Ted Nugent: Ultra-live and Ultra-Loud!

By Jeb Wright, October 2013
Allan Rubenstein, www.rubensteinallan.com

The name “Ted Nugent” has become synonymous with political rants and ideologies that there are entire generations of people who think of Ted Nugent, first and foremost, with a gun, instead of a guitar, in his hands. 

For me, that is sad.  I mean, I get it…Nugent has the right to speak his mind about whatever he wants and about whatever he is passionate about.  He and I don’t always agree on things but I do get it. A lot of people, for whatever reason, will never admit that they get where he is coming from.  Ted could say the sun is yellow and those across the aisle will disagree with him. 

Part of the problem, which, over the past few weeks has become abundantly clear, is that no one is listening to each other.  What everyone who focuses on Ted Nugent’s belief system should do is simply listen…listen to his point of view, as it is his God given, American right to speak it. In my mind, more importantly, they should listen to him play the guitar.

When I was 11-years-old, I went to a party thrown by a bunch of sixth grade girls, drank some whiskey that someone snuck into the party in a salad dressing bottle, caught a buzz, and then was blown away by what I heard coming out of the stereo speakers. 

The year was 1978 and someone had purchased the album Double Live Gonzo by Ted Nugent and brought it to the party.  My virgin ears were getting their first taste of the love song titled “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” My life would never, ever be the same.  Within a year, I owned a guitar. 

Now, a few years down the road, and Uncle Ted is at it again, as he prepares to release his new live album Ultralive Ballisticrock on October 22nd

Over the course of the last decade and a half I have had the pleasure of getting to know America’s Craziest Sober Guy through our shared love of music.  The passion, guts and glory that Ted Nugent puts into his guitar playing has always been something that speaks to me.  It’s layered in the past…the blues…Motown…early rock and roll…but it is pure; it is honest.  It is Ted Nugent’s musical voice and it is loud. 

Time has not changed that.  There is no slowing down the sixty-something-year-old Ted Nugent.  He may be mouthy, opinionated and on Fox News more than he is on VH1, or MTV these days, but Ted Nugent is still one of the original loudest guitar slingers on planet Earth.  And his new album will  remind everyone of that. 

Contrary to the popular belief of his critics, Nugent still gets a hard-on every time he plugs a Gibson Byrdland guitar into an amplifier and cranks it up to 11.  With new Ultralive Ballisticrock Nugent sticks that hard on right in-yer-face. 

Rock and roll artistry may be a dying breed, but Nugent is going to ensure that it does not go away quietly.  In fact, his special brand of noise will be blasting through the stratosphere until the day he dies…and for some time after, as the man has always been a master of feedback.  They may pry his guitar out of his cold dead hands, but unless someone flips the off switch on the amp, the Ultralive Ballisticrock buzz may never completely wear off!

Jeb:  What’s up Uncle Ted?

Ted: Hey Jeb, ya old Rock and Roll Dog, Uncle Ted calling.  I’m up, the band is up, the attitude is up, the Spirit is up and the middle finger is up.

Jeb: I would expect nothing less.

Ted:  I am telling you it ain’t right.  You ain’t right, we ain’t right, it ain’t right; we all deserve each other. 

Jeb:  I am starting to think that Ted Nugent is incapable of simply calling an album Ted Nugent Live, yet, no matter what you call it, the damn thing rocks!  This new one is a monster of a live album.  

Ted:  [laugher] Every night is a musical orgy.  The guys are playing so good.  I think we captured it well on the new Ultralive Ballisticrock.  The most energized musical Jihad of my life is going on right now. 

Jeb:  Double Live Gonzo, Intensities in Ten Cities, Full Bluntal Nugity and now Ultralive Ballisticrock… This is not just another live album.  There is a DVD, CD and a bonus features on the making of the album and there are bonus features on the Spirit of the Wild TV show.

Ted:  You are going to really enjoy this, as I know that you love really good music.  What Mick [Brown], Greg [Smith] and Derek [St. Holmes] put into this is like a chronology of attitude, piss and vinegar.  The energy level that we are ascending to this year really defies gravity.  If Ted Nugent of twenty five years ago showed up, we would kick his ass, and I was pretty damn energetic then!  The fun factor and the attitude are there.  This band put their heart and soul into what they do. We appreciate the audience.  The reciprocity is unstoppable and we captured this on this new album. 

Jeb:  In the concert performance you say that every song is the most important song. 

Ted:  I realized, as I was wrestling with trying to figure out what songs to play in our two hours, as there are some songs that would be a felony not to play...It would be a crime not to play “Free for All.”  If I don’t play “Wango Tango” then we’re all going to jail.  It is really difficult to get in all of my favorite songs.  I realized that I really love these songs and that every song is really the most important song.  I realized that every concert is the most important concert.  Every lick, and every sound, is the most important of our life.  We really put our heart and soul into every sound we make in this band. 

I learned that from the early days of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and all of the Motown Funk Brothers.  They never did a bad show, Jeb.  Little Richard never did a bad show.  James Brown never did a band show.  You can’t let yourself be anything but the maximum best every night. With Derek, Mick and Greg, I am the luckiest guitar player on the face of the earth because they are 100% every time, 100% all of the time. 

Jeb:  The version of “Hey Baby” rivals any version of “Hey Baby” I have ever heard. 

Ted:  That is why we had to record this stuff because I knew we were on fire.  Derek has been back the last few years and he has brought back that great voice to those Nugent classics.  We are fans way before we are musicians.  We love the inspiration of those black Gods that inspired us to play music in the first place…Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and certainly Chuck Berry.  We learned how the Rolling Stones took that American black music and brought it back and turned it into what they did.  We were on that wave and we love it more today than ever, and we wanted to capture that intensity.  We really are delivering it intensely this year. 

Jeb: The Nugent faithful will know every song on the album, but the new one “I Still Believe.”  Pump that new tune a little bit…

Ted: That is a great title for these times.  I do still believe.  I still believe in music; the founding fathers like Howlin’ Wolf, and the pure rhythm and blues players, and the gospel musicians. I love the blues, and rhythm and blues, that Little Richard did, and that Chuck and Bo perfected.  I love that unbelievable soulfulness that James Brown and Wilson Picket brought to it and what we learned about the funk, the groove and the feel that the Motown people and the Stax Volt and the Chess Records guys brought to it.

This is legendary humanity, not just music.  The spirit of humanity that this music represents and embodies…we really believe in that.  I still believe that every night is like this Lewis and Clark exploration of music.  I have my first loud amp, I am in the garage and there is nobody around and I am just turning this son of a bitch up.  We still attack the stage like a bunch of idiot kids every night, but we can really, really play good now. 

Jeb:   You are becoming like the Last of the Mohicans.  This way of presenting the music and this way of musicianship are dying.  Is there anything we can do in order to get people to wake up that there is more than electronic buttons to push? 

Ted: Boy, Jeb, you’ve got that right.  I’m having that conversation all the time.  I am on the way to Houston right now and I am going to have 25 to 30 guys who are a bunch of military heroes and their families, and some ranchers and some people who made donations to some military and children’s charities to hang backstage.  We talk; we pull the chairs up and we just start shooting the shit.  We start talking about the things we believe in.  Obviously, it pivots from the music, because it is a musical event, and they are hanging out with their musical guys; that attitude, and that concern, is there. 

God bless Justin Bieber.  We had the Monkees and we had the Saturday morning cartoon bands and all of that.  I love what Justin Timberlake does, his band is so soulful.  I love Bruno Mars, as his band is so good it is insane.  But when it comes to down and dirty, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Ted Nugent, Montrose rock and roll, it’s gone.  It’s gone and it breaks my heart.  I believe, I still believe that spirit…that defiant uppitiness will resurface. 

Dave Grohl and Kid Rock keep it alive, but I am not so sure you will ever hear another Tres Hombres.  I’ve done it over and over again, but radio doesn’t pick up on it, with Crave and “I Still Believe” and Love Grenade and “Raw Dogs & War Hogs”; these are songs that should be on the radio as much as “Stranglehold” and “Hey Baby.”  The industry kind of ignores them because they are locked into classic stuff.  Music lovers have an eye, and an ear, for the future and we remain hopeful. 

Jeb:  I will play the devil’s advocate.  “Oh look, ANOTHER live album by Ted Nugent.” 

Ted: You’re going to say, “Maybe he can’t come up with anymore new stuff.”  I have so much new stuff it is unnatural. I have some cranking sons of bitches ready to go.  I will have a brand new record out next summer.  It is about logistics, and here is the painful, ugly, and what I believe is a the criminal reality: You invest your life savings to go in and hire producers, engineers, go into a studio and buy equipment, and get the band hotels and lodging and travel and salary…and you invest your life savings into a product that people get for free when you distribute it.  Are you kidding me?  Where is the incentive there? 

In the last couple of days, I have been on the phone with Billy Gibbons, Kid Rock, Steven Tyler and Sammy Hagar and we are all saying the same thing.  I don’t know if you saw the episode of Guitar Sessions with Joe Walsh, but he nailed it, “The digital monster ate the music.”  It’s a tragedy.  Thank God for those of us who were there at the explosion of it.  All of your favorite bands were inspired by Little Richard...either through the Beatles, and the Stones, or by Little Richard himself.  We are all still out here cranking it up because we still have it, we still love it, and we still believe in it. 

Real music lovers that feel and understand that soulfulness of those inspirations will always show up.  I’ve got to believe that Kid Rock will come up with something, or maybe Jack White.  I don’t know maybe Green Day’s next record will have some throttle left in it.  I know mine will, but I have to hope that the industry is alive enough to embrace it. 

Jeb:  You have yet another great version of “Fred Bear” on this new live set.  That is such an emotional song for you.  You can feel the true emotion oozing out of you during that song.  Does it ever overwhelm you?

Ted: Yes, there have been times that I can’t sing it.  I have to say, “Nuge, hold it back and sing that damn song, would ya?”  It is very emotional.  It is about a man that I loved, who died right when my mom died.  The song represents the loss of my mom, and my dad, and my friend, Fred Bear.  I feel the pain and loss of millions of people that have latched onto that song. 

There are a bunch of States that have never played that song on the radio, but even when we play that song in those States, there are a bunch of people singing along to every word of that song, who are teary eyed because everybody has a Fred Bear.  The music is so uplifting and it is a positive memory and positive salute to my friend, Fred Bear, and my mom and dad, and to everyone’s Fred Bear in their life.  It is a positive force.  One of my biggest battles in life is to discipline myself to not allow the lyrics to own me, but for me to own the lyrics. 

Jeb:  People know you are smart, and they know where are going politically, but they miss out on your sense of humor and your soulfulness.  You also do a lot of good things and don’t brag about them all the time. 

Ted: When you go through life as gregarious as I do…I hang with a lot of people.  You will never find a backstage area roped off, as we have the band, and crew, and their families, and my friends, and family are there.  There is a real openness and a sense of gathering.  This means outside families too.  This goes all the way back to the 1960s, as I was very gregarious way back then.  I emphasize the genuine connection because there have always been my hunting buddies.  That is a passionate lifestyle and there is a strong bond when you kill and eat your own food and you monitor the quality of the air, soil and water.  All of this that I tell you now proves that I really, really care.  When you really care you are always driven, instinctively, to give back.  I have families whose dying little boy, or girl, wants to go hunt with Ted Nugent before they pass away…I’m a pretty creative guy, but I can’t think of anything more emotional than that.  I feel blessed and humbled that they would even think of me in their traumatic and painful times.  When it comes to charities, there is not a children’s charity on the planet that we don’t donate to, or raise funds for, or offer donate things for auctions to raise money for them.  We are also touched very deeply by military charities because those are the ones that touch me the deepest, so we give to them the deepest. 

Jeb: You are celebrating the release of a live album with many of your classic tunes on it, so let’s talk about one.  I want to know when and where you came up with that iconic opening riff to “Free For All.” 

Ted: I was backstage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania around late 1975.  Whenever I tune my guitar—I’ve told you in the past about how “Great White Buffalo” and “Cat Scratch Fever” and all of these great songs come from me tuning my guitar.   It happens that they sound great on the tuning meter, but they also sound great through a loud amplifier in the dressing room.  There is a difference because the volume creates multiple tones and frequencies and sonics and you tune a little bit differently. So, I will start a lick and all of the sudden I go, “Damn, that’s a cool ass lick. What is that?”   The coolest string on the guitar is one that rings open.  I was wondering how many open strings I could get out of an E chord one day.  So, I went up there to that fret, and I made sure I had all of the open strings I could, and I started flailing on it. I was literally creating it in the dressing room and I started singing, “Never before I have a turned on you, you looked too good to me.”  I was talking about my audience.  “Your beady eyes, they can cut me in two and I just can’t let you be.  It’s a free for all and I heard it said that you can bet your life. Stakes are high and so am I, it’s in the air tonight.” 

It really is a stream of consciousness.  I never sit down and think, “Hmm, what would be a cool lick?”  I just pick up the guitar, turn it up and start slamming on it.  It is all derivative of that Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry grind. 

Jeb:   You grew up on that, but I grew up figuring out Nugent tunes. 

Ted:  It is just the next extension of that.  Billy Gibbons called me up last night from Detroit, where he performed with Kid Rock.  We were talking about how we first got started and how we could play all Chuck and Bo and Lonnie Mack songs. 

Whether it is “Tush,” or “Sharp Dressed Man,” or “Free For All,” or “Cat Scratch Fever,” I guarantee you that there is Honky Tonk and Boogie-woogie and Chuck Berry inside there. 

Jeb:   The solo to “Need You Bad,” that is on this live album, that is Chuck and them, but it is also dripping of Ted Nugent.  Give yourself some credit. 

Ted:  It really is a grind, isn’t it?  We are talking about some of this different music and I can’t fail to mention my son Rocco.  He has some music that is such a juxtaposition of hip-hop and rap meets Bo Diddley, James Brown and John Coltrane.  You’ve to hear it.  I think it is http://www.roccomoon.com/rm/music.html.  Listen to some of his stuff.  Rocco does it all himself in his room and it is unbelievably diverse.  You should really look into that. 

Jeb: I have to ask you a weird one.   I have seen you in concert more times that I care to admit; it’s almost embarrassing…

Ted: That’s why you’re so alive.

Jeb:  I know in my heart a couple of songs that I would love to see you put in the set list.  I wonder if there are any of your songs that you know you won’t have time to play but would love too. 

Ted: Oh man, there are so many.  “Living in the Woods” and “Loaded for Bear” from the Amboy Dukes would be great.  “Hibernation,” “Free Flight,” and “Homebound” would be great.  Are you kidding me?  “Good Natured Emma,” are you kidding me? 

We do “Turn It up” and “Live It Up” now and we often do “Motor City Madhouse” now.  We’ve been doing “Queen of the Forest.”  I’d love to hear “Out of Control,” what a great song.  “Working Hard Playing Hard” would be amazing to play live. 

Jeb: You have to slip in “Bound and Gagged.”  

Ted: We have to find a way to play “Bound and Gagged” and “No No No” off the Nugent album; absolutely we do.  How about “Death By Misadventure”?  We have done “Crave” and “I Still Believe,” but next year we have vowed we are going to play “Working Hard Playing Hard.” 

Jeb:  Let’s end with a serious question.  You have an ego…

Ted: I am very proud of my stuff. 

Jeb:  Underneath the surface, are you happy with your legacy?  I am talking deep down, thinking of the music you’ve made.  Do you give yourself the credit on guitar and as a songwriter and riff writer and soloist that I think you deserve? 

Ted: I really do.  I’m absolutely moved when I sing “Great White Buffalo.”  When I sing “Stormtroopin’” I am moved.  When I open up with “Gonzo” and I sing, “I’ve been there before, I’m coming back for more.  I know what you like,” it’s personal, man.  I am so proud and I see those gyrating people out there and the clenched fists... It is out-of-body every fucking night. When I sing “Great White Buffalo” especially today…”Above the cannon walls, strong eyes did glow,” it is more appropriate now than ever. 

Jeb:  Well, I know your plane is getting ready to take off, so I will end by saying, I have loved your guitar playing since I was 11 years old and I am so glad you’re still cranking it up.

Ted: Jeb, God bless you for all the support.  You don’t know… well you must know, because we are kindred spirits for the soul of American music, and I know you love it, and I can’t thank you enough for helping me get the word out there because it means everything to me too. 

Buy Ultralive Ballisticrock here:   http://www.frontiers.it/album/5165/

Keep Up with All Things Nuge here:  www.tednugent.com