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Ted Nugent

+ {The Amboy Dukes} + {Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes}

“Motor City Madman” TED NUGENT has scratched out a career spanning around half a century, a career that has witnessed the controversial character condemned by critics for his right wing beliefs and pro-gun stance. Ironically enough, the hard-rock guitarist/singer is a vehement non-drug taker, sacking anyone in his band who’d dabbled with even the softest of narcotics; the Nuge, in fact, preferred hunting animals, his love of crossbows and blood sports being well-publicised. Musically on a par with STEPPENWOLF, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, MONTROSE and many, many more, the un-PC motormouth was at peak performance on 1978’s jam-tastic `Double Live Gonzo!’ – a rambunctious set of songs that was er… “just what the doctor ordered”.
Born Theodore Anthony Nugent, December 13, 1948, Redford, Detroit, Michigan, Ted drew inspiration from his strict disciplinarian father who was as shocked (as many were), when the teenager duly picked up his Gibson Byrdland guitar and turned the volume up to 11. Soon developing a sound not too far removed from his idols, The YARDBIRDS and The ROLLING STONES, Ted 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) {*5}. 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) {*5}. Adding fresh meat by way of Rob Grange (bass, vocals), Andy Jezowski (vocals), Gabriel Magno (flute, keyboards) and Vic Mastrianni (drums, percussion, vocals), Ted could certainly be accused of a touch of unintentional plagiarism with the “Highway Star” – DEEP PURPLE-ish riffs on `Pony Express’. The final Amboy Dukes set, TOOTH, FANG & CLAW (1974) {*5}, was hardly bringing home the bacon, sliced up as it was into eight prime cuts of out-of-date portions: `Living In The Woods’, `Hibernation’ and `The Great White Buffalo’ shot to pieces by the critics, who also asked questions of his beefy re-vamp of CHUCK BERRY’s `Maybelline’.
Inevitably, TED 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; despite this he surrounded himself with a stalwart, tight-knit band, held together by Derek St. Holmes (guitar, vocals), Rob Grange (bass) and Englishman Cliff Davies (drums). Having secured a solo deal with Epic Records, the eponymous, Tom Werman-produced TED NUGENT (1975) {*8} LP, carried off a Top 30 spot. Spawning the 8-minute concert draw, `Stranglehold’, this was no-holds-barred untamed rock’n’roll – with the Nuge in full flow on this and others: `Motor City Madness’, `Stormtroopin’ and the jaw-dropping `Just What The Doctor Ordered’.
NUGENT had come a long way from his 60s rock roots, adopting a bare-chested stone-age axe-grinding image (a good few years before MANOWAR) on his next Top 30 classic-rock album, FREE-FOR-ALL (1976) {*7}. Introducing a pre-“Bat Out Of Hell” MEAT LOAF on over 50% of the tracks (the JOE WALSH-like `Writing On The Wall’ excelling in its 7 minutes), Ted and side-kick Derek could let their hair down. It was also Ted’s first to earn a Top 40 placing in Britain, while on his home-ground, `Dog Eat Dog’, served up his first minor hit in several years.
Abrasive as ever, “Deer Hunter” TED NUGENT took a break from boasting about his conquests (musical, animal or otherwise…) to record his third heavy-metal onslaught, CAT SCRATCH FEVER (1977) {*8}, another acclaimed album which featured such pussy-taming gems as `Wang Dang Sweet Poontang’, `Death By Misadventure’ (concerning the demise of Brian Jones), `Home Bound’ (later incorporated by the BEASTIE BOYS) and the glorious title track.
The Nuge, who’d demonstrated his affection for a fan by inscribing his name with a bowie knife on their arm, reached his climactic peak with the ripping, aforementioned concert double-set, DOUBLE LIVE GONZO! {*8}. A farewell recording by his back-up band (all but Davies) from June ’76 to November ’77 concerts, the lead axeman got heads rolling in the aisles by way of epic steel-sharp takes of `Hibernation’, `Motor City Madness’ and `Stranglehold’. Ted would never quite attain such testosterone-fuelled heights again.
Roping in fellow lead guitarist Charlie Huhn and bassist John Sauter, the slightly underwhelming WEEKEND WARRIORS (1978) {*5} and STATE OF SHOCK (1979) {*4}, repeated the pattern of previous platinum-selling exercises. Veteran Walt Monaghan had filled in the vacant berth of Sauter on the latter set, while a roadkill reading of GEORGE HARRISON’s `I Want To Tell You’ seemed irreverent alongside `Paralyzed’ and `Take It Or Leave It’.
Still a Top 20 treasure by the point of 1980’s much-improved SCREAM DREAM {*6} – Dave Kiswiney was now on bass – the chest-pounding NUGENT thundered on relentless for best “bites”, `Wango Tango’, `I Gotta Move’ and `Spit It Out’. Simplistic, even in terms of arena-rock standards, the punningly-gruelling live update, INTENSITIES IN 10 CITIES (1981) {*6}, rounded up some fresh songs never before grooved out for vinyl; a maniacal cover of FATS DOMINO’s `Land Of A Thousand Dances’, plus `Jailbait’, `Spontaneous Combustion’ and `Heads Will Roll’, were primeval shards of glorious gonzo.
Reunited with lead vocalist St. Holmes (who’d cut albums with St. Paradise and AEROSMITH off-shoot WHITFORD/ST. HOLMES), and enlisting seasoned sticksman Carmine Appice (ex-VANILLA FUDGE et al), Ted had no trouble inking a deal at Atlantic Records. But in the rather poor, directionless affair, un-thoughtfully titled NUGENT (1982) {*2}, it was a case of taking two or three steps back for one step forward.
Taking a few years to recover, the loin-clothed one returned in good old feminist-baiting style with PENETRATOR (1984) {*3}, yet another album to roll out a new band of merry men, this time through Brian Howe (vocals), Alan St. John (keyboards), Doug Lubahn (bass) and Bobby Chouinard (drums). Supplanting all asunder with session people and right-hand man Dave Amato, there was further unrest and his lowest chart position so far (#76) for LITTLE MISS DANGEROUS (1986) {*3}; NUGENT rather unconvincingly claimed the title track of the latter could cure the emerging AIDS virus, while the exuberant BACHARACH-DAVID song, `Little Red Book’ was yet another folly.
The less said about the sexist title and cover of 1988’s IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM… LICK ‘EM {*3}, the better. He was certainly punching above his double-entendre weight on `The Harder They Come (The Harder I Get)’, `Spread Your Wings’ and the title track. But no one expected Ted to box clever. It was all very ropey at a time when GUNS N’ ROSES and POISON would be firing on all cylinders.
Even more shocking was the headlines that Nuge was forming a fresh AOR-orientated supergroup, DAMN YANKEES, which would include Messrs Tommy Shaw (STYX), Jack Blades (NIGHT RANGER) and seasoned session drummer Michael Cartellone. This was all too horribly confirmed in 1990 with the delivery of their eponymous Top 20 debut album, a record that boasted Top 3 smash, `High Enough’. This power-ballad quartet released a sophomore set in 1992: `Don’t Tread’, although the only thing these DAMN YANKESS were treading, was water.
Thankfully Nuge abandoned his part in this project in ’93, and re-traced footsteps back to his familiar bloodthirsty neck of the woods on the 1995 album, SPIRIT OF THE WILD {*6} – his masterful return to Top 100 terrain. Dealing with living off the land, axe-grinder/gunslinger Ted was right at home with `I Shoot Back’, `Primitive Man’ and his grizzly tribute to `Fred Bear’.
Ted was back in business for the 2001-issued FULL BLUNTAL NUGITY {*6}, a live-in-concert look back at his career in spectacular widescreen CD/DVD format. No doubt sales were boosted by the publication of his incisive autobiography, God, Guns & Rock n’ Roll.
Now on the roster of Spitfire Records, after an interminable layoff from the studio, the corny but crafty CRAVEMAN (2002) {*5} was undoubtedly his meatiest collection of songs since the 70s. As reliably un-PC as ever, but produced and executed with the kind of warped passion rarely witnessed in the man’s latter-day catalogue, the record found NUGENT (on lead vocals and guitar) spitting bile and oozing testosterone like a man possessed; he was augmented this time around by bassist Marco Mendoza and drummer Tommy Clufetos, while he was reunited on `Damned If I Do’ and `Crave’ with Shaw and Blades from DAMN YANKEES.
2007’s LOVE GRENADE {*3} ensnared NUGENT back to his tacky arena-rock days; his sound now lying between old-school KISS (`Girl Scout Cookies’), spirited American-Indian diatribe (`Geronimo & Me’ and `Eagle Brother’), and retro-grade psychedelic boogaloo (in a re-take of `Journey To The Center Of The Mind’).
On the back of three explosive concert sets, SWEDEN ROCKS (2008) {*4}, the self-explanatory MOTOR CITY MAYHEM: The 6,000th Concert (2009) {*5} and ULTRALIVE BALLISTICROCK (2013) {*6}, NUGENT’s persistence and dexterity paid off with a Top 30 album, SHUTUP&JAM! (2014) {*5}. Residing in Texas where trapping wild fans came a little easier, the dude fired all his guns at once, and exploded with a long overdue duet (`She’s Gone’) alongside fellow hair-metal bro, SAMMY HAGAR.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2016

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