Guitarist, songwriter, singer
Ted Nugent was born just outside of Detroit, Michigan, in 1949. He received his first musical instrument at the age of nine after his aunt, an airline stewardess, sent him an acoustic guitar that had been left on a flight unclaimed. He took formal lessons for a few years to learn theory and proper technique and by the time he was just thirteen years old his first band, the Lourds, had opened for the Supremes and the Beau Brummels at Cobo Hall. “The Lourds played unbefore-heard-of kick-ass rock and roll,” Nugent told Tom Vickers of Rolling Stone. “If you weren’t into it it might send you to nausea city.”
Unfortunately the band lasted only until Nugent’s family moved to Chicago when he was sixteen. With a former Army staff sargeant for a father, Nugent was raised in a very strict family structure and wasted little time in forming his next group (The Amboy Dukes, in 1965) and hitting the road after high school. “I went after my success with a vengeance,” he told Rolling Stone. In 1967 Nugent moved the group back to Detroit, where they recorded a minor midwest hit, “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
That same year they broke the national charts with their psychedelic onslaught, “Journey to the Center of the Mind, “which reached number 8. Amazingly, Nugent received no money from the song and the group spent their entire ten years bouncing between labels (Polydor, Discreet, and Mainstream) and dealing with poor management. They released nearly a dozen albums of pioneering heavy metal: “Listening to Amboy Dukes’ albums was like going into hand-to-hand combat with your speakers,” wrote Billy Altman in Rolling Stone.
The group was fueled by Nugent’s high-powered licks that spewed forth from his Gibson Byrdland guitar. Normally used as a jazz instrument, Nugent cranked the hollowbody to maximum volume, which caused a tremendous amount of feedback. Although he uses other guitars today (Les Pauls and Paul Reed Smith solidbodies), he first discovered the Byrdland’s potential when he heard Jim McCarty using one with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels in 1964. “[McCarty] was so sensational that I was bent on playing it,” Nugent told Steve Rosen in Guitar Player. “I was also bent on playing loud. To do that you either have to elimate the feedback characteristics—by buying a different guitar—or learn to control it. I started putting the feedback to good use.”
Initially influenced by Wayne Cochran, Duane Eddy, Lonnie Mack, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix, he was soon creating his own unique voice on the guitar by manipulating the toggle switch and volume knobs for effects, playing with his teeth, bending the strings behind the bridge to create vibrato and playing with
Born December 13, 1949, in Redford Township, Mich.; married Sandra Jezowski, April, 1970 (deceased); married Shemane Deziel (a radio traffic reporter), December, 1988; children: Sasha Emma, Theodore Tobias.
Formed first band, the Lourds, at age 13; formed the Amboy Dukes in Chicago, 111., 1965, group moved base of operations to Detroit, 1967, released first record, “Baby Please Don’t Go,” 1967, first album, The Amboy Dukes, 1968, group dissolved, 1975; solo career, 1975—; actor, including featured guest role in TV series “Miami Vice” ; has made instructional video on bow hunting.
more speed and volume (he’s 85% deaf in his left ear) than anyone before him. “[Nugent’s] as fast, raunchy, and unrelentless as any heavy metallic glitterite around,” stated Don Menn in Guitar Player. “Some of his blues-rock riffs could have melted a bazooka.”
Nugent not only pushed his guitar playing, but his onstage antics as well, to the limit. His outrageous wardrobe and attitude soon earned him the title of “Motor City Madman.” An avid hunter (he’s a staunch member of the NRA) and outdoorsman, his stage apparel consists of a loincloth, deerskin, feathers, necklasses made out of animal teeth, headbands, and fringe boots. With his wild hair looking like a lion’s mane, Nugent has been known to jump off huge stacks of amplifiers with bow and arrow in hand, daring anyone to challenge his presence. Another theatric featured excrutiatingly high volumes aimed at breaking glass balls; it sometimes failed and the balls had to be shot out by a roadie with a BB gun.
Nugent labels this entire persona “gonzo,” and it embodies just about every aspect of his life. “My philosophy is two eyes for an eye,” he declared to Charles M. Young in Rolling Stone. He has abhored drugs ever since he saw what happened to the late Jimi Hendrix (the two used to jam together) and he has even fired band members for drug use. Nugent’s ego has also earned him noteriety in the past for statements like “Sometimes I ask myself—have I the right to be this good?,” to Guitar Player’s Tom Wheeler. His obsessions with himself, hunting, and sex have pretty much dominated his song themes and clever titles.
Just prior to the Dukes’ break-up Nugent began staging guitar duels with veteran metalheads like Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush, Wayne Kramer from the MC5, and Mike Pinera of Iron Butterfly and Blues Image. These six-string wars helped further Nugent’s macho image as he usually outplayed or outstaged those who tried to steal the spotlight from him. In 1975 he decided to go solo, signing with Epic and releasing his self-titled debut. Ted Nugent hit its listeners with hard-driving selections, including “Motor City Madhouse,” “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” and “Stranglehold.” Nugent’s live shows were just as merciless, leaving audiences with a serious case of shell shock “roughly akin to pressing a stethoscope to the roaring engine of a trail bike,” reported Young in Rolling Stone.
Nugent’s next two albums, Free For All and Cat Scratch Fever (note Jeff Beck’s influence on the bolero “Home-bound”), featured more of the same obnoxious lyrics and blazing fretwork. An in-concert performance was captured on 1977’s Double Live Gonzo and by the next year Nugent fronted the top-grossing band in NorthAmerica. In March of 1978 he headlined the California Jam II gig at the Ontario Motor Speedway in front of 250, 000 screaming fans. With the addition of Weekend Warriors, Nugent’s first five Epic LPs had gone platinum. His formula was simple, according to Wheeler in Guitar Player: “Less chord changes than Alice Cooper; more chord changes than Black Sabbath; sounds best loud.”
For the next six years though, Nugent’s popularity began to dwindle. He continued to release four more albums, but the generation that had grown up on his style had done just that; grown up. And the younger crowd was now into a sound, introduced by Eddie Van Halen, that utilized fingerboard tapping and extreme wang-bar tactics to create dive-bombing crashes. But Nugent explained his slump to Steve Gett in Guitar For The Practicing Musician: “Because I’ve got a big mouth; because I’m so exuberant and so easy-going, and I’m having so much fun that it intimidates them.”
By 1984, however, Nugent had gotten the hint (and a new label) and joined the club with Penetrator and 1986’s Little Miss Dangerous, which showed he could compete with his contemporaries. He had previously employed singers to cover the vocals while occassionally belting out a song or two himself. But on his 1988 release, If You Can’t Lick ’Em … Lick ’Em, Nugent handled all the lead vocals. Although he has not regained his former position in the heavy metal hierarchy, he is still indeed a dedicated guitarist to be reckoned with. “All I can say is that if I didn’t have the ulterior diversions, with my hunting, my outdoor activities and my family, I would stay on the road 360 days a year,” he told Gett. I’ve never felt anything less than outrageous enthusiasm for my music.”
Ted Nugent, Epic, 1975.
Free For All, Epic, 1976.
Cat Scratch Fever, Epic, 1977.
Double Live Gonzo, Epic, 1977.
Weekend Warriors, Epic, 1978.
State of Shock, Epic, 1979
Scream Dream, Epic, 1980.
Great Gonzos/The Best of Ted Nugent, Epic, 1981.
Intensities in Ten Cities, 1981, CBS.
Penetrator, Atlantic, 1984.
Little Miss Dangerous, Atlantic, 1986.
If You Can’t Lick ’Em … Lick ’Em, Atlantic, 1988.
With the Amboy Dukes
Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Mainstream, 1968.
Journey to the Center of the Mind, Mainstream, 1968.
Marriage on the Rocks—Rock Bottom, Polydor, 1970.
Survival of the Fittest, Polydor, 1974.
Call of the Wild, Discreet, 1974.
Tooth, Fang, and Claw, Discreet, 1975.
Journeys and Migrations (double reissue), Mainstream, 1975.
Dr. Slingshot (compilation), Mainstream, 1975.
Christgau, Robert, Christgau’s Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, compiled by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden, Harmony, 1977.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
Guitar for the Practicing Musician, January, 1986.
Guitar Player, December, 1975; November, 1976; March, 1977; December, 1977; August, 1979; September, 1980; May, 1984; June, 1988.
Guitar World, March, 1987; July, 1988.
Rolling Stone, April 8, 1976; November 18, 1976; July 28, 1977; August 25, 1977; March 23, 1978; January 11, 1979; March 8, 1979; March 19, 1981.
—Calen D. Stone
The Amboy Dukes
The Amboy Dukes
The Amboy Dukes' hard-driving acid-rock guitar onslaught brought psychedelia to the American Midwest in the mid-1960s with feedback- and distortion-driven garage pop classics such as "Baby Please Don't Go" and "Journey to the Center of the Mind." The band's subsequent efforts never matched the quality or success of their early efforts, however, and the band became more widely known as the launching pad for guitarist Ted Nugent's concurrent careers as a successful solo artist, staunch advocate of wildlife hunting and fishing, anti-drug spokesperson, conservative political pundit, and reality television star.
The group borrowed its name from a defunct Detroit band that in turn had taken it from a 1945 pulp novel by Irving Schulman, infamous for its graphic depictions of drug abuse, sexual acts, and violent exploits among urban Jewish gangs. The novel had already inspired the 1949 film City Across the River, starring Tony Curtis, Thelma Ritter, and Richard Jaeckel. In what was perhaps a tip of the hat to this literary and cinematic pedigree, the Amboy Dukes recorded a remake of the Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers hit "I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent," from the 1956 Tuesday Weld film Rock! Rock! Rock! ; it was released on the Dukes' 1969 album, Migrations. As the band's lineup changed over the years, Nugent became the predominant force. Gone were the drug references in the group's songs and album cover art, and woe befell any band member foolish enough even to suggest substance abuse in Nugent's presence, for the outcome would be immediate dismissal.
Before forming the Amboy Dukes, Nugent had played in a variety of Detroit and Chicago bands. Learning to play guitar before he was 10, Nugent was playing professionally by the time he was 11. In 1960, he fronted a band called the Royal High Boys. He was only 13 when his band the Lourds performed at Detroit's Cobo Hall as opening act for such acts as the Beau Brummels and the Supremes. In 1964, Nugent told High Times writer Glenn O'Brien, the Lourds "were peaking. … We were getting ready to open up some shows for the [Rolling] Stones." His father's career intervened, however, and the elder Nugent's transfer landed the young guitarist in Chicago.
It wasn't long before Nugent put together a Chicago lineup that he christened the Amboy Dukes (another Amboy Dukes, who had their sole hit with a cover of John Fred and the Playboy Band's "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)," existed in Great Britain). After he graduated from high school in 1967, Nugent moved back to Detroit, bringing his bandmates with him. The group practiced hard rhythm-and-blues songs by such acts as the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Joe Tex, and Sam and Dave before landing a solid hit with a reworking of a Big Joe Williams blues song, "Baby Please Don't Go," which had been recorded by Van Morrison's band Them not long before. The single was a regional hit, loaded with ample guitars, a driving rhythm section, and powerful vocals from singer John Drake, a former band member of Nugent's early band the Lourds.
The Amboy Dukes—featuring Nugent, Drake, rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer, bass guitarist Bill White, keyboardist Rick Lober, and drummer Dave Palmer—were gaining in popularity when Nugent received his draft notice. He avoided enlistment, he told O'Brien, by refusing to bathe or shave for 30 days prior to his physical. "Two weeks before," he continued, "I stopped eating any food with nutritional value. I just had chips. Pepsi, beer—stuff I never touched … little jars of Polish sausages, and I'd drink the syrup. I was this side of death." In addition, he relieved his bowels and bladder in his clothing for a week prior to his exam. On the day of his physical, the man who would become rock music's most outspoken opponent of drug abuse nasally ingested crystal Methedrine. "I was so proud. I knew I had these chumps beat," he told O'Brien. "The last thing I remember was wakin' up in the ear test booth and they were sweepin' up. So I went home and cleaned up."
The Dukes signed with Detroit record label Mainstream in 1967 and released their debut album The Amboy Dukes, which featured "Baby Please Don't Go." The album was recorded in one night on a four-track recorder. After the album's release, White and Lober left the band and were replaced by bass player Greg Arama and keyboardist Andy Solomon. In 1968, guitarists Nugent and Farmer collaborated on the composition of the group's national hit single, "Journey to the Center of the Mind." The song dealt with mind expansion, presumably through psychotropic drugs—a conclusion supported by the album cover's artwork, which featured drug paraphernalia.
The trend was also apparent in songs like "Why Is a Carrot More Orange Than an Orange" and "The Inexhaustible Quest for the Cosmic Cabbage." The latter song, ten minutes in length, is notable for its inclusion of a portion of Hungarian classical composer Bela Bartók's Second String Quartet and a segment parodying the Beach Boys. Following the release of the album, Nugent fired vocalist Drake over creative differences, replacing him with 350-pound white soul singer Rusty Day.
After signing a two-album contract with Polydor Records, the Dukes recorded Marriage on the Rocks: Rock Bottom and Survival of the Fittest ; the latter album, drummer K.J. Knight recalled on his website, "sold 50,000 to 75,000 copies." The album was recorded over two nights in the Detroit-area Eastown Theater. In 1971, Day and Arama were fired for drug abuse, and Palmer departed to embark upon a career as a recording engineer. Day eventually died of an overdose, and Arama died in a motor vehicle accident.
For the Record . . .
Members include Greg Arama , bass; Rusty Day , vocals; John Drake , vocals; Steve Farmer , guitar; K.J. Knight , drums; Rick Lober , keyboards; Ted Nugent , guitar; Dave Palmer , drums; Andy Solomon , keyboards; Bill White , bass.
Ted Nugent formed first incarnation of band in Chicago, taking name from defunct Detroit band, 1965; Nugent returned to Detroit, recruited John Drake, Steve Farmer, Bill White, Rick Lober, and Dave Palmer for new version of Amboy Dukes, 1967; released debut album, The Amboy Dukes, featuring cover single "Baby Please Don't Go," 1967; White and Lober left band and were replaced by Greg Arama and Andy Solomon, 1968; notched Top 20 hit with title track from album Journey to the Center of the Mind, 1968; Drake replaced by Rusty Day, 1969; released albums Migrations and Marriage on the Rocks, 1969; released Survival of the Fittest, 1971; Day, Solomon, and Palmer departed; band changed name to Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, 1971; Nugent pursued solo career, finally retiring band name Amboy Dukes, 1975.
After these changes, the reconstituted group recorded two albums, Call of the Wild and Tooth, Fang, and Claw, for Frank Zappa's Discreet label in, respectively, 1974 and 1975. By this time, the group was billed as Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. Recognizing that he was covering the overhead for a group of musicians of whom only he had immediate name recognition, Nugent cut his losses and embarked on his highly successful solo career. The years salved some of the hard feelings between Nugent and his former cohorts, however, and members of various incarnations of the band, including Drake, Farmer, Arama, Andy Solomon, Lober, and Dave Palmer reunited at one of Nugent's fabled "Whiplash Bash" New Year's Eve concerts in Detroit to perform "Journey to the Center of the Mind."
The Amboy Dukes, Mainstream, 1967.
Journey to the Center of the Mind, Mainstream, 1968.
Migration, Repertoire, 1969.
Marriage on the Rocks: Rock Bottom, Polydor, 1970.
Survival of the Fittest, Polydor, 1971.
(As Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes) Call of the Wild, Discreet, 1974.
(As Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes) Tooth, Fang, and Claw, Discreet, 1975.
Journeys and Migrations (double reissue), Mainstream, 1975.
Dr. Slingshot (compilation), Mainstream, 1975.
Marsh, Dave, and John Swenson, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1980.
Buckley, Jonathon, Orla Duane, Mark Ellingham, and Al Spice, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 1999.
High Times, Summer 1977.
Phonograph Record, March 1974.
"Amboy Dukes," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 30, 2003).
"Amboy Dukes," Classic Bands, http://www.classicbands.com/amboy.html (January 16, 2004).
Nugent, Ted, touring act and album artist with bombastic, feedback- laden, high-decibel playing, blatantly sexist lyrics, and manic onstage antics; b. Detroit, Dec. 13, 1948. Scoring his first national hit with the psychedelic “Journey to the Center of the Mind” in 1968 as lead guitarist for the Amboy Dukes, Ted Nugent established the band in the American Midwest through years of heavy touring, despite numerous personnel changes. The Amboy Dukes continued to tour and record through 1974, but in 1975 Nugent went solo. Recording heavy-metal favorites such as “Stranglehold,” “Dog Eat Dog,” “Free-for-All,” “Death By Misadventure,” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” Nugent managed his only major hit with a live version of “Cat Scratch Fever” in 1977.
In 1989 Nugent formed Damn Yankees with bassistvocalist Jack Blades of Night Ranger (1984’s “Sister Christian”) and guitarist-vocalist Tommy Shaw of Styx. The group scored a smash hit with “High Enough” in 1990 and a major hit with “Where Are You Goin’ Now” in 1992. A rabid conservative, Nugent has spoken out in favor of bow-hunting and is a champion of the National Rifle Association, adding to his neanderthal image. By 1995 Nugent had returned to Atlantic for Spirit of the Wild, releasing independently a single from the record, “Fred Bear, The American Hunter’s Theme Song,” which sold more than 100,000 copies, primarily to Nugent’s fringe fans.
the amboy dukes:The Amboy Dukes (1968); Journey to the Center of the Mind (1968); Migration (1969); Best of the Original Amboy Dukes (1971). ted nugent and the amboy dukes:Survival ofthe Fittest/Live (1971); Call of the Wild (1974); Tooth, Fang and Claw (1974). ted nugent: T. N. (1975); Free-for-All (1976); T. N./Free-for-All (1986); Cat Scratch Fever (1977); Double Live Gonzo (1978); Weekend Warriors (1978); State of Shock (1979); Scream Dream (1980); Intensities in Ten Cities (1981); Great Gonzos! The Best of T. N. (1981); Out of Control (1993); Nugent (1982); Penetrator (1984); Little Miss Dangerous (1986); If You Can’t Lick ’Em...Lick’Em (1988); Spirit of the Wild (1995). damn yankees:Damn Yankees (1990); Don’t Tread (1992).
Robert Holland, The Legendary T. N. (London, 1982).