An interview with Ted Nugent isn't a conversation. It is more like mud wrestling over the phone. It's aggressive. It's ludicrous. It's slippery. It's frustrating and filthy and, ultimately, it's a little fun. Somewhere among the furious diatribes against the president and "the America-hating left" (and every other thing that he doesn't like) and his Rush Limbaugh-like self-aggrandizing, there is a conversation about music and an admission:
"I am the master of improvising, adapting and overcoming. And if you aren't having fun with me, you need your head examined. And if you can't tell the difference between me making stuff up for a Sam Kinison variation of reality then we shoudn't be having this interview. Typically my interview is going to be about my music. You don't think I don't want to talk about my music do you? I love my music. I'll talk to anybody anywhere any time under any condition about my music or about what I believe in — especially in a culture war where the things I believe in and our self-evident truth providing the greatest quality of life in the history of mankind are being attacked by Mao Zedong fans. So I'm always going to take advantage of any bully pulpit."
For those of us who began listening to Nugent in the early 1970s, the first thing that comes to mind when his name comes up is probably something to do with music or electric guitar. For anyone who became familiar with Nugent after the 1970s, his name probably brings up something to do with politics or maybe hunting.
Ted would disagree. Well, sort of.
"No, I don't think my music has ever taken a backseat to my politics, but maybe better yet, it's the soundtrack to my politics," says Nugent.
Nugent is one of the legends of the Detroit rock scene. His first hit, "Journey to the Center of the Mind" (1968) with his band the Amboy Dukes, was, ironically, one of the great psychedelic drug hits. Nugent, who is vehemently anti-drug-use, did not write the lyrics.
Of the 1960s Detroit scene, Nugent says he gives, "the only accurate description because I'm the only one who remembers that!"
Nugent went solo in the 1970s and, in 1977, hit it big with the sexually charged hit "Cat Scratch Fever," which remains a staple on classic rock radio. His sense of theater became ever-greater and he began performing in loincloths and shooting flaming arrows into a guitar.
He also has become an ever-more vocal proponent of hunting rights (sometimes running afoul of hunting laws) and right-wing politics. He's also hosted the hunting show "Spirit of the Wild," which takes its name from his 1995 album.
Nugent credits his guitar choice, the Gibson Byrdland, for giving him his musical sound.
"The Byrdland was created by Billy Byrd and Hank Garland as a jazz instrument because of its tonal voice. It has a certain timbre based on the spruce hand-carved arch-top. That's what you hear in 'Stranglehold,' but not as they envisioned it. I beat the living (expletive) out of it forever and experimented and found different noises that I'm sure makes Byrd and Garland cringe ... And because the Byrdland has such a low threshold for feeding back at the volumes I play, it's capable of noises not of this Earth ... When you pick up the Byrdland at that volume it owns you."
He thinks Byrd and Garland might actually appreciate what he's been able to draw out of the instrument they designed.
Nugent says he's been able to mature without losing that "booger-nosed, greasy garage band kid."
What he has lost is some of his hearing, which he credits to Fender stack amplifiers ("delirious glass-meets-chrome sonic bombast") and not wearing hearing protection while playing with firearms.
"Back in the old days all of us old guys were too stupid to wear hearing protection during hunting and shooting adventures. That combined with the sonic assault of my wonderful soul-cleansing rhythm and blues music has taken its toll. It's a small price to pay for the absolute deep soul-cleansing gratification that I have offered the unsuspecting civilian public not to mention my own musical cravings, so I will carry on anyway."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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