Ted Nugent was born on December 13, 1948, in Detroit, MI. He was brought up in a typical American middle-class household, and began to teach himself guitar at the tender age of eight; a decision that was to have a profound effect on the rest of his life. Along with many others, he was motivated by those bands that constituted the first wave of the new rock'n'roll revolution, a revolution that exploded during the mid-50s and forced a whole new generation to reappraise youth culture.
Two years later, he tentatively formed the Royal Highboys; they played school halls and youth club gigs throughout 1960 and 1961, but attracted little critical acclaim. The following year he formed a new outfit, the Lourds, who quickly established a loyal local following after constant touring in and around Detroit. Incredibly, Nugent was still only fourteen years old when he and the band played Cobo Hall, opening for the Supremes and the Beau Brummels!
It was not surprising, then to find that at the end of 1964 the Lourds were offered a recording contract. Unfortunately, this fell through as Nugent was forced to leave the area, moving with his family to Hoffman Estates, a small surburban twon to the north-west of Chicago in 1965. This could have marked the end of a promising career.
Luckily, all was not lost for young Ted as his attendance at the local Catholic boys school resulted in his meeting vocalist Rusty Day (later of Cactus) and forming the infamous Amboy Dukes. After graduating from school he decided, inevitably, to leave the comforts of home and to go on the road with the band on a permanent basis. This was the beginning of an exhausting touring schedule spanning almost a decade, with the band playing an average of over 200 gigs per year.
Between 1965 and 1967, the personnel in the Amboy Dukes was in a constant state of flux as musicians were drafted in to meet Nugent's latest whim, then axed soon afterwards as he searched for alternatives. In 1967, Nugent moved back to Detroit and formed a starting new version of the Amboy Dukes, featuring John Drake (ex-Lourds) on lead vocals, Steve Farmer (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), Bill White (bass), Dave Palmer (drums) and Rick Lober on keyboards.
With initial few live shows attracting considerable attention, the band were immediately signed to Mainstream Records and found local success with their first single. This was a revival of Them's 1965 hit "Baby Please Don't Go", an extended workout that featured some explosive guitar pyrotechnics from Nugent complete with feedback, distortion, and note-bending.
In February 1967, the Dukes recorded their eponymously-titled debut album that peaked at #183 on the American album charts. The band at this point were assimilating diverse influences ranging from rock, rhythm and blues and jazz, journeying into a new-psychedelic metal extravaganza, dominated by Nugent's upfront and over-the-top guitar histrionics inspired predominantly by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.
The cuts on The Amboy Dukes capture the band's search for real direction and identity. Although only two band members contributed to the writing- Nugent and Farmer, both seperately and together- the maelstrom of musical ideas and styles often formed uncomfortable bedfellows. Nevertheless, Nugent's unique guitar style was beginning to develop and is clearly evident on most numbers.
In August 1968, a line-up now featuring bassist Gerg Arama and keyboardist Andy Solomon (replacing White and Lober respectively) released the single "Journey To The Centre Of The Mind". This was a smash hit and reached #16 in the national chart, a considerable acheivement for any rock band at this time. This is without doubt the Amboy Dukes' finest three and a half minutes, combining as it does a driving rock rhythm with fluid axework and jazz-like overtones, yet remaining inherently accessible and commercial.
The album of the same name quickly followed and reached a highest position of #74 on the American charts. Including the famed "Baby Please Don't Go", it previewed Nugent's later well-publicised fondness for hunting with "Loaded for Bear", while "Flight of the Byrd" referred to the semi-acoustic Gibson Byrdland guitar which was later to become his trademark. Again, the two guitarists monopolised the songwriting credits, both having a hand in the hit.
The Amboy Dukes developed into a powerful and potent musical force, with Nugent's input on the writing side beginning to dominate. Guitar solos within the songs were becoming more extended, and he improvised to such an extent on stage that the numbers often degenerated into overlong, self-indulgent jam sessions controlled by the mad axeman himself. As a live unit, they exhibited a unique and unpredictable chemistry which generated frenzied energy and an electrifying atmosphere.
The tracks on this compact disc represent a selection from The Amboy Dukes and Journey To The Centre Of The Mind, and provide a fascinating and revealing insight to the origins and influences that have shaped one of rock's most flamboyant and controversial figures. The title track, "On The Edge", has been plucked from Mainstream Records' vault and has never before been released- a real treat for Nugent fans everywhere.
Sit back and re-live the naive intensity and excitement of Ted Nugent in full flight during his formative years!
- Ian Kenyon, Hi-Fi News and Record Review