More than 20 years later, Ted Nugent still likes to reflect back on what his critics were saying as he put his, the Amboy Dukes, to rest and started the next phase of his career one that would be under his own direction and, most importantly, under his own name.
"I remember some of the more creative writers of the ilk claimed it would be the final nail in my coffin — quote, unquote," Nugent says with a redemptive laugh. "I knew better."
Indeed he did.
With the release of Ted Nugent in 1975, the self-proclaimed Motor City Madman and god of gonzo guitar became not just a star but one of rock 'n' roll's icons. He sold millions of albums. Rock radio just couldn't play enough of him — and neither could promoters, who made him the hardest-working and top-grossing gunslinger of the mid- and late-'70s, equaled for excitement only by mighty peers such as Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. For t-shirted kids who worked hard all day and wanted their rock 'n' roll to blow their hair back and pound their eardrums through their skulls, Nugent was, as the song says, "Just What The Doctor Ordered".
It’s not hard to figure out why when you listen to Ted Nugent or any of the subsequent releases from the prime of his career. The photo on the cover tells the story; while most other rockers posed with their sleek Stratocasters and Les Pauls, there was Nugent, whipping his mane around his head as he cranked out sound on his big Gibson Birdland, a hog of a guitar with thick and creamy tones — clearly not something to be trusted to amateurs. But in Nugent’s hands it screamed, squealed and cried, providing a vivid 3D voice for the monster crunch of “Stranglehold,” the menacing stomp of “Stormtroopin’” and the fiery boogie of “Hey Baby”, “Motor City Madhouse” and “Snakeskin Cowboys”.
“The Birdland has so much tone that it overpowers a lot of amplifiers,” Nugent says. “If you just take a single sound, it would be a dirty, nasty sounding guitar. Ultimately, I really owe a lot of that to (co-producer) Tom Werman. He had heard my other recordings (with Amboy Dukes) and said, ‘This doesn’t even sound like your guitar.’ He really believed in the Birdland guitar and got the sound we need for it.”
The road to his first solo effort, Ted Nugent, began before Werman saw Nugent and his band play at the International Institute of Technology during late 1974. It actually started a bit before that, when Nugent broke up the Amboy Dukes and took a short break —his first one ever — from music to reacquaint himself with hunting, which his father had introduced him to years before.
“It was like a spiritual re-awakening for me to escape the bombast and seek the spirit in the mountains and the swamps and the rivers,” he says. “It was almost like a return to the mountain to meet the holy man. I come down and had this confidence.”
He assembled a new band, with former Amboy Duke Rob De Lagrange on bass, Cliff Davies on drums, and Derek St. Holmes from a local band called Scott — which had opened up for the Amboy Dukes around Michigan — on vocals and guitar. Mutual friends had been trying to hook Nugent and St. Holmes up for years; St. Holmes — who once walked out on an early Amboy Dukes performance when he was in high school — was literally about to unplug his phone from the wall and leave for California when it rang with the summons for him to come and audition.
“Everything clicked,” St. Holmes remembers. “We stopped after about 20 minutes, Ted looked at me and said ‘Well, how many Marshalls do you want?’ “
It had the tightness of a band, but its name reflected the real identity of its driving force — the long-haired, leather loin-clothed rock ‘n’ roll animal who was shedding his constrictions and revealing a shockingly intense, animalistic abandon that was both theatrical and wholly natural. “I just said ‘We’re pounding out my vision here — not only in what I say and how I conduct myself, but in the kind of cockiness of the music,” Nugent says. “So that’s what we should call it — Ted Nugent.”
The quartet hit the road immediately and quickly became an explosive performing unit. And a productive one, too; songs that would end up on Ted Nugent began surfacing, including “Stranglehold,” “Stormtroopin’”, “Motor City Madhouse”, “Queen Of The Forest” and St. Holmes’ “Hey Baby”. But the labels weren't biting, and it took Werman and partner Lew Futterman to lay a little muscle on Epic to get the band a recording contract.
The group, Werman and Futterman convened at the Sound Pit in Atlanta to try to translate the power and energy of the live shows into an album — although the sessions were often interrupted by road work, the group’s bread and butter. “If we had two or three days off, we’d go straight into the studio,” St. Holmes remembers. “No matter where we were, we’d go back to Atlanta, record some more, then go back on the road.”
Besides music, the sessions were marked by baseball and basketball games in a courtyard outside the Sound Pit, and Nugent brought his bow and arrows along so he could shoot arrows in the parking lot. But those were momentary diversions from the arduous work that was going on in the studio.
“At that point, I just wanted a great representation of the grinding, grunting music I was creating,” Nugent says. If it had not been for Tom and Lew, I probably would have settled for whatever quality I could have captured, without fighting for it. I remember for the first time watching people stick their ears in the speakers, dialing tones into the amplifiers — much more attention than I’d ever witnessed in the studio before. It was really revealing as to how much everybody cared.”
It paid off. With radio playing the hell out of the eight-and-a-half minute opus “Stranglehold” and the “Hey Baby”, Ted Nugent vaulted into the Billboard Top 30, quickly went gold and eventually sold more than two million copies. The big bands called for Nugent & Co. to open their shows; they appreciated the help selling tickets, but they rued having to follow them — you can sample the reasons why on the bonus live versions of “Stormtroopin’”, “Motor City Madhouse”, “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and an outtake of “Magic Party” included on this expanded edition of Ted Nugent.
“We didn’t leave ‘em a lot by the time we finished,” St. Holmes notes with palpable satisfaction, and the live tracks on this expanded edition more than validates the claim.
Ted Nugent was, of course, a beginning, the start of a roll that picked up momentum with his subsequent releases Free-For-All and Cat Scratch Fever. But today it still sounds as peerlessly exuberant as it did during early 1976, when the rock scene did a communal gape as its magnum force attack. “If anyone wanted to know what rock ‘n’ roll was all about, that’s the only album they’d need,” Nugent likes to say. Go ahead and tell him he’s wrong. Then duck. -Gary Graff
© 1999 Sony Music Entertainment Inc./(P)1975, **1993, *1999 Sony Music Entertainment Inc./Manufactured by Epic, A Division of Sony Music/550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022-3211/”Epic,” “Legacy” and L Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Marca Registrada.
Ted Nugent: Guitars, vocals, percussion
Derek St. Holmes: Rhythm guitar, vocals
Rob Grange: Bass
Cliff Davies: Drums, vibe, vocals
Produced by Lou Futterman and Tom Werman
A Next City Production
All selections written and arranged by Ted Nugent, except “Hey Baby,” Written and Arranged by Derek St. Holmes.
Road sound crew: John Nugent and Floyd Black
Booking agency: DMA, Detroit Michigan
Thanks to Steve McRay for keyboards and Brian Staffield and Tom Werman for percussion.
Thanks to Tony Reale and Cliff Davies for creative input way above and beyond the call of duty.
Ted’s special thanks to the Gang at Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom.
Produced for Reissue by Brian Dickinson
Mastered by Vic Anesini at Sony Music Studios, New York
Project Director: Stephen Moore
A&R Coordination: Patti Matheny & Darren Salmieri
Reissue Art Direction: Howard Fritzson
Design: Smay Vision
Photo credits: Front and back cover by Al Clayton (from original LP); page 2 © Elaine Bryant/LFI; page 7 © Ron Pownall/Starfile; booklet back cover & CD tray © Rob Alford
Packaging Manager: Aaron Rosenbaum
Special Thanks to Ted Nugent, Doug Banker and all at Madhouse Management.
The live bonus track material is in rough mix form as it was done shortly after the original concert. We felt that these spirited performances were so strong that they more than overcame any technical imperfections. The recordings we’ve also included reveal a truly great rock ‘n’ roll band at the height of its gonzoness. Feel the power!
1990 - CD / Epic
2000 - CD / Sony
2001 - Spitfire