CAN YOU TAKE A RIBBING?
‘Motor City Madman' is a savvy survivor in a crazy business
By David Yonke - staff writer, 419-724-6154
THE BLADE (formerly known as The Toledo Times)
He may be the Motor City Madman, but he's about as crazy as a fox.
Ted Nugent is a savvy, sober, nearly 60-year-old survivor of the often savage and sometimes scurrilous music industry, and he's become almost as famous for firing arrows at animals as he is for fiery guitar riffs.
The multi-platinum-selling rocker and outdoors activist storms back to the Toledo area for a concert Friday night at The Andersons' Northwest Ohio Rib-Off with his 2008 Rolling Thunder tour.
On July 4, the Nuge celebrated his 6,000th career concert, a Cal Ripken-like figure that breaks down to a whopping 150 shows per year for 40 years.
What does Nugent credit for such staying power?
"Sheer animal willpower," he said in an interview by e-mail. "My bow-hunting lifestyle taught me incredible disciple growing up, and my parents insisted I always put my heart and soul into everything I do.
"Driven by the primal scream of Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and all those amazing black heroes forced me to really attack my music. I cannot be stopped," he said.
The two-pronged attack of music and bow hunting has been Nugent's primary M.O. since childhood.
Born in Detroit on Dec. 13, 1948, Nugent started hunting at age 5 and playing guitar at age 9.
He formed his first band, the Royal High Boys, when he was 12; opened concerts in Cobo Hall for the Supremes and the Beau Brummels when he was 14, and scored a Top 40 hit, "Journey to the Center of the Mind," with his band the Amboy Dukes when he was 19.
His career went wild in the mid-1970s after signing a solo deal with Epic Records and releasing a series of platinum-selling albums: "Ted Nugent" and "Free for All," both released in 1976, "Cat Scratch Fever" in 1977, "Double Live Gonzo!" in 1978, and "Weekend Warriors" in 1979.
At a time when many, if not most, rock and roll stars were abusing drugs and sometimes dying from the habit, Nugent has always been adamantly opposed to drug use and has fired scores of band members who indulged.
Sobriety has its benefits, as he said in an anti-drug message in Saginaw, Mich., in 1991: Jimi Hendrix "thought I was stupid, and I thought he was a god. Now he's dead and I'm still Ted."
It's also helped keep his mind sharp, he told The Blade when asked to name some memorable moments from his 6,000 concerts.
"Being clean and sober for almost 60 years now, plus the fact that I dearly cherish every musical moment of my life, I do indeed remember every concert I've ever performed, and believe me, there have been no bad ones. I play the same for two naked black trackers in Botswana as I do for 300,000 people at Cal Jam. The music owns me."
Nugent has sold more than 30 million albums in his career and has the highest-grossing concert tour for three straight years, 1977 to 1979.
In 1989, he formed the supergroup the Damn Yankees, with ex-Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw, ex-Night Ranger bassist Jack Blades, and drummer Michael Caretellone. That group sold 5 million albums before splitting up in 1993. Nugent's notable hit singles are usually based on a rattling guitar riff, including "Cat Scratch Fever," "Wango Tango," and "Yank Me, Crank Me."
He said he doesn't try to write songs in the way some rockers do, but lets the music come naturally.
"I've never really ‘worked' on my music or songwriting. Since I play my guitar throughout the year and am surrounded by the world's greatest musicians, like Mick Brown on drums and Greg Smith on bass on this '08 Rolling Thunder tour, new songs squirt out of me constantly.
"Every one of the hundreds of songs I've written over the years all came out of an impromptu jam session or a spontaneous guitar orgy. I love this stuff."
Asked to name his artistic influences and inspirations, Nugent said he has myriad musical heroes, spanning a range of eras and genres.
"I love 'em all," he said, listing Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Lonnie Mack, Keith Richards, Jimmy McCarty of Mitch Ryder, the three blues Kings - B.B., Albert, and Freddie - Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Sykes.
"I could go on and on. Overall, I would say that the music of the black masters like James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Booker T. all hit me the hardest. I crave soul and groove," he said.
He also craves the hunt.
He eats everything he kills, he said, and calls his lifestyle "a perfect harmonious ballet."
Nugent has proven himself to be a skilled woodsman.
In 1974, he won the U.S. National Squirrel-Shooting Archery Contest by hitting a squirrel from 150 yards.
He told The Blade he had just done some hunting the day of the interview.
"I zapped a woodchuck today that had been burrowing under my Michigan barn," he said. "In May, I arrowed a magnificent behemoth black bear in Alaska with my brother John. It was wonderful."
Nugent put his gift of gab to work as a radio talk-show host for more than 10 years, has written four books including Kill It & Grill It and the upcoming Nugent Manifesto, and is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
He said there would be no shortage of options if he were not a success in the music or hunting world.
"I literally have a whole bunch of diverse careers going on at once here, all of which I dearly love and am fulfilled by," he said. "I really enjoy writing, doing public and private speaking engagements, and I have also been a sheriff deputy for more than 30 years and conduct fugitive felony arrest raids."
He also said he may consider running for office.
"It is almost bad enough out there for me to run right now. I will consult with my campaign manager, Mrs. Nugent, and let you know ASAP," he said.
With such a busy life and wealth of activities, Nugent has a surprisingly simple way of measuring success: "In smiles and laughter," he said.
The Andersons' Northwest Ohio Rib-Off this week at the Lucas County Fairgrounds in Maumee will feature 10 ribbers from across the country, plenty of rock and roll and country music, and lots of good food.
The event starts Thursday and continues until Sunday, Aug. 10.
Ted Nugent will be in concert Friday, with The Blade Battle of the Bands winner the Chris Shutter Band as the opening act. Doors open at 6 p.m. and Nugent is scheduled to perform at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7. A special VIP Package for two, including preshow meeting and photo with Nugent, a VIP laminate, a hunting vest, and a PorkSlam Hunt entry, are $1,000 from www.tednugent.com.
All tickets are available by contacting the Stranahan Theater box office, any Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com, or by calling 419-474-1333.
Rib-Off hours are 3 to 10 p.m. Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.