By Martin Popoff
A mind-meld with the Tedinator is always a wild ride of cunning linguistics, but this particular summit... we had the added history of myself having just written and published a 290-page nipple-twister called Epic Ted Nugent. Would the wild boar from Texas gore me? Of course not!
“Martin, continue popping off! Thanks for your interest in my music. I love this shit, and anybody else who loves it, I love them. Godspeed, man.”
Appreciating the sentiments fully, it was onto the business at hand, namely a celebration of the first TED NUGENT live album and DVD to feature what is becoming a stable, yet smouldering and smoking lineup for Ted, namely, his bad self, plus Greg Smith on bass, Wild Mick Brown on Moon-meets-Clufetos ground and pound, and the return of Derek St. Holmes on soulful co-lead vocals fer miles.
“I mean, my goodness, the LITTLE RICHARD dream is alive and well in 2013,” proclaims Ted, asked about the impending release of Ultralive Ballisticrock, deafening ears on October 22. “You know, I’ve always been surrounded by the world’s greatest musicians. You can go back even to before the AMBOY DUKES were documented on record. My band THE LOURDES won the battle of the bands in Detroit, in 1963, against unbelievably killer rock ‘n’ roll bands, with the kind of musical authority that ended up creating, you know, MITCH RYDER & THE DETROIT WHEELS, the MC5, BOB SEGER and KID ROCK, and certainly the power and the soulful authority of what Motown had taught us. You see, the original creators of this incredible music, the black gods, were already the most influential in Detroit because of MITCH RYDER. He delivered it to us before they changed their name from BILLY LEE & THE RIVIERAS, so the competition to play tight, authoritative, powerful, soulful and really in the pocket, was already established in Detroit before the ROLLING STONES were even aware of it. But of course, the ROLLING STONES, the BEATLES, the KINKS, THE WHO and LED ZEPPELIN, eventually all of us, you know, as epitomized by ZZ TOP and AEROSMITH and my band, we were already tuned into that black authority, HOWLIN’ WOLF, MUDDY WATERS, LIGHTNING HOPKINS, MOSE ALLISON, and certainly CHUCK BERRY, BO DIDDLEY, Little Richard, my God, for God sakes, James Brown, Wilson Pickett. And so our soulful influences are what pushed us to win the battle of the bands in ‘63.”
“And the reason I’m going back that far, Martin, is because what you hear today is that same obsession with the musicality of what we do, that connection, to treat the instruments, the musicianship, the communication, that we relish and crave and personify and insist upon from each other, ourselves, everyone on stage. I’ve got to tell you, here, what is it, 60 years later, whatever the hell it is (laughs); it is actually 60... it’s actually 63 years later, when I got influenced by these guys, that tonight on stage, in Portland, Maine, with Mick Brown on drums and vocals, Derek St. Holmes on guitar and vocals, and Greg Smith on bass and vocals, and yours truly, will deliver tonight, is a spiritual pummelling, a JAMES BROWN, Little Richard crescendo—every song is a crescendo.”
“We learn from those guys that is epitomized and always has been epitomized by the black r&b, soul music, rock ‘n’ roll gods. And so what we’ve captured on this live DVD... that’s why it’s called Ultralive, because I see all those other bands out there, and they’re really good. But if you were really good, you couldn’t be in my band. Really good sucks where I come from. You have to be ungodly. You have to be scary (laughs). You have to be… flames have to come out of your ass before you can be in my band (laughs). And we capture that—as we do every night—heroically and magically capture that on this DVD. What Mick and Greg and Derek can bring to every song, every concert, every night, Martin, is what every musician dreams of.”
“But I don’t dream it, I live it, and I’ve been living it for over 50 years and I should probably be doing this interview on bended knee, making the sign of the cross, with a live video of Little Richard in the background. So the love of the music is still the only compelling force in every one of our performances, and we capture that on this DVD. I just couldn’t be more proud.”
Er, onto question #2, which can be summed up as, “Derek?”
“Well now, Martin, I trained, and I trained for at least 45 years, by the supreme humanity of the US Marine core. So I know what improvise, adapt, and overcome means. And musically, what that means, we’re taking the hill. What are the best weapons at our disposal? Who are the best commandos in our unit, and of course, we are the best commandos in our unit. Literally what we do is we look at it as an artillery choice. And I know what Mick and Greg and Derek can do, because I still live that garage band dreamer, trying to play Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley stuff with the spirit that those originators provided us. And I played bass for Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry for a couple of gigs, so I’ve been in the belly of the beast. I’ve ridden that angry stallion onto the mountaintop. A very happy angry stallion (laughs).”
“And so I just instinctively know when Derek brings his artillery, his musical artillery, to our charge, I know what songs exemplify that. That’s why when I wrote ‘Stranglehold’, when I wrote ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’, when I heard his song ‘Hey Baby’, I knew what his capabilities were, and how to push those, and milk the blood from his spirit. And so when we get ready to go on stage, and I go, my God, Derek’s back in the band, here’s the songs we have to perform (laughs). So I’d like to think we are a democracy, but I’m fooling myself, because I dictate. But you know, I love the guys, and I’ve got to tell you, nobody loves my music more than these three guys. So they are just chomping at the bit to play certain songs, and they loved the music as much as I do, and that’s really, really saying something, Martin. So we have little BS sessions, we have little campfire sessions, and we talk about our favourite songs, and we realize that there’s some songs that the live stage demands we perform. And that’s what we put in the list.”
Question # 3, in a nutshell, “Greg?”
“Well, again, I knows what his talents are,” says Ted, no doubt packing for hunting season as we speak, the time of year that Ted forsakes music until the snows start to thaw. “These guys are so gifted, they’re so passionate about the music, and they want to play my songs. I love my songs. And even though Derek wrote ‘Hey Baby’, I consider it my song (laughs). And I hug him when I tell him that. We both get a good chuckle out of it. Because I… my guitar statement, my guitar voice, it’s just like what you witness on DAMN YANKEES. That’s why I was the co-writer in every one of those Damn Yankees songs. Because as soon as I unleash my guitar playing on a song, it’s got my signature on it. It’s got my identity, it’s got my, dare I say, authority, upon it. And so when I hear a guy like Greg Smith, and Mick Brown sing, these guys got incredible voices. Wait ‘til you hear them on ‘Queen Of The Forest’. I mean, the harmonies and the vocal power that they bring to every song, I knew that Greg could sing the lead on ‘Need You Bad’ beautifully, perfectly, with authority. I keep referring to the term authority, but that really is what you have to have when you own a piece of music. You have to sound like you are the music, that there is authoritative connection with the spirit of the song.”
There’s new music on this album in the form of ‘I Still Believe’ but for a heaping helping of backstraps, we’ll have to wait until next year.
“I’m getting ready next February/March, to get in the studio, Martin. Your cravings for real, American, rhythm and blues, driven rock ‘n’ roll will be very, very happy when you hear my new songs (laughs). I have some killer licks and riffs and powerhouses, and we love the music. We can’t wait to record. We’ll all be in the studio by February.
“My writing process... it’s kind of like a good shit,” laughs Ted, riffing and riffing some more. “I really eat good food, and my plumbing processes work really purely. It’s a pure plumbing system. And so my musical plumbing (laughs), whether it’s mental or just spiritual, and God knows physical, I live life so to the fullest, that by being clean and sober, it makes my radar, my life’s radar work perfectly. And I mean, it really does. I just don’t miss nuthin’. I’m aware of all the positives, all the good, all the good, and all the ugly, which is life. And of course I’m… I reference the Marines, improvise and overcome, which is to optimize the good, while never denying the bad, the ugly, and fighting against the ugly and bad, whether it’s political or social, you know, pain, suffering, people that I meet with, charity work, you acknowledge the ugly. You fight to minimize it, so that you can bring as much good as possible.”
“And with that positive attitude, without being in denial against the negatives, my music is just… It’s so raw, it’s so primal, and whether you’re listening to ‘Cat Scratch’ or ‘Stranglehold’ or ‘Love Grenade’, and what I think may be my greatest song ever, ‘Crave’, my gosh, what a riff. What a lyric. What a statement that song is. If you listen to that, and ‘I Still Believe’, or ‘I Love My BBQ’, which I believe there’s still a free download at my website, it’s a spontaneous grabbing of the guitar, which defines all my songwriting, grab it, plug it in, smash some riffs and a new, killer pattern comes up. Every time, Martin. Ask any of my musicians. I can’t pick up a guitar without coming up with this powerhouse lick, where all my musicians go, ‘What’s that?!’ ‘I don’t know, I’ve never played it before, but it’s cool as all hell’ (laughs).”
“And it’s the foundation of a great song, whether you listen to ‘Paperback Writer’ or ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘Walk This Way’ or ‘Back In Black’ or ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ or ‘Crave’ or ‘Still Alive And Well’ or ‘I Still Believe’. These are just killer, rock, organic, uninhibited primal garage band explosions. And even at the age of 65, are you kidding me, Martin?! It’s still as raw and youthful and inspired as the first time I ever played ‘Walk Don’t Run’. So I’m a lucky, lucky musician, when it comes to that. It’s like archery. It’s Zen. It’s Ironman athleticism. You can’t think about it; you have to just do it. It will happen if you train and create muscle memory and spirit memory, and that’s what my music is like.”
“So ‘I Still Believe’ is as raw and nasty as the demo. I just went in, and a half hour later, I came out, with ‘I Still Believe’ and ‘I Love My BBQ’. So it doesn’t have the nurtured, final tonation, you know what I mean? You gotta really work to make the bass big and nasty and fat. You have to really work to make the guitar, the recording process, capture the richness and depth of the guitar tone. You just can’t slap a mic on every time and expect it to be perfect. So you’ve got to find that centimetre of the speaker where... and which mic captures it best? Now, we did not do that on those two demos. But again, the unleashed honesty of both those tracks is immediately apparent. And as a guy that grasped the dynamic of Love Grenade and ‘Crave’, wouldn’t you agree that the ‘I Still Believe’ demo that you can free download is what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be? I think it is!”
Look, now wasn’t that fun? This writer has taken in a lot of hate mails (painfully, even from folks owning my whole heaving library) for writing Epic Ted Nugent, which is essentially a big, thick book proselytizing as to the joy of life that is Ted Nugent’s music, not an ounce of politics in it. Of course, we all see the elephant in the room, but I implore you to clean your spectacles and see something else, namely the spirit of the wild evidenced in the above sermon on the rock ‘n’ roll mount. It’s been confirmed for this lowly scribe through Craveman and Love Grenade (Ted’s two best albums ever—seriously, before squawking, go listen... all the way through), and y’know, it’s been confirmed again through ‘I Still Believe’ and “I Love My BBQ’, two weird, charming, humourous, complicated and grindingly performed tracks of Ted whackmaster whack that bode well for new music next year from Ted and his well-attuned commandos of rock.
Above by James & Maryln Brown - left to right: Ted Nugent, Derek St. Holmes, Mick Brown and Greg Smith
All others by Jennifer Bartram-Schmitt