doing James Brown stuff with matching outfits. Anyway Frank Zappa came into town and we hooked up with him. I ended up chauffeuring him and his band round the place, and we ended up opening for the Mothers on several dates. He was a great man, highly intelligent and knew exactly what he wanted as a producer which was fine by me.

You also recently did a VH-1 shoot with the up and coming guitarist Joe Bonamassa, who like many regards you as an influential guitar hero?

Yeah Joe's a real soul brother. He has a real genuine connection with people and I like that. He's still paying homage to those black r&b players we both like and respect, like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters etc, so I was very pleased to do that and it worked out fine.

You grew up in Michigan and made your name in the Motor City of Detroit. Did your path cross with some of the other names of the time?

Sure I knew them all and hooked up with the MC5 before they got to stoned and went off the rails and Iggy, Bob Seeger, The Rationals etc., cos they all had that r&b element to their music

You once used a quote, 'It takes a good man to know his limitations' How does that apply to you?

That came from Dirty Harry the movie guy. What it all means to me is that you live your life and be as good as you possibly can, live it to the optimum, you work hard and you play hard. I live my rock and roll in the same way as I approach life in general. I also do my other charity work, and connect with people in different situations and then when I've done all that I'm ready to raise hell with my guitar.

You also are on record as saying that the Amboy Dukes taught you how to play?

That's true but I was into the guitar from an early age and I came to it not long after the giants like Les Paul were around, and then I learnt from guitarists like Lonnie Mack, Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry. And then the Beatles, The Stones and The Yardbirds came along and then Led Zeppelin - of course I was playing before any of that - but you learn from everyone. But when I was a kid you just did what you did, there were no musical boundaries you just worked things out, and took from what you could.

And finally what can fans expect from the new album?

They can expect well performed, intense, emotional guitar rock, with some black influenced, soulful r&b, even dance music, really just Motor city stuff done by a band that plays to the absolute maximum with total commitment, lots of fun, with a total freedom and irreverence that shows no regard at all for rock's status quo. We play it as we live it.

Ted Nugent's new album 'Love Grenade' is released on Eagle Records on September 24.

Interview © August 2007 Pete Feenstra

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