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The Amboy Dukes

Developing a sound not too far removed from his idols, YARDBIRDS and The ROLLING STONES, guitarist Ted Nugent left behind formative bands, The Royal High Boys and Lourdes, for the more in-vogue garage/psych-rockers, The AMBOY DUKES; taking the moniker from an infamous book. At only 17 years of age, he turned his back on a career in Chicago (and initial Dukes alumni Bob Lehnert, Gary Hicks and Dick Treat), roping in vocalist John Drake (from Lourdes), rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer (ex-Gang), keyboardist Rick Lober, bassist Bill White and drummer Dave Palmer (ex-Galaxy Five, ex-Citations).
Along the emerging Michigan movers The STOOGES, MC5 and ALICE COOPER (the latter while as the Nazz), competition was in order to inject “proper” rock’n’roll to a one-horse soul city still engrossed by Motown. Mainstream Records came along in 1967, and it was there and then that Ted and the band delivered their eponymous debut LP, THE AMBOY DUKES {*7}. In line with the psychedelic sounds of the day, leaning as much to The DOORS as to the YARDBIRDS, THEM and the blues, the combo’s HENDRIX-esque cover of BIG JOE WILLIAMS’ `Baby Please Don’t Go’ (a single), went a long way in solidifying their seriously sonic surges; from re-vamps of CREAM’s `I Feel Free’, The WHO’s `It’s Not True’ and ASHFORD & SIMPSON’s `Let’s Go Get Stoned’, to worthy Farmer-Nugent compositions `Down On The Philips Escalator’, `Night Time’ and B-side `Psalms Of Aftermath’, the Dukes had set out their stall from the get-go.
Respectively replacing Lober and White with Andy Solomon (ex-Apostles) and Greg Arama (ex-Gang), The AMBOY DUKES subsequently booked their berth in psych-rock history with the Top 20 title track from mid-1968’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE MIND {*6}. Ignorant to the wherewithal and connotations of the surrounding scene – as he later divulged – Ted (and Co) played it relatively hard and heavy on `Dr. Slingshot’, `Mississippi Murder’ and the heather-beaten `Scottish Tea’.
The sextet’s third set – now featuring Rusty Day on lead vocals – MIGRATION (1969) {*7} was hardly a detour from their previous LPs, but one track that stood out from the pack was their falsetto-true, ZAPPA-esque reading of FRANKIE LYMON & THE TEENAGERS’ `I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent’. Much more in line with the eclectic rock music scene of the day was instrumental title-track opener, `Good Natured Emma’, plus `For His Namesake’ and the trenchant `Loaded For Bear’.
Dispensing with Farmer and Day (the latter moving on to CACTUS – ouch!), The AMBOY DUKES toured constantly for the next couple of years, but released only one further LP, the concept MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS / ROCK BOTTOM (1970) {*5}, before re-launching as TED NUGENT & THE AMBOY DUKES. This aggregation – now featuring K.J. Knight (in place of Palmer) and Arama’s substitute Rob Ruzga (ex-Day & Night Dealers Blues Band) – the vocal chores were down to Ted and the rest of the band on the extremely live and dangerous, `Survival Of The Fittest’ (1971). Recorded the previous summer at Detroit’s Eastowne Theater, this self-indulgent flash of exuberance could well’ve culled any future prospects for the Nuge – an exhausting 21-minute re-tread of `Prodigal Man’ (from `Migration’) not their most “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”-esque moment in time.
In 1973, while working on a new record deal, NUGENT’s grinding guitar riffs featured alongside other stars, Mike Pinera (IRON BUTTERFLY), Wayne Kramer (MC5) and Frank Marino (MAHOGANY RUSH) on the “Battle of the Guitarists” stage shows.
Subsequently snapped up by FRANK ZAPPA’s DiscReet imprint (through Warner Bros.), TED NUGENT & THE AMBOY DUKES tried once again to capture the sounds of the day in the boogie-fied `Call Of The Wild’ (1974). Adding fresh meat by way of Rob Grange (bass, vocals), Andy Jezowski (vocals), Gabriel Magno (flute, keyboards) and Vic Mastrianni (drums, percussion), the final Nugent & Amboy Dukes set, `Tooth, Fang & Claw’ (1974), was hardly bringing home the bacon, sliced up as it was into eight prime cuts of out-of-date portions.
Inevitably, NUGENT bit the bullet and thankfully decided a solo career was the best option, while he could pick and choose who was to stand by him on stage and in session.
© MC Strong GRD // rev-up MCS 2017

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