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Ballisticrock: Gnarly Charlie's Conversation with TED NUGENT

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 @ 6:53 PM

"I'm more of a ten year old in the garage with his first loud amp than any ten year old in the garage with his first loud amp."

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For years TED NUGENT has held a place as one of rock's greatest guitarists. With a career that spans over 50 years, millions in album sales, and innumerable performances all over the world, Young Ted is still a maniacal showman, though he hasn't donned the loincloth getup for some time.

Original singer Derek St. Holmes, the voice featured in some of Nugent's most popular songs, is now a solid fixture in the TED NUGENT band. Complete with bruising rhythm section bassist Greg Smith and drummer "Wild" Mick Brown, Nugent is jamming with some of the best musicians in the business.

On October 22nd, the aptly-titled two CD+DVD package, Ultralive Ballisticrock, will be released. It captures a 2011 performance of the TED NUGENT band at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

KNAC.COM checked in with Nugent. Here's what he had to say:

KNAC.COM: Hi Ted. How are you?

NUGENT: I'm doing grand. Yourself?

KNAC.COM: I'm doing great, thanks.

NUGENT: Good. Maybe I can help you out there. My effervescence runneth over. I'm sure it will transfer over to you.

KNAC.COM: I love your effervescence. We go back all the way back to 1977 in Phoenix. NAZARETH opened the show for you. Cat Scratch Fever tour. You were dynamic that night, man.

NUGENT: Yeah, story of my life. Wait till you see me tonight. God help us all.

KNAC.COM: Where are you playing tonight?

NUGENT: We're in Tucson tonight.

KNAC.COM: I missed your recent L.A. appearance at the Canyon Club.

NUGENT: Oh God, did you miss it, Charlie. I'm shocked. We re-arranged psyches and skeletons.

KNAC.COM: I just saw your soon to be released Ultralive Ballisticrock, DVD.

NUGENT: Good, man. We have a great team. I got a great band. I'm a lucky, lucky guitar player.

KNAC.COM: You got Derek back.

NUGENT: How cool, huh?

KNAC.COM: He's one of my favorite singers.

NUGENT: Absolutely. One of the best ever, man. I'm surrounded by the best. You know, I've been lucky since the 1950s. My band way back then--my God--they were just kids, but they were so ahead of the curve, they were so die hard. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley addicts that the spirit overwhelmed everything and they really jetted us forward. I was the worst musician in the gang until the '60s.

KNAC.COM: Were you really?

NUGENT: Oh yeah. Everybody towered over me. I was just a kid. THE LOURDS won the Battle of the Bands in Michigan in 1963 and our prize was to open up for THE SUPREMES and the BEAU BRUMMELS, and I was basically just bastardizing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and THE VENTURES guitar licks. But we had a lot of energy, and the guys in the band Tom Noel on drums, Pete Primm on bass, and John Drake on vocals, who ended up being in THE AMBOY DUKES many years later--they were just so dedicated to the black heroes, that they had way more soul than and spirit than most musicians. They were way ahead of the curve, so I've been spoiled since the beginning.

KNAC.COM: Your progression from the Journey to the Center of Your Mind days with THE AMBOY DUKES up to present day has been impressive, obviously. You've had a long and successful career, and you seem to have as much vitality on that stage as ever.

NUGENT: You know, Charlie, if the 25 year old TED NUGENT showed up today, I'd kick his ass (laughs). When I say lucky, I mean we don't have time--we're not going to live long enough to discuss all the ways I'm lucky. But certainly my health and my energy and my spirit and my attitude. And that's a direct result of the guys I surround myself with. If you met my wife and my kids and my brothers, my sister, my Ted Nugent Spirit of the Wild team, Linda, my management, I mean, the crew, everybody around me is just gung-ho, ass-kicking, American Dream, slammers that really put their heart and soul into everything. And I learned to do that early on. If I was going to get a neighbor to help me paint the fence, I'm not going to get a neighbor that doesn't know how to paint fences or doesn't try. So I learned that when I was just a kid and my dad forced me to be the best that I could be, so that's the kind of screening process I've always had. And here today with Mick and Greg and Derek and this crew and this entire team is a perfect example of my modus operandi, certainly, for the last 15 years. It's a direct result of caring. You gotta really care about your craft and your quality of life and that everybody around you really cares.

KNAC.COM: I read your book The Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto a few years ago, and was amazed to read what the typical day in the life of Uncle Ted is like. You're a busy man.

NUGENT: My effervescence and hence my genuflecting is a gift from God. I mean, the health factor. I've said goodbye to at least three guys this week who died prematurely. One was only 38, a great warrior of the Gulf War in Afghanistan, and just a kid that we connected with, who couldn't do anything because he had, what we believe, is a direct result of the shots they give to troops to fight off the chemical warfare. He got a Lou Gehrig's Disease manifestation, a result thereof. A young kid, Dustin Rhodes. And we heard that he was a huge fan of the music. He was in a veterans home in Pennsylvania. About six years ago--and, of course, I always reach out to--and again, hence the effervescence. If you hang out with warriors, how can you not glow? You know what I mean? On all levels. So I say goodbye to these guys and it's so heartbreaking, but it's also fortifying. How dare you poison your body. How dare somebody smoke dope and get drunk when they've already got their health and Dustin's gone? Dustin didn't do anything wrong. He's dead. Why would you do something wrong when you have your health? It just boggles the mind, so hence my politics, hence my holy pulpit soap-boxing, and hence the phenomenal drive of my music. I mean, all this passion for what's good and what's right goes right into every guitar lick. And when you're throttled by Mick, Derrick, and Greg--and again, you can examine all my bands--every band I ever had--they're just monsters. Name the greatest drummers that ever walked the earth. Tommy Aldridge, Tommy Clufetos, Mick Brown, certainly Cliff Davies, Carmine Appice. These are my drummers. Those are just my drummers. You gotta be kidding me! These are the best drummers. They're not Bonham or Gene Krupa, but I had John Bonham's inspiration as my drummer, you know, Carmine Appice. So these are the kind of virtuosos that when you...like tonight; I got to tell you. It's like my first piece of ass tonight. I can't wait to get onstage with these guys and see what the hell they're going to do to "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang". And I've played that song ten million times. I can't wait to play it to the people. Their eyes bug out. All you see is teeth and clenched fists. People have the time of their life, and it's because we all love my music. What a spoiled brat I am.

KNAC.COM: You've got it going on, man.

NUGENT: Yeah, really lucky. You know? Already today, I'm packing bags. My wife and I, we wrap up our tour--without question, the greatest, most gratifying, fun, intense, musical jihad of my life--in 2013 at the age of 65. I'm packing my wife's bow and arrows and our video cameras and the day we get done, September 2nd, we'll be in a tree stand in New Mexico, trying to ambush an elk. I don't know how much more perfect this can get.

KNAC.COM: Autumn is such a good time of year to do that.

NUGENT: Go from Heaven to the suburb of Heaven (laughs).

KNAC.COM: I heard God has a post office box up there where you and you're wife are going.

NUGENT: I got a direct line.

KNAC.COM: In terms of your guitar playing, do you think your chops are more polished today than they were before?

NUGENT: There's no question I'm the best guitar player I've ever been. That being said, I believe that there's equal power in those developing years when you're stumbling and fumbling. I give you the guitar solo of the "Journey to the Center of Your Mind". I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I was beating on strings and I found the note, and Paul Shaffer said to me not long ago, "Ted, the opening guitar solo in "Journey to the Center of Your Mind", is the greatest musical note in the history of the world, because it's not a note. It's a semi-flatted tone of this guitar string that Freddie King would be offended by." That's all he does is bend guitar strings. As I was stumbling, I go into a dangerous area, that maybe the signs say, Don't Go There. You'll Get Hurt, and I go, "Yeah, fuck you. I'm going in here." And I did, and then the guitar solo takes the next monumental moment in the guitar world of life, this solo, and "Stranglehold"? I never played those licks prior to playing them. I went in and said I'm going to play the rhythm track with you, like we do it onstage, --but then I'm going to play a lead and I'm going to do some ups and downs, so go up and down with me. When I swell, swell. When I get down, be down. But let's really listen to each other." And I played that guitar solo on my rhythm track, take one, and I give you magic.


NUGENT: You bet, wow. It was a wow moment that the band and everybody's still going, "Wow. I never heard those notes before." And if you absolutely examine those notes--somebody who knows, like Steve Vai or somebody, have them examine those notes and explain how they happened and how wrong so many of them are in the status quo world of music. And I just couldn't be more proud of that shit and I do that stuff every night, good God almighty. I go where you're not supposed to go and that's my favorite place to go.

KNAC.COM: Do you draw inspiration from the technical players?

NUGENT: All of the above. From the grunting noisemakers like Freddie King to the musical ballerinas and gymnastic monsters like Eddie (Van Halen) and certainly Steve Vai and Satriani. And then there's a guy that combines the two of them: Joe Bonamassa. He can get as nasty and snotty as almost anybody but me, and he can also out-chop Bartok and Beethoven. So there's unlimited inspiration out there. But I gotta tell ya, nobody's ever really nailed it accurately in interviewing me. The real inspiration comes from the name of my TV show, Spirit of the Wild. I was up this morning running the track with the dogs. It's cleansing of the soul that the fortifying, healing powers of nature--just trying to circle a tree, so my dogs can get a whiff of a squirrel (laughs). It calls on a whole different set of senses and awareness levels. And then consoling my daughter who had kept in touch with Dustin Rhodes in the last six years since we took him on his last hunting trip in life. She kept him happy and consoled him, and when she found out he died last night, she absolutely lost it. And as a guy who loved Dustin and loves my daughter, I was so moved by how she would connect with a dying young man like that, and not be told to do it. She just did it. You got to be kidding me. My life is...I'm Lewis and Clark. It's really magic. Magic emotional powers and spiritual fortification. I would love to hear what Steve Vai would have to say about my guitar licks, but I think we would both nod and grin, because it doesn't really matter. You know, scrutiny and analysis is an exercise in cuteness, at best, unless you're seeking the cure for something that ails people or creatures. But ultimately, you've got to be stream of conscious and primal scream unleashed. I'm 65. I'm more of a ten year old in the garage with his first loud amp than any ten year old in the garage with his first loud amp. I'm going to do my six thousand-five hundredth concert tonight (laughs). It's insane.

KNAC.COM: It's got to be a soul-moving thing. It's not really about who lays down the best licks. How does it move people, you know?

NUGENT: Which is why I'm still on tour. We're being moved, yes. Very exciting. That's where it all comes from, is looking in those people's eyes. The deep, spiritual grin that they ricochet back at me. It's just inebriating. It's how I get high.

KNAC.COM: It sounds inebriating. And you're 65 years clean and sober, right?

NUGENT: Bingo.

KNAC.COM: I've heard the quote: "Jimi got high and Jimi is dead. I went hunting and I'm still Ted."

NUGENT: Bingo, baby.

KNAC.COM: Too many of you guys in the music world leave too early because of drink and drug.

NUGENT: You know, I told Jimi he was going to die. I looked right into his eyes and I told him. I told Bon Scott he was going to die. I told John Belushi he was going to die. I told Keith Moon he was going to die. I told John Entwistle he was going to die. I told the guitar player--I can't even think of his name anymore. The blond haired guy in DEF LEPPARD.

KNAC.COM: Steve Clark.

NUGENT: Yeah. So many guys. What the fuck are you doing? What is this? So puking is part of your idea of a party? Really? Puking is a warning sign that if you do too much you're going to die, asshole. At some point you gotta look at puke as the stinky thing that it is and avoid it at all costs.

KNAC.COM: It's not too glamorous, really. Especially when you choke on it.

NUGENT: Not too much of a party. A lot of people go, "Oh, Nugent doesn't party." Oh, baby, I party. But not with poisons or men (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You party on a higher level. I know what you mean about nature. I can appreciate that vibe.

NUGENT: Good. Then you are one of the rare media people that understands when I talk about the healing powers of nature. Most people don't have the faintest idea of what I'm talking about. But by you identifying, you've been in the belly of the spirit world. You do know what I'm talking about. Good for you, man.

KNAC.COM: I talked to Marco Mendoza at one of his acoustic shows a while back and asked him about your hunting trips together.

NUGENT: He's a great man. He's another example of the virtuoso caliber that I've always been blessed with. The guy's not of this species. Marco Mendoza's a different species, he's so good.

KNAC.COM: He is a great man.

NUGENT: Did his eyes bug out when he talked about hunting with us?

KNAC.COM: He had quite a grin, yes.

NUGENT: Yeah. He's my blood brother, man.

KNAC.COM: We're all young men in spirit.

NUGENT: Bingo.

KNAC.COM: You're still on fire after all these years.

NUGENT: Yeah. Lucky me, man.

KNAC.COM: Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's dream speech. In 1968, you and a host of other musicians, including Buddy Guy, honored him with a musical tribute. What do you think of Dr. King's vision today?

NUGENT: A great man's dream has turned into a nightmare, because the very guidelines and bullet points of his dream have not only been abandoned, they've been reversed. And it breaks my heart, because without the black musical heroes you and I wouldn't be on the phone right now. Our quality of life would be sorely diminished. The enrichment that has been provided by these soulful martyrs has inspired everybody from The Stones, THE BEATLES, THE YARDBIRDS, THE WHO, and Zeppelin. Everybody up to Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake.

KNAC.COM: And Pat Boone.

NUGENT: Yeah. Everybody (laughs). So, I have such a reference for the black spirit, and to see the statistics of 75 percent of the kids born to unwed mothers...I mean, I can't squawk too loud about that because I've been guilty of that as well. But 75 percent? And 98 percent of black deaths are caused by other blacks? It's inbred, cannibalistic, suicide, genocide. Good lord! What a tragedy. So my heart is broken because his dream has been destroyed by his own people. And all because of simple choices. Tragic choices. So I'm sorry to report it. It hurts me deeply. Not many things hurt more than what I'm saying right now. Race relations in America are the worst I've ever seen since in 65 years. Do you realize that blacks will kill more blacks this week in America than The Klan has in the last 50 years? That's like Jews killing each other in Nuremberg in 1938. I mean, good lord.

KNAC.COM: It's mind-blowing.

NUGENT: It's mind-blowing. Your and my brain doesn't know what to do with this information. We want to reject it but tragically the data is inescapable. But why? How? Who? What is the mindset of a couple of kids--regardless of color--going out and deciding to shoot somebody because they're bored? Or shooting somebody over turf, or shooting into a house where children are sleeping? I don't know what to do with this information. My brain rejects it. Heartbreaking. I pray for my black friends every day. Here's the real tragedy: they're not going to listen to you and me. But they would listen to the President if he said the right thing. Instead of encouraging this kind of conduct--his encouragement manifests itself when you identify a dope-smoking, burglar kid being thrown out of a school or being thrown out of his own house, who attempted to murder a neighborhood watch guy, and the President says, "That could have been me."? So you're legitimizing all this nasty, evil, rotten, criminal behavior by saying that the President is like this? Oh my God! Oh my God! He's the answer. Instead of being the solution, he's the problem. The black community would listen to him if he said, "We have to work. You have to get an alarm clock. You have to got to school. You have to learn to speak properly. You have to learn to conduct yourself politely and respectfully. You have to take good care of yourself and don't poison your sacred temple. You need to be the best you can be. You can't pass the Help Wanted sign ever again. You must stop at the first one you see and do such a good job that you get a raise within a week or so, which, will happen. If you kick ass." I'm living proof of that.

KNAC.COM: That transcends color.

NUGENT: Of course. It's advice for mankind. The black community needs it more than ever. And they've got the President. But he won't say a damn thing that I just said. He won't give them any positive, heart and soul critique. I just don't get it.

KNAC.COM: You wrote in The Ted, White, and Blue that if it were up to you--when it came to addressing the obesity problem with American children--you would penalize their parents and hit them with a fine.

NUGENT: What kind of parent watches blubber develop on their beloved child? We're talking blubber. We're talking slabs of blubber. How long do you watch that without becoming concerned and reversing the causation? At the Nugent house it ain't gonna happen. "Hey, what's that? What do you got going on in the belly there?" You see, I got real bad knees, so the last year I've put on twenty-something pounds. Mrs. Nugent makes sure she says, "What do you got going there, cowboy?" (laughs)

KNAC.COM: She busts your balls on that.

NUGENT: Fuckin' right. And it's not that I'm obese, or even heavy, but I'm getting a little soft because I can't move around. My mobility rate has been reduced 90 percent, Charlie, because of my bad legs. I'm used to being just a cannonball, running around like an idiot. Now I'll grab the four-wheeler, instead of walking a hundred yards, I'll drive a hundred yards, because my knees hurt so bad. So I have to alter my diet a little bit and I have to get on this exercise machine and make sure I don't get too soft. But it's about attentiveness and what I said a little while ago: caring. Everybody around me really cares. Obviously in that world of obesity and criminal behavior--obviously no one cares.

KNAC.COM: What does it take for us to get off our dead asses?

NUGENT: I think the Dustin Rhodes's of the world are great motivators, because at 38 he's gone. He wanted to go hunting this year. He ain't going. He's never going hunting ever again. You want to go hunting again? You want to laugh at the Thanksgiving dinner table with your loved ones? Take good care of yourself. No poisons. Ask Mr. Hand what he's bringing to Mr. Mouth. Is it beneficial to the sacred temple, or is it not? If it's not, don't put it in the shopping cart. Wow. What an incredibly brilliant idea I just came up with (laughs). You gotta be kidding me. Just don't put bullshit in your shopping cart. Don't allow it in the house. Hello? I mean, come on. We're not talking rocket science here. It's not a mystery. It's about caring. Gotta surround yourself with people who care. That's where I've been really lucky. If you want to have the time of your life, Charlie, go Google Shemane Nugent Zumba. She's the goddess of this new dance exercise craze called Zumba. And you should see my wife.

KNAC.COM: You're wife is a babe, dude.

NUGENT: Oh my God. Are you kidding me? She's mine. I can have her right now (laughs).

KNAC.COM: God bless you.

NUGENT: Yes, he does! He's an animal.

KNAC.COM: You refer to your band as the Nigerian Rebels.

NUGENT: Yes. Not a white guy in the group (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Not soul-wise, no.

NUGENT: They play like soul brothers. I got to jam with the Funk Brothers when we opened up for The Supremes in '63--not really jam with them, but I was right there. And I've played with everybody from B.B. King to, you know, Buddy Miles. So I know all about the grunt and the grind of the black dogs. We put our fists together every night before every concert, Charlie, and we push and we go, "Motown. Funk Brothers." And we make sure we don't play like Caucasians when we get up there.

KNAC.COM: That's your before show prayer, man.

NUGENT: Absolutely. If you're not tight and grindin', what good are you?

KNAC.COM: "Just What the Doctor Ordered" on the DVD is fucking amazing.

NUGENT: Killer.

KNAC.COM: Derek's voice is...

NUGENT: Better than ever. My guys are killers. Every night is just a throttle. Our worst concert, Charlie, is a motherfucker (laughs). Our best concert is frightening.

KNAC.COM: The best show for you and the band is the one you haven't played yet.

NUGENT: I think so. We aspire. We reach new heights constantly. And obviously, we're a victim to some degree of acoustics and the overall sound and the ricochet-factor onstage. If it's really a big, bright, throttling heavy sound, you play better. Not that we don't play phenomenal anyway. But again, even with the worst conditions, it's so tight, it's so dynamic and intense, we just never have anything that would qualify for anything except a phenomenal night. Every night is a phenomenal night.

KNAC.COM: Any new music in the works?

NUGENT: Lots. We got lots of new killer songs. We'll go in the studio next February and March.

KNAC.COM: Aside from music itself, what do you draw inspiration from? The outdoors?

NUGENT: I always have, yeah. I spend so much time doing charity work with children and the military, that the courage and the fortifying authority that these little, terminally ill kids and these legless Marines have. I mean, bad hair day, fuck you. You know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: Yes. We're so fortunate.

NUGENT: The courage that these sick kids and wounded military heroes exude is so...it's definitive. I can't think of anything more inspiring.

KNAC.COM: Why don't we take better care of our veterans?

NUGENT: Because we've become--not just dumbed-down--we've become soulless sheep, who are completely mis-prioritized. And heartbreakingly, Barack Obama and his gun-running Attorney General and a Secretary of State that refuses to provide security when it's needed for Americans in the most dangerous areas of the world on the anniversary of 9/11, is an indicator that our priorities are askew. So that's why I'm such a political activist, to try to get these nasty, anti-decency people out of office, and I work very hard at it.

KNAC.COM: As outspoken as you are, you're a guitar player to me, man.

NUGENT: Hallelujah. That's all you need, Charlie.

KNAC.COM: That's all I need today, Ted.

NUGENT: Well listen, it's been fun talking to you, man. Especially about the things I love. Godspeed, man. Live it up and have a great, great Fall.

KNAC.COM: I sure will. You too. Talk to you later.

NUGENT: Alright, man. Thanks much.


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