Ted Nugent Talks About His New Album, Fighting ‘An Army of Haters,’ and Bad Mexican Food
We’ve got Ted Nugent on the phone and he greets us by saying “Ted Nugent here -- Happy summertime, happy barbeque season!”
There’s no mistaking that voice and we know for sure that “Uncle” Ted Nugent is on the line and clearly he’s ready to talk about ‘Shutup&Jam,’ his latest opus, which comes armed appropriately enough with a provocative title that tells you all you need to know -- at 65 years of age, Uncle Ted isn’t backing down one bit. He’s got a new set of knees, a fresh set of songs and he’s back to kick your ass with his guitar and if you don’t listen closely, you might see his bow and arrow come out.
He sat down with Ultimate Classic Rock to talk all about the new album, which hits stores on July 8 via Frontiers Records. The Nuge is rarely at a loss for words and he had plenty of thoughts to share with us.
It’s been way too long since there’s been a Ted Nugent album. I think the world is ready for a new album from Uncle Ted.
We are so proud of this, man. Be sure you give an enormous big old barbeque greasy salute to all of my blood brothers of rhythm and blues and rock and roll sonic bombast. I mean, Derek St. Holmes, Greg Smith, Mick Brown and Jon Kutz -- this new amazing drummer from Waco, Texas -- and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, my dream drummer from Detroit and of course, Sammy Hagar and Michael Lutz of Brownsville Station and everybody that really focused on the sound and the quality and the authenticity and the authority of real bass drums, guitars, vocals and the soulfulness of the gods that inspired us. We are so proud of this record.
I know you’ve already been playing the title track live. Will you get some other tunes into the set? ‘Fear Itself’ sticks out as one that would be great to hear.
Tommy Clufetos, who played on ‘Craveman’ and ‘Love Grenade,’ just an unbelievable drummer from Detroit...boy, do I have the world’s greatest drummers in my band or what? But Tommy, when he was playing with me and he heard some of these songs, he said, “Ted, every song you’ve ever done, every Ted Nugent composition, is the ultimate opening concert song and the ultimate encore. It doesn’t matter where you put ‘em. They’re all crescendos!” I think this album is wall-to-wall crescendos, because it’s [sourced from] 65 and a half years [of being] clean and sober and my life is a crescendo.
Except for my knees and the government, my life is so perfect that it’s defied gravity. I’m the happiest guy that you’ll ever talk to and I’m surrounded by the greatest people in the world, from my band to my crew, my management, my 'Spirit of the Wild' production team, our 'Sunrize Safari' guides and outfitters, are just the world’s greatest hard-working heart and soul masters of work ethic and conscientiously demanding of themselves, excellence in everything they do and that’s why this record has such authority and such believability and such spirit and such emotion.
The thing is, I know it’s been seven years since I recorded a studio album, but my God, do I have a bunch more songs like this. I’m telling myself every day and I hope I obey me, but I’m telling myself that I’ve got to get back to the studio within the next year or at least the next year and a half and capture some of these other monster grinding soul music masterpieces, because the songs are so inspiring. They’re so stimulating. I just put my guitar down 15 minutes ago and the new songs, I just can’t wait to record them. But I’m concentrating on the ‘Shutup&Jam’ songs right now, since we’re going out on the road to play them.
Now that you’ve got new knees, can we tack another 100 years onto your schedule?
God help us all! There will be no more amplifier leaping. No more riding of American bison on the stage. I’m still capable of some pretty grinding shimmies on stage. I proved that two weeks ago in Sweden and there was no shortage of energy. I’m not able to leap about like I used to. I’m hoping that the new knees will get to the point where I can get my dancing shoes back on. But for right now, the energy and the spirit of the music is so inspiring, every song, every concert, every night and every day. I’m sure I’ve got a whole bunch more in me. Before August 16 of this year, I will have performed 6,500 concerts, so who knows what’s in the future.
You made this new record in Texas. Folks know you as a longtime Michigan guy. How did you wind up in Texas?
Well, it’s a series of events out of our control. Our beautiful home in Michigan was destroyed by this toxic black mold and my wife became very, very sick. I was sick as well. Our house was uninhabitable and the only clinic that would treat my wife was in Dallas, Texas. So we came down here literally for her life or death treatment, because her blood had been [poisoned] by this mold.
We were basically homeless in 2002 and we decided to stay in Texas because it’s a great place for rock and roll. I’ve been rock and rollin’ down here since ‘67 or ‘68 and these people really know their music. Not that any place else doesn’t, but there’s a real soulfulness to music appreciation in Texas, plus I hunt here every year -- it’s got great hunting.
Plus once I looked into it, the freedom that individual citizens have in Texas is more profound and more diverse than anywhere I can find, so we decided to stay. We’ve become Texas residents now for nearly 13 years and I’ll never look back. I’ll always be a Michiganian, you know what I mean? I mean, I love my Michigan roots, but the freedom here in Texas is just the ultimate.
You’ve mentioned that you got some Michigan flavor onto this record. You’ve got Johnny Bee drumming on a couple of tracks. Did you record any other stuff with Johnny that didn’t make the record?
No, just the two songs. He obviously killed on both of them -- they’re both take-one masterpieces, because he’s a consummate professional, plus anything he drums on just turns into a hyper-cranking masterpiece. But he and I did a lot of talking and hugging and we talked about this for geez, almost 50 years now.
So at least we got these two songs done. But because Jon Kutz is such an amazing drummer and Mick Brown is such an amazing drummer and all of my musicians are such amazing musicians, I could go and live in the studio forever and never leave, just collaborating with the unbelievable talent that surrounds me everywhere I go. So we just ended up improvising and recording those two songs and he did such an amazing job.
Watch 'She's Gone,' Featuring Sammy Hagar
Sammy Hagar seems like someone that you could easily do a whole record’s worth of stuff with him.
There’s no doubt about it. We come from the same R&B school, you know. I’ll never forget when Montrose opened up for us in California and all of the shows out west in ‘75. I remember Ronnie, Sammy and Denny Carmassi, their unbelievable drummer, they would sit on the side of the stage and watch everything that we’d do.
Because we were all weaned on Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Mose Allison, Lightnin’ Hopkins and certainly Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. We were all sons of that original R&B eruption. So there was a mutual admiration society immediately. And you know, Denny Carmassi played drums on my incredible ‘Spirit Of The Wild’ album in 1995, which was just another dream come true for a guitar player to have that kind of inescapable gyrating rhythm that these drummers that I have produce on every track that they play on.
So I could, I could do a whole record with Sammy. But I could also do a whole record with Derek. I could do a whole record with Johnny Badanjek and I could do a whole record with Mick and Greg. Are you kidding me? I could do a whole record with just me and Tommy Shaw or just me and Jack Blades. So I have unlimited dream music at my fingertips. It’s just a matter of calendars and priorities.
I would think that with your bow and arrow, you might have some influence on getting Tommy and Jack back in the studio with you.
Yes, I could! We connect a lot and with Michael Cartellone as well. We all dream of the chance of making music together again because number one, it was so much fun. The music was certainly authoritative and it was definitely as soulful as any music anywhere anytime. But again, Tommy is so busy with Styx, Jack’s so busy with Night Ranger and his different songwriting activities and Michael Cartellone just tours constantly with Lynyrd Skynyrd. And I’m not exactly sitting by the pool eating bonbons.
We are real busy all the time and I loved collaborating with those guys, but I also really, really crave creating my own songs. I love songwriting. I think that someday when somebody gets past the politics, somebody’s going to have to wake up and go, “Holy s---, look at these songs that this crazy Detroit guitar player wrote! They’re masterpieces going back to 1967 when he was a teenager!” You listen to songs the first Amboy Dukes album and the ‘Migration’ album and the ‘Marriage On The Rocks/Rock Bottom’ and ‘Rattle My Snake’ on ‘Survival Of The Fittest.’ Listen to these songs!
‘Dog Eat Dog’ was a masterpiece, ‘Stranglehold’ is a masterpiece, ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang’ is a masterpiece! ‘Crave’ is a masterpiece! ‘Still Raising Hell’ on ‘Love Grenade’ is a masterpiece. These are monster compositions and if it wasn’t for my politics, someone would probably admit it. [Laughs] So I’m admitting it right here with Ultimate Classic Rock, because I love these songs and obviously people still love these songs because I’m going on the road for a wonderful...I guarantee it’s going to be the greatest tour of my life.
Last year was the greatest tour of my life and people go berserk with joy and celebration at the authenticity of what Derek, Mick and Greg and I deliver with every song, every night. It’s because basically the songs are killers and we perform them like killers. So yeah, I’m real proud of my songwriting.
When I am driven spontaneously and honestly to collaborate with the Tommy Shaws, the Jack Blades and the Derek St. Holmes and the people that I write songs with, I enjoy every exciting minute of that as well. But nothing quite compares with me grabbing my guitar like I did this morning and just letting the grinding grooves and killer guitar patterns erupt, writing a song that has a cadence and a rhythm to it about things that I get a kick out of singing about. That’s the songwriting dream of every songwriter is to represent what’s in their guts and their heart and their soul. Whether it’s through social observation or just subjective dreaming and I think I’ve covered all of those bases on ‘Shutup&Jam.’
Watch 'Never Stop Believing'
The new album is called ‘Shutup&Jam.’ Is that tongue-in-cheek on your part at all, in response to some of the music fans who might perhaps prefer to hear more music and less talking from Ted?
Well, first of all, there’s never been as much talking as there has been music. The music still is far ahead of the politics. But I am a real American and I think if you’re not engaged and you’re not actually participating in this very important critical experiment in self-government...if you’re not actually participating, maybe you should just move to France where you’re not allowed to.
What is participating in an experiment of self-government? It’s called “We The People” politics. When politics have become so criminal at the hands of Barack Obama and a governor and an attorney general and a secretary of state that refuses the begging for security in a dangerous American embassy and unleashes the IRS to abuse citizens and then claim they lose the emails.
I could go on and on and in fact, as a journalist scrutinizing the forces that end up in my music and also the forces that caused me to write [the songs on] ‘Shutup&Jam,’ read my pieces at WND.com, Newsmax.com and even my deeranddeerhunting.com. You should read all of those to get an insight into the diversity of my life and my participation as a concerned engaged citizen.
I think that’s what an experiment in self-government is, is for ourselves to be engaged. When you’re not engaged, you end up with a community organizer scam artist as the president.
I would guess that from your point of view, you haven’t changed. But certainly the internet and stuff like that tends to blow up things that you say more now. It didn’t have that kind of exposure in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Don’t miss the obvious, Matt. The [websites], MoveOn.org, The Huffington Post and the liberal Democrat think tanks, they have an army of haters assigned to monitor everything I do. Does it cause me to alter what I do? Not one bit. In fact, knowing that they’re monitoring me, I make sure that I’m more verbose and I’m more upfront.
I have eliminated all hesitancy and inhibitions in my participation in the sacred experiment of self-government. So let them mirror my statements. They will actually quote me and try to find fault with something, when what I said was irrefutably true. They’ll make a claim that I’m jumping to conclusions or, “Nugent claims that the administration got it wrong.” Yeah, that’s a wild claim, isn’t it? What the f---! So there are times when I would just shut up and jam, but not many of them. [Laughs]
You had a goal of brevity with the songs that you were cutting on this album…..
[Nugent interrupts] It wasn’t really a goal. It was an afterthought. I’m in my living room and I’ve got a wall of amps right next to a wall of guns and a wall of guitars. I’m looking at it right now, it’s really a very handsome wall. I grabbed that guitar and I just let ‘er rip and the great thing about my living room is that the fireplace is all brick and the floor is all hard tile, so the ricochet factor and the resonance and the natural echo and reverb in this room, it’s so inspired. It’s the old colloquialism of how we all sing good in the shower. The guitar just has a life of its own, tone-wise and it inspires certain licks and riffs and dynamics on the neck and that’s where all of these songs were written.
I would just finish my chores in the morning, I’d come in from a hunt and I’d hang up an animal and I’d skin it and gut it. I’d come in and then slap an egg and some wild boar sausage in the pan and I’d gobble up some pure organic protein and then I’d grab that guitar and the pure organic protein makes me play really pure and organically. [Laughs] These riffs come up and I’ll sing ‘Shutup&Jam’ or ‘Fear Itself’ or ‘Semper Fi,’ ‘Never Stop Believing’ or ‘I Still Believe’ or ‘Do-Rags & a .45’ and I didn’t think about how long they should be and I didn’t think about arrangements, I just sang it the way I was brought up on the masters that wrote ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘Bo Diddley,’ ‘Long Tall Sally’ and all of those classics that we were all brought up on.
My instinct was just to play them, so I started singing and the cadence and the lyrics have a life of their own, because the lick inspires a certain attitude and vision and I sing about that attitude and vision. They tend to rhyme and work with the rhythm and the song is done and I go, “God, that’s a song!” I don’t record any of it and I don’t write down the lyrics, but I instinctively know them and then later on, that night or the next day, I’ll go back and do it again and it all happens naturally again and so I go, “That’s a song!” And it’s a song just like it is! So that’s why there’s a lot of brevity here, because that’s just the spirit I was in when I was writing these songs throughout the hunting season.
We get two different versions of ‘Never Stop Believing’ on this album…..
Wait until you hear the acoustic version, a third version of that song on the Japanese release. So there really are three versions of that. So as an old rock and roll dog yourself, do you think I pulled off the blues? I think it was believable…
I do! I know you wanted Sammy to take a crack at that song and I can certainly hear that vision in the blues version of that one. I was curious to know which version came first.
Actually, that song is a perfect example of my incredibly diverse and emotionally adventurous life. I do an awful lot of charity work with terminally ill kids where parents have accepted me and I imagine have researched me more than anybody’s ever been researched. Because the conclusion that they come away from with their research is that they are going to honor their little boys and little girls, and I’m talking six, seven and eight-year old kids, who are dying of a terminal illness, and their request is to go hunting with Ted Nugent.
Well, if I can pass that test, maybe you can find someone who can propose a test that’s more demanding than that and I don’t think there is one. When I sit around a campfire, I’m looking at a picture right now of my son hugging a little kid named Nathan, a six-year old kid [with] terminal cancer and you just can’t imagine the emotion and you can’t imagine the courage that these little kids have, knowing that they’re going to be dead soon and their last request is to go hunting with Ted Nugent? Man, I must have done something profound.
They all reference 'Spirit of the Wild' TV and they want to shoot a bow or a gun or kill a squirrel with Uncle Ted. They all reference my music and their parents watch an interview that I did on TV and the kids connect with my unadulterated honesty and believe me, they can pick that up better than anybody. I learned so much from these little kids and [also] the soldiers with no legs and no arms, no skin and no eyeballs.
I do an awful lot of charity work and spend an awful lot of very powerful time around campfires with these special people that teach me about real courage and real prioritization and real empathy and that ends up in songs like ‘Never Stop Believing.’
Where did you first get into that kind of work? What was the spark?
Well, I’ll never forget, I think it was way back in 1969 before I was a celebrity or a star, an 18-year old kid, Josh, contacted my booking agency in Detroit and he was dying of leukemia and he said his last wish in life was to go hunting with Ted Nugent. Well, it’s the summer and there’s no hunting season on, but ask me if I give a s---? This guy was already really sick and really fragile and not very mobile. He didn’t have much energy, but he had a lot of piss and vinegar. Of course as soon as that call came in, I said, “Make it happen. I’m living out in Ann Arbor and I’ve got a buddy with a farm, we’ll go shoot a squirrel.”
I got a couple of .22 revolvers and this guy came out and he died just a couple of weeks later. To think that someone would think of me at that unbelievably traumatic crossroads of their life, I stopped to think, “What the f--- did I do to deserve this?” and they would tell me that, “I was inspired by your clean and sober rants and inspired by your interview on WABX about putting your heart and soul into everything that you do and be the best that you can be and that the American dream is about beating the competition, getting up earlier and working harder.” They would say things back to me and I’d go, “Wow, I did say that, didn’t I? That really resonated with ya, huh?” and they’d get all teary-eyed and say, “Yes” and it changed their life.
So how do you think a Michael Moore hate gang condemning me for eating venison and believing in the Second Amendment and daring to speak up as a “We The People” citizen, how do you think that hate compares to that kind of support from a dying kid? Are you kidding me? So you want to kill me because I eat pheasant, but this kid wanted to hunt with me before he died because I eat pheasant. Which judgment carries the most weight? So if you wonder where my confidence comes from, how can you get more confident than that? It’s powerful stuff.
I think that’s why you hear that in these songs. That’s why ‘Stranglehold’ is such a powerful song, that’s why ‘Fred Bear’ is such a powerful song. Or ‘Dog Eat Dog’ or ‘Free-For-All’ or ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered.’ If you really listen, it is about being the best that you can be. Even the delirium of outrageous escape songs like ‘Wango Tango’ or ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,’ or listen to the lyrics of ‘Still Raising Hell’ on the ‘Love Grenade’ record. You can’t believe the number of people that have referenced those lyrics and how it changed their lives to lose weight, get clean and sober and to work harder! Wouldn’t it be nice if our president represented that mantra? He represents just the opposite. Don’t ask yourself what you can do for your country, demand s--- from your country. And I’m the prick? Really!
You had a great blast of success in the ‘90s with the Damn Yankees stuff. What was it like for you walking into that project?
It was wonderful, because I’m a band guy. It’s like the Amboy Dukes or my band, the Lourds, that won the battle of the bands in Detroit. I think you can see it, anybody who has watched us on stage, the reason it became Ted Nugent is because I just tried a little harder. I think I went for it more intensely, I think. So it became, instead of the Amboy Dukes, we had to go see this crazy guitar player who gets these unbelievable noises out of this jazz guitar, so the booking agency said “You know, the promoters want to feature you more, so we want to change it to Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes” and I went, “Alright, whatever.”
The band thought it was alright and then eventually, I was sick and tired of the pressures from the industry to use keyboards and write pop songs and we had to have catchy hooks and I said, “Really? F--- you -- I’m recording ‘Stranglehold’ -- it doesn’t even have a chorus! F--- you!” [Laughs] I didn’t invent "F--- you," but I have perfected it. You can actually roast marshmallows from the heat on my middle finger. The point being is that the Damn Yankees, just like when I go on tour with Mick and Greg and Derek, it’s a band! It might be called Ted Nugent, but it’s a 100 percent absolute band. Derek wrote ‘Hey Baby’ -- he wrote that composition and it’s his arrangement. I demanded we record it, because I’m a band guy.
But I also have a very definitive -- and you may have noticed this -- vision of what music should sound like and how it should be presented. Hence, my songwriting. And I so cherish….I consider my songs and my lyrics and what I create as my children. I remember when we recorded the ‘Ted Nugent’ album, they came in and they were saying, “We need to touch these lyrics up” and I go, “Oh really? You...are going to touch up my lyrics? How about if I touch up your skull with a crowbar! F--- you! These are my lyrics. If you want to write a song, go f---ing write one. These are mine!”
I’m going to record ‘Stranglehold,’ because nobody wants to hear a jam anymore and bass solos are kind of hokey. Really? Well, when you make a record, keep that in mind, because we’re going into record this song called ‘Stranglehold’ with a bass solo! It’s been so much fun, I can’t even begin to describe it, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job right now.
You mentioned this earlier, but seemingly, you’re a guy who can make nearly any word rhyme with something else. Have you ever gotten hung up trying to make a particular combination work?
Never. Some writer somewhere somehow has got to come and witness when I grab the guitar. When I pick up a guitar, the cadence, the rhythm and the syllables, they just happen! Now there is an occasion when we’re recording, where I’ll take out a “the,” just so the cadence sings truer, but no, never have I sat down with a legal pad and a pen and brought the pen to my lip going, “Hmmmm, I wonder what I should say here!” [Laughs]
I create every song I’ve ever written, screaming and jamming in my living room like an idiot. Or backstage or at a rehearsal with the band while the band’s tuning up and they’ll typically come up to me and go, “What the f--- is that? That’s awesome!” and I’ll go, “I don’t know, I’ve never played it before, but it is awesome!” A lot of songs end up like that in the studio. ‘Love Grenade’ was like that -- that song wasn’t even there -- I just came in the studio and we were tuning up and I [imitates song riff] and I started singing and the guys go, “That’s f---ing awesome, what is that?” and I go “Love grenade / Pull the pin” and they go, “Let’s record that!” I like to think that my music erupts, like a good s--- after a bad Mexican meal.