Are you able to separate a musician from her or his political views? I have no problem doing so. Otherwise I would have missed seeing and hearing one of the guitar gods of my generation – Ted Nugent. The first 45 RPM record I ever purchased was “Journey to the Center of the Mind” by the Amboy Dukes. That’s Ted’s early band. I played that 45 so much that I was worried I would wear out the vinyl. So when I saw another copy in a cut-out bin, I bought it as a back up. If you look at the image I have posted here, you will see the first 45 is dull from dragging a diamond stylus over it hundreds of times. Of course that sounds quaint in the modern era when a few keystrokes gets you any song you want, but there was a time when you had only records and the radio. For the curious, the B-side is entitled “Mississippi Murderer”.
As mentioned, Ted Nugent was the lead guitarist for the Amboy Dukes, a band named for a novel. They started playing local gigs in 1964 in Detroit. Hence the nickname to arise much later for Ted – the Motor City Madman. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” cracked the charts in the summer of 1968. It was their second, and biggest, single. That song helped define a genre. And that genre would come to be called psychedelic, garage, and acid rock. The trademarks were simple chord progressions, distortion, wah wah, and fuzz. A lot of fuzz. Feedback too. Moreover, the lyrics reflected the changing culture of the era. In the late 1960s, radio was dominated by AM bubble gum or R&B soul music. The FM dial was uncharted territory and fertile ground for this new psychedelic sound. When I reflect on that period I conjure up “White Room” by Cream, Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and Jimi’s “Purple Haze”, among others.
Ted Nugent (aka The Nuge) played a Gibson Byrdland hollow body guitar through Fender amps. This produced his signature sound.
In the early 1970s Ted signed with Frank Zappa’s DiscReet Records label. He dropped the Amboy Dukes reference and became known simply as Ted Nugent. His usual band mates at that time were Derek St. Holmes on vocals and guitar, Rob Grange on bass, and Clifford Davies on percussion. This was the pinnacle of Ted’s “solo” career with AOR radio staples such as “Stranglehold”, “Cat Scratch Fever”, “Dog Eat Dog” and “Free For All”.
Then the late 1980s brought us Damn Yankees, a supergroup comprised of Ted, Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Jack Blades (Night Ranger). Their big hit was the anthemic rock power ballad “High Enough”. The guitar solo in “High Enough” is infectious, and every time I hear it I can’t stop myself from picking up my air guitar and playing along. Some of my friends have given me grief (since they are music snobs – you know who you are) because I enjoy Damn Yankees, but I continue to enjoy them and maintain them in heavy rotation.
Damn Yankees survived for only two releases, then Ted went solo again, hosted an outdoorsman TV show, a reality show, and got involved more and more in fringe political causes. I remember Ted appearing in an episode of That 70s Show and in the video for “Rockstar” by Nickelback (along with nearly every icon of pop culture). Ted became a parody of himself, which seems to be fairly common in the world of rock music – think Ozzy. The fact that Ted Nugent would be taken seriously as a political voice speaks volumes to how far we have tumbled into the rabbit hole. A parody indeed.
The day of the show at Iron City I received two texts. One warning me of flash floods (deja vu Dispatch show here a few weeks ago) and another, warning me of a laundry list of items which I could not carry into the Nugent show, including umbrellas during this monsoon. I find irony in most everything, but the fact that I was warned to leave my weapons at home during a performance from a guy who would not surprise anyone if he appeared on stage with a hunting bow or rifle was not lost on me.
Outside Iron City, the marquee did not display “sold out” but inside it appeared to be the case. This crowd was very different from my other visits to Iron City. It reminded me of the crowd at the Gwinnett Arena (Atlanta) when I saw Kid Rock. I tried to strike up conversations, but there were no takers. It was a parade of T-shirts advertising a political stance or cause. I found it sad. I simply came for the music.
This was a competitive weekend for the Birmingham concert dollar, so Ted’s big draw at Iron City was commendable. There were big names at smaller venues around town, but none bigger than Birmingham’s answer to Bonaroo and Coachella – Slossfest! Yes, that is a real festival. And a pretty damn good one too. The name comes from the Sloss Furnaces, a national historic landmark and artifact from the iron and steel age, where the two-day concert takes place.
This Nugent tour is called “Rockin’ America Again! 2017” and is quite ambitious for a 68 year old. Tonight was the fifth consecutive show, and it heads down the interstate to Montgomery tomorrow night. Ted is lean and active, and seems to enjoy his life – all important for longevity in the entertainment zoo.
Before I get into Ted’s performance, I want to tell you about Love Rat, the opening act. I rarely get worked up about openers. The last time I was excited with a warm up act was when The Impotent Sea Snakes opened for Iggy Pop at Center Stage in Atlanta, and that was a long time ago. According to the Urban Dictionary a love rat is someone who cheats or two-times in a relationship. According to the Concertalk Dictionary, Love Rat is a fresh alt-country band from Alabama (one member from Florida) with original material and a stage presence that crushes it. They played for only 30 minutes and I wanted more. I bought their CD at the T-shirt table and it has only two songs. I want more. They are unsigned as of this concert but I hope that changes. Their CD sampler is a live-in-the-studio production which includes “Devil”, a folk-country toe tapper, and “Howl at the Moon”, a nice rocker with unique harmonies and lyrical hooks. Look for them if you have a chance and visit their FB page. I wanted to learn more about Love Rat but they weren’t in a talking mood. Probably because I look like an insurance salesman or a dentist.
The base was fired up for Ted Nugent when he strolled out to a loud roar, right on time. He started in true Nugent fashion with the Star Spangled Banner, standing in front of a backdrop of a huge American flag and smoke. He played for an hour and 45 minutes with no signs of fatigue. In fact, Ted seemed to get more animated as the show progressed. He exclaimed “I love this shit!” a dozen times or more throughout the evening, and it seems that Ted really does love his craft.
The band on tour is a power trio with Greg Smith on bass and Jason Hartless on percussion. They use no video screen and no special props – Ted is all we needed.
Nugent did talk with his fans between songs – sometimes to introduce the song, other times to thank members of the armed forces and veterans, and a few times to push the envelope of civility a little too far. He made a reference to “the piece of shit who was in the White House for eight years” and he sang the European National Anthem by making the sound of bleating sheep. Other times he was more positive with his comments, such as telling us that he plays like every night is the most important night of his life, and every song he plays is the most important song. There were times when I thought “Shut up and play!” Kinda like when Springsteen goes off on a tangent and channels his inner televangelist to deliver extended sermons between songs. Shut up and play.
Ted also confided that every song he plays is a love song, but especially the next one. It was “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”. A true romantic. Ted introduced “Stranglehold” as the “number one guitar riff in the world”. I love “Stranglehold” but the last time I checked, “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones held that number one spot. However, no one at Iron City challenged his statistic. Ted’s set list, his stage persona and his seemingly effortless guitar work made this a concert to remember in an intimate venue. I have seen Ted before in arenas. This was way better. Kudos to Iron City for an excellent sound system and technical staff. A high volume rocker like Ted can easily overload the system, giving fans a distorted mess. Not here.
Set List :
Until the next concert, it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’.