By Pete Castelli
Since the passing of the great Les Paul in 2009, the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City continues to honor his legacy with "Les Paul Mondays" where various guest guitarists are invited to perform with the late songwriter/inventor's band The Les Paul Trio. Well, when I learned that Ted Nugent was scheduled to appear with the backup players for two sets of music, I knew we were in store for a very special evening.
As many of us know, Ted Nugent plays many roles (environmentalist, wildlife conservationist, NRA member, political activist, etc.) in his daily life, so many roles, in fact, some people seem to forget one of his most important traits. Ted can play guitar, and damn well at that. He has as much passion for the instrument (or "ultimate weapon of mass construction" as he calls it) as he does for all the other said job titles. This was completely evident on May 16, 2011, when The Nuge brought some Motor City Mayhem to The Big Apple by paying homage to the man who perfected the development of the solid-body electric guitar in the 1940s.
When Ted hit the stage with Les' former bandmates (guitarist Lou Pallo, keyboardist John Colianni, and substitute bass player Neil Jason), he kicked off the first set of the night with a blistering rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." Being that the musicians were sans drums (and let's face it, a Ted Nugent show without drums is like an Oreo without the white stuff), Ted called on Anton Fig (David Letterman band) to sit in. The group was then re-dubbed "The Nigerian Rebels" for the evening (courtesy of Uncle Ted, of course).
Things then moved into high gear with a rockin' version of the 1946 Bobby Troup classic "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," a song whose guitar riff has become the blueprint for many artists' (i.e. AC/DC to ZZ Top) material throughout the years. Ted demonstrated this by simply taking the riff and "turning it upside down" and presto! You get "Stormtroopin' " from Ted's 1975 eponymous debut album. Rock and roll: The most derivative art form indeed!
And the vintage cover tunes did not stop there. The night included nods of acknowledgment to other guitar greats as well. Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" were both done with equal enthusiasm and kept the crowd on the edge of their seats.
While not the typical Nugent gig, Ted's sharp wit remained intact. "New York City deserves me" he said with a contented grin. "If you're not having fun with me, you're weird!" Well, I think it's safe to say the audience was anything but weird.
The second set of the evening brought us another lesson in "Guitar Riff 101" (by the esteemed Professor Nugent) with a performance of the Bill Doggett/Billy Butler 1956 nugget "Honky Tonk." Like the aforementioned "Route 66," "Honky Tonk" is the foundation for all great rock and roll music as well. While the strains of the tune can be heard in many classic songs by Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones (among countless others), the "ultimate demolition" (and I mean that in the most complimentary way) of the standard has to be when it spawned "Cat Scratch Fever." The room erupted with approval.
Another surprise came when Ted invited legendary drummer Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, etc.) to join in during "Stranglehold" (perhaps the greatest song ever written? You're damn right it is!). Les' ol' stomping ground never rocked like this!
After a night of great music and an audience filled with smiling faces, there was little doubt that somewhere, some place, Les Paul was smiling as well. The man would be proud. Ted and the band paid tribute to his legacy with the highest respect. We were also ready to answer that lingering question: Does New York City deserve Ted Nugent? You can bet your ass we do! We deserve the best.