The Rise and Fall of Ted Nugent or how ego affects creativity
The Best of Ted Nugent Live
6,000th Concert DVD SURPRISE!
I finally saw Ted's latest DVD which captured his 6,000th concert performed at Cobo Hall in Michigan. I am surprised. This DVD confirms my orignal article about the Rise and Fall of Ted Nugent.
Just when I thought he hit an all-time low with the dreadful Live In Sweden, he again turns on his creative juices and outputs a monster of a DVD called "Motor City Mayhem". This is not a new release but bear with me, I am behind the times in more ways than one.
Motor City Mayhem is over 2 hours of what I call "The Best Of Live Ted Nugent." Except for the extremely disappointing opening National Anthem, which I already discussed on Hub Pages the rest of the concert was great.
It seems that each song is a mini concert in and of itself. Ted was full of surprises with this performance. The biggest surprise being he brought on his guitar teacher from the 50's and thanked and honored the man (Joe Podorsik). This is class. How many rock gods have ever done that? He let his teacher perform an old song with him on stage. The student outshines the teacher but the respect between the two was overwhelming.
Another surprise was that Ted's band is very, very good. Hey Ted Nugent Group is a trio. Wow. I only thought Robin Trower and Rory Gallagher could pull off a live trio performance. And another surprise was that Ted brought on Derek St. Holmes for a couple of songs. They've reunited several times in the past but this was a special concert and Derek deserved to be their for his many great contributions. Ted Nugent has a heart after all was my other Hub page about the man, and yes, he does by doing some wonderful things here.
The concert had the superfluous vulgar language one has come to expect with Nugent and his over-emphasis on "Freedom" but it was the 4th of July 2008 so I let the boy slide. There are many nice things to state about this but I prefer you go out and watch the DVD yourself. The positives outweigh the negatives here. One partial negative is that the "Journey To Center of the Mind" was played at the ending credits and we only hear part of the song. Ted's singing of the song actually sounded better than the Amboy Dukes' John Drake's rendition which was performed at the Detroit Music Awards earlier this year.
A Continuing Saga?
Rock guitar legend Ted Nugent has been a personal study of mine for years because in comparison to other rock guitarists he is very unique and unpredictable. What I’d like to do is separate the "performer” part of his life from the ”composer” part.
I’m talking about his creativity on recordings. Obviously the man can play guitar and when he plays a well written song he plays it extremely well. When he plays a garbage song, (live or on tape) it sounds bad or even worse.
Ted the Innovator
Ted Nugent is an innovator not a duplicator. He is an originator of many aspects of rock guitar which are now common among current players. He, and not Hendrix, originated the harnessing of feedback and incorporated the sound into songs. You can hear it on many of his pre-1976 recordings. The guy played a hollow-body guitar - Gibson Byrdland - while 99% of all Rockdom preferred the solid body Stratocaster. Talk about doing your own thing.
His music is/was also more melodic than the standard guitar fare of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Guitarists like Dwayne Bailey and Eddie Van Halen relied mostly on sound effects but definitely could not play melodies as part of their leads or solos. Nugent‘s music, on the other hand, avoided sound effects for notes. His early stuff also had an “Irish tint“ to it, sounding as if he had been playing Irish folksongs before he turned on the amplifier. His being adamant for not using many if any sound effects or pedals proves he was interested in the song and the note and not the effect and the noise.
Another area where he was a pioneer was in the gradual development of Power chords. He probably was not the only one (Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple was another), but after 1976/77 many other bands started to have rhythm guitar chords sound a lot like Nugent's, such as Sammy Hagar, ACDC, and Def Leppard. Innovation aside, his creativity is on a constant ebb and flow.
Surprises and Disappointments
Creativity flourishes or shrivels depending who surrounds him. Who surrounds him depends on how large his ego is on that particular moment of his career. He also feeds on the creativity of others to put out a great piece of work. For example, compare these albums where he has real talent working with him . . .
- Journey to the Center of the Mind(with Steve Farmer and the Amboy Dukes)
- Call of the Wild (with Rob Grange)
- Nugent (on Warner Records) (with Carmine Appice and Derek St, Holmes)
- Damn Yankees (with Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades)
. . . to these albums where his ego removed great talent and his dried up:
- Marriage on the Rocks
- If You Can’t Lick ‘Em
- Sweden Rocks
The rise of his fame did not have an equal rise in his playing style - he still can’t play acoustic guitar or play beyond basic chords. Leads and solos are another story and that’s where his talent developed.Singer? Not really. Compare him to his lead singers Steve Farmer, John Drake, Rusty Day, Derek St. Holmes, Tommy Shaw, and Jack Blades. These guys can beat the pants off him hands down in a singing competition on American Idol. Would I prefer any of them singing Terminus Eldorado, Free For All, or Great White Buffalo? No way, Jose. But his creative juices don’t drip from his mouth, they drip from his fingers. (By the way, his mouth -- we’re all sick of the vulgarities he spews at live concerts - yet we do love his humor on the radio or TV)
Has he had some bands or members who dragged down what he is capable? Oh yeah. I can tell you it was none of the above aforementioned singers. His current band from the Sweden Rocks CD illustrates that you get what you pay for.
When he formed the Amboy Dukes with Steve Farmer they had a lot in common musically and the better talents of each musician complimented each other to bring about 2 excellent albums. The other element that helped these albums sound so wonderful was the production of Bob Shad whose experience in recording was mainly in the jazz realm and that seemed to be the special ingredient that contributed to their success.
That second album, Journey To the Center of the Mind, was their masterpiece and by the time the 3rd LP (Migration) was to be recorded you can tell where the band and Ted Nugent were going. Even with Rusty Day added on vocals, the album was only half of what the previous two were. There was less band and more Nugent. Songs like Prodigal Man and Migration sound hollow and cold. There were only a few Farmer songs on the album which by themselves are great and were probably leftovers from the previous album. As for the rest of the album, Curb Your Elephant and Load for Bear sound like a disaster.
After the exit of Rusty Day and Steve Farmer, the skeletal remains of the Amboy Dukes recorded the horrible Marriage on the Rocks and later the live Survival of the Fittest. Marriage sounds as if Nugent developed ADD. Melodies were few, instrumentals stunk, and the songs were utter nonsense.
Around '73/'74 he put together a new Amboy Dukes and recorded 2 LP’s for Diskreet, Call of the Wild and Tooth Fang and Claw. By this time his creative juices must have rejuvenated and were probably energized by his new band mates, including bassist Rob Grange who stuck with him through 1978. The pairing of Nugent and Grange for those years had to be a match made in heaven because Grange was also a very melodic playing bassist. He was one of a few great bass players who could actually play melodies while keeping the rhythm and beat going.
Call of the Wild has Nugent at his most creative: he did not write any songs to be played on AM radio, he let the others showcase their playing, he also did lead vocals that actually sounded good for the songs he was playing. It looks like the ego waned a bit. These 2 albums demonstrate feedback control, strong melodies and innovative instrumentals, and the final creation of power chords. Tooth opened the way for him to get a big record contract because on that album were songs aching to be radio hits. He was at the start of his rise to stardom like Michael Jordan just before he joined the Chicago Bulls.
Then He Went Solo
The ego works in funny ways so he dropped the band name Amboy Dukes and was known initially as The Ted Nugent Group. A year later he dropped the word “Group”. When he signed to Epic he had another band, with the exception of Grange. He added the talents of Cliff Davies from the group If and Derek St. Holmes and recorded a ’monsterpiece” aptly titled Ted Nugent. This album has everything he needed to be considered a great guitarist, namely feedback, long solos that were GOOD, excellent singing, excellent bass and drums, power chords, ability to master both fast and slow playing, and a great looking cover.
(By the way, I saw him perform at the Amphitheatre in Chicago when this album was released and his demeanor was completely different then as it is on say Double Live Gonzo or Sweden Rocks. He opened for Aerosmith and played one side of Tooth and one side of the Ted Nugent album song after song perfectly. He did not even utter a single cuss word. He just played for 40 minutes and left the stage.)
Again ego works in funny ways and so he had a spat with Derek and recruited Meatloaf to sing some songs on Free For All. This album is slightly weaker than the first Epic recording but is a good album nonetheless. Next came Cat Scratch Fever which catapulted him further into stardom especially on AM radio. Somehow that album disappointed his tried and true fans because of its inane simplicity, nonsense lyrics, and formulaic poppishness. Double Live Gonzo sealed his stardom and was his apex with Epic Records displaying how great “he” was when he plays live. Here, for the first time on recording we have Nugent using his vulgar language and as time went on his playing took a back seat to his mouth.
The Creative Juices Dried Up
With the exit of Derek St. Holmes and Rob Grange, his later solo recordings were limp and display merely a shadow of what he could do. (The man could write and play great guitar instrumentals such as those on the Call of the Wild, Scottish Tea, and Homebound, why he hasn’t devoted a full album to instrumentals is beyond me.)
He did have a couple of comebacks. When Derek St. Holmes and Ted Nugent years later kissed and made up, both worked on 2 albums (Nugent on Warner Records and Spirit of the Wild). The creative juices start to flow. Both are good albums but there is nothing really noteworthy except Bound and Gagged of which there is a video. He does from time to time write a good song such as Terminus Eldorado that doesn’t really belong on the particular album it came from.
Was It Terminus for Ted?
No, His creativity exponentially increased when he formed Damn Yankees with Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades. They put out 2 CD’s and 2 videos. This project owes 80% of its creative output to Shaw/Blades. Their singing and songwriting is very advanced and masterly composed. The Nugent guitar is there and it adds extremely well to the songs (and we know that Tommy Shaw learned a few things about guitar from Nugent during this time period). Overall, it was the singing is what made this group a super group.
What happened after the Yankees?
With the influx of creativity from Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades (who put out 2 more LP’s sans Ted as “Shaw Blades“) you would think by now that Ted would be able to record a masterpiece for this millennium. Well, if you were unfortunate enough to buy any or all of the last three things he did (Love Grenade, Sweden Rocks, and Craveman) including the horrible video Sweden Rocks, you’d want to know what happened. Did he have a relapse? Is he on medication?
Where He Is Right Now
Maybe he hit a low point in his creativity. It happens to all the greats. Call it writer’s block. So, what can he do?
Well, he can blend humor with music. That would be an antidote. Maybe he should try forming an allegiance with past band members. If he continues where he is at it looks as if the juice ran out.
Once he mentioned he was collaborating with Mark Farner of Grand Funk but nothing came of it. That would be interesting. Becoming Alice Cooper’s lead guitarist would be interesting - he could follow in the shoes of Dick Wagner and Mike Pinera. Maybe he should get together with Steve Farmer and Rob Grange and put out a new masterpiece.
More Ideas for a Creative Comeback
He may want to consider doing Halloween album for a change of pace or do a Christmas album. He’s done a song before (one on Merry Axemas) and even sang with David Letterman in a Christmas gag.
It would be nice to see him do a Chuck Berry Tribute. Or even pair up with Jim McCarty (one of his first inspirations) and do a guitar album that would make Hendrix turn in his grave and cry.
I can tell you one thing, Ted Nugent does not quit and perhaps he'll get out of this current slump and show America that his guitar music is just as strong as it ever has been.
Why I Love and Hate and Love Ted Nugent
One of the things I love about this dude they call the Nuge is his ability to surprise people with something of good value or something of shock value. We all know he is controversial on such subjects as politics and gun rights and patriotism. As an American he has the right of free speech and he excercises that right freely. I find that inspirational in rock star. Many rock stars are just whining crybabies who wring their hands over so-called social issues and really give no intellectual commentary on their subject of choice. Nugent, however, does not whine. He simply states his mind and tells it like it is. He is like the Donald Trump of the music world.
What I hate about the Nuge is that he not going forward with the music he pioneered and I feel much of what he does now is stagnant and he is stuck. The king of feedback guitar needs to return to his roots and put out something that makes him shine above all the other rock guitarists out there. It's a tough job to do, but I think he needs to swallow his pride, or ego, just a tad to show his prowess has grown exponentially since 1968, 1976, and 1990.
What I love, again, about him is his element of surprise. I love when he comes out of nowhere onto social media to speak his mind and what he says DOES make a lot of common sense. Nuge gaining wisdom? Perhaps with age. Also, the surprise element just excites me. One time I saw the guy swinging from a rope on stage. Another time he was shooting flaming arrows at an Islamanazi (Saddam Hussein). I once read he was speeding over 90 miles per hour on an off-ramp of the expressway IN REVERSE. You never know what he is going to do next. Whatever he does, it isn't to generate publicity like Miley Cyrus. No. It's just the way he is. No holds barred Teddy - what you see is what you get.
I love him also because of the 2009 Amboy Dukes Reunion (video below). The original Amboy Dukes performed in April 17, 2009 in Detroit. Nugent was joined by Steve Farmer, Rick Lober, John Drake, Bill White and Andy Solomon, supposedly the first and only time since 1970. What a surprise! They performed at the Fillmore for the Detroit Music Awards of which they were a recipient of Distinguished Achievement award In recognition for the band's contribution to rock music history. The did 2 of the Dukes hits and a Mitch Ryder tune (being then joined with Mitch Ryder's original drummer Johhny Badanjak.
I was totally surprised by the fact that this guy with an ego almost as big as President Obama's, but without the delusions of grandeur, would step down and get together with those who did not have the success he had and perform with them, joke around, and put on a great show. I think the love is still there amongst them.
Who knows what he's going to do next, but whatever he does, it's going to be interesting.
Amboy Dukes Reunited Doing A Classic
Ted Nugent's Website
© 2009 Rob Lattin
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