As the self-proclaimed Motor City Madman, guitarist Ted Nugent fashioned a sharply defined, not-so-noble savage persona, garnering him endless publicity and resulting in multiplatinum sales in the late '70s. Since then, however, Nugent's pro-gun, pro-hunting (he eats everything he kills), anti-drink, and anti-drug lifestyle has proved to be anything but a pose (though he did confess to Behind the Music that in his younger days, he was addicted to women). Opinionated, unapologetic, and always quotable, Nugent is the anti-rock star rock star: "I have militantly defended my quality of life, and I would never compromise it in the name of hipness or acceptability of my so-called peers."
Growing up in Detroit, Nugent began bowhunting at age five and playing guitar at age eight. His first band was called the Royal High (or Hi) Boys (1960-61), followed by the Lourdes (or Lourds) (1962-64). By the time he was 14, he and the band played Cobo Hall, opening for the Supremes and the Beau Brummels. The band broke up in 1965 when Nugent's family moved to Chicago. There, he immediately formed the Amboy Dukes, who signed with Mainstream and released their debut that year. Though they had a local hit with "Baby Please Don't Go" in 1967, the band's only sizable success was "Journey to the Center of the Mind" (#16, 1968), the pro-drug message of which Nugent claims escaped him at the time. The Dukes continued in various forms until 1975, recording also for Polydor and DiscReet.
When the Dukes signed with the latter label in 1972, they became known as Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. Nugent tried to boost album sales with his publicity savvy, staging guitar contests against Mike Pinera (of Iron Butterfly and Blues Image), Wayne Kramer (MC5), and Mahogany Rush's Frank Marino. But things didn't begin to happen for Nugent until he signed a solo deal with Epic in 1975. For his new band, he retained bassist Rob Grange from the old Amboy Dukes; after this, he would go through periodic changes in personnel. He continued to tour widely, and suddenly his cartoonish caveman image (complete with loincloth), began to write Nugent up. Even if many found his music to be standard heavy-metal fare, Nugent never failed to make good copy. Free-for-All featured Meat Loaf on some vocals (Nugent rarely sings), but the real breakthrough was 1977's Cat Scratch Fever, whose double-platinum success boosted sales of the two previous LPs to 2 million each. Also out that year was Double Live Gonzo (near-2 million sales), followed by the platinum Weekend Warriors. Stern Electronics introduced a Ted Nugent pinball game. Nugent showed a slight softening of attack by covering the Beatles' "I Want to Tell You" on State of Shock; this gold LP ended his platinum streak. Also disappointing saleswise was 1980's Scream Dream, though it contained "Wango Tango" with its cars-and-garages ("My face is a Maserati," etc.) sexual imagery. Still, Nugent's LPs and concerts continued to sell respectably. In 1981 Nugent was backed by the D.C. Hawks (which included three brother lead guitarists. Kurt, Rick, and Verne Wagoner) for a four-axe attack. His first self-production, 1982's Nugent, barely grazed the chart. By that point, however, Young Ted, as he referred to himself, had reaped the rewards of having been the top-grossing tour act of 1977, 1978, and 1979.
Since 1980, he has served as a deputy sheriff near his home (on 1,000 acres of wilderness) in southern Michigan. Nugent is the author of Blood Trails: The Truth About Bowhunting and the publisher of Ted Nugent World Bowhunters Magazine. He is also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, a board member of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), numerous conservation organizations, and several anti-drug abuse organizations, including Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). In early 1994 Midwestern Public Broadcasting Stations aired Nugent's four Spirit of the Wild television specials.
In 1989 Nugent, along with Styx's Tommy Shaw, formed Damn Yankees [see entry]. Spirit of the Wild, his first solo album in six years, included former Nugent sideman Derek St. Holmes, ex-Brownsville Station bassist Michael Lutz, and former Heart and Coverdale/Page drummer Danny Carmassi. "I Shoot Back," "Thighraceous," and "Fred Bear, the American Hunter's Theme Song" (which sold over 100,000 copies as an independently released single) indicate that Nugent has no plans to mellow with age. Into the 21st century he has continued touring and recording, hunting, working on behalf of conservative causes, and writing.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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