Ted Nugent: The Ted Offensive - Rolling Stone
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Ted Nugent: The Ted Offensive

The Motor City Madman shows a kinder, gentler side while discussing his divorce and his guns over a bowl of grits

Ted NugenTed Nugen

Ted Nugent with Ann Wilson from Heart holding toy guns after his show in New York in 1978.

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty

Damn, I look good with guns,” says Ted Nugent, squinting down the barrel of a chrome-plated Smith & Wesson .44. I back out of the drafty kitchen slow and easy as Nugent suddenly moves to shut off the frosty air blowing through an open door. Ted heats his modest Michigan farmhouse with two wood-burning stoves that never quite subdue the effects of the long Midwestern winters, and even his shepherd dog sometimes seems to shudder from the chilling atmosphere.

The self-styled Motor City Madman has a new cowboy hat tipped back on his head, and his hands hang well away from his shoulder-holstered 44 magnum. It’s unnerving to watch him as he cracks open a yellow box of rifle cartridges. “These were originally designed for M-16s,” he says, pecking at a soft lead tip with his fingernail. “That happens to be a very good varmint rifle, which is what most people are.” I’m not about to correct his grammar, even though he gives me a conspiratorial half grin.

“I went down to buy some handguns for Christmas presents the other day,” says Nugent, leading me into a living room packed with enough wall-mounted bristle and bone (deer, elk, antelope, ram, fox, bear, moose and boar heads) to keep a taxidermist busy for months. “Those fuckwads tried to tell me I had records of criminal felonies! I woulda liked to see them prove that one. I did three days in jail, more than once [on reckless driving raps], but that was expunged from my record.” I nod nervously. Nugent stands six feet two, weighs 170 pounds and moves with an athlete’s easy grace. Something about his bug-eyes and drugstore-cowboy get-up makes him appear boyish. Yet there’s a rowdy edge to his manner that seems seasoned and unpredictable.

Nugent rakes through his long brown hair and resettles his new Stetson, a present for his thirtieth birthday, which was yesterday, December 13th. “My hat size depends on the charts; we slipped a little this week,” he allows, referring to his six-week-old album, Weekend Warriors. The LP has indeed slipped a couple of notches and is stuck in the low twenties, but it has already sold a million copies — something his four previous albums on Epic Records had taken more time to accomplish.

“Ya want some grits?” asks Nugent, dishing out two bowls of mush, depth-charging a hunk of butter into each and peppering them to choke. The farmhouse is one of three homes (one in Florida and another in northern Michigan) he shared with his wife, Sandy, and their two children until the couple separated in early 1978. He stabs at his bowl when I mention their absence.

“I am getting a divorce,” he says, looking out the window. “It’s sad, man, it’s a very sad thing, but I can’t talk about it yet.” The divorce suit, the particulars of which have been kept private by a Michigan court through an agreement between the two principals, will determine who keeps custody of his five-year-old daughter, Sasha, and two-year-old son, Toby.

Ted spoons up the last of his grits and lurches off the couch to pull his acoustic Gibson out of its open case. Leaning over the guitar, he picks out a dawdling series of chords. I’m watching a little uneasily. I had flown from New York to Detroit and driven 90 miles south for a patented Ted Nugent “gonzolectomy,” not expecting to pass the time watching the celebrated wildman strumming lullabies.

“This was written the night my little girl was born,” he says, and begins singing: “I know you’re trying to smile for me/I can tell ’cause it’s in your eyes. . .” He works through two more verses, his voice turning plaintive and strained. “And this world it threatens to take you away/It’ll leave you battered and worn/But magic is in my arms today/Little Sasha’s just been born.” He delivers the last words with great care, ever so gently ticking the song to a close.

“Now, if you depict me as wimping out in this article,” Nugent snarls, gritting his teeth Dirty Harry-style, “I will personally see you mounted right alongside that buffalo head there!

“This is a side of me that doesn’t show up on albums,” he admits sheepishly, resting the guitar on his shoulder, “because it’s not as strong, it’s not as cool as good, clean, live-it-up, boogie-woogie rock & roll. Every once in a while something like this just surfaces because it just happens to be about a gorgeous little girl named Sasha.

“I’ve got hundreds of ball yankers, you know? But I think one of the reasons some of these softer songs are surfacing is because I’ve been through a hell of an emotional year; there were nights of extreme emotional chaos for young Ted, and that tends to bring out the melancholy sounds. If I bore you by sitting around playing them, that’s tough fucking shit.

“I mean, I’m usually out cutting wood with guns. That’s what I did this morning. I musta chopped down half an acre of woods with weapons, drivin’ around in the Bronco, a total extravagonzo escapee attack. But I think the silence of having my children in my lap taught me that I could have absolute quiet. It’s funny how I just realized that, but it’s true. I didn’t experience any real silent relaxation until I had my children.”

H mmm. This tender, sensitive Ted Nugent is even newer to the world than Nugent the animalistic guitarist. And before dismissing him as a hopeless psychotic who insists that Hare Krishnas sell books filled with “pictures of Egyptian faggots butt-fucking each other,” it is well to understand that the man is no mean student of sly image-building and marketing techniques. It took him 14 years on the road, with the help of 50-odd musicians, to track down and thump into submission a pagan army of rock & roll-ravenous teenagers guaranteed to buy a million copies of any album he made. (One of the things that turned Nugent’s career around was his demand that every record store within a certain radius of his concert sites have in stock at least 100 copies of his latest LP.)

While we’re exploding myths, it should be noted that over the next four days of heavy-metal roadwork, during which I am almost constantly in his company, Nugent will do almost nothing truly callous or even unkind (depending on your attitude toward someone who wakes up several floors in one of the biggest hotels in Nashville at two a.m.). Initially, he seems more sentimental than savage, and I will grow increasingly fascinated and curious at each of his concerts when he takes his microphone and slams it against his sweaty chest to show arenas of his “friends” how they make his heart beat.

“I suppose you must be talking about Jonestown or some asshole, scum-of-the-earth, goat-tit worm debris like that,” says Ted when I ask him about messiah-followers. “That shit just ricochets off my mind. They are floundering scab tissue with no rights whatsoever.” He pauses, then offers an analysis of his legion fans. “I think most of them have a basic knowledge and grip and focus of their talents and I believe the reason they can go to the gigs is they have jobs. There’s guys out there in pickup trucks who talk four-wheel drive with me, guys out there with amplifiers and guitars who talk music with me, and there’s guys out there with big grins on their faces who talk pussy with me. My only real unanswered question is why so many of the kids — say a couple thousand out of 20,000 — are out there man, just wounded.”

Whoever they are — and they would appear to be mainly 17-year-old males who arrive at the concerts in family cars and custom vans — they have made Weekend Warriors Nugent’s fifth platinum disc. His previous albums on Epic are 1977’s Double Live Gonzo and Cat Scratch Fever (now nearing 2 million in sales), 1976’s Free for All and 1975’s Ted Nugent. Ted proudly points out that these albums, with their three- to five-minute songs sporting fierce, feedback-laden leads and sit-on-my-face lyrics, are hardly fancier than his early Seventies records on DiscReet (Call of the Wild, Fang and Claw) and Polydor (Marriage on the Rocks and the live-in-Detroit Survival of the Fittest). 

As for his roots, Ted all but disclaims his first three LPs: The Amboy Dukes (one day’s work in the studio in 1967), Journey to the Center of the Mind and Migration. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” was a hit single in the summer of 1968. Although Ted wrote the music (“one of the dope-os” in the band wrote the words), he never earned a cent off it due to bad management. He learned the road the hard way during those lean years, so the 250 nights he would play in 1976 were not so staggering as they now sound. During occasional lapses in his barbaric braggadocio, he even admits to being discouraged in the past. But he had decided a year into high school that being a rock & roller would mean one thing: “Get your own dinner.”

“From 1963 through 1973 I was overwhelmed by, and a victim of, rock & roll,” says Nugent. “Day, night, rock & roll — gigs, amps, cars, jammin’, jammin’, jammin’, writing, new strings, new speakers, new musicians, rehearsals, auditions, tours, pussy, new songs, louder amps, more pussy. All the things that are essential to rock & roll.

“And then, in 1970, I got married. That was a major thing in my life. Another person that I would give vast consideration to prior to any decision of mine. Though that person, my wife, knew who she was marrying and what I was already deep, deep into.”

Ted met Sandra Jezowski, who was raised in Florida but born, like him, in Michigan, at a 1969 Miami concert her brother was promoting. “She was this snotty little gorgeous brunette who would have nothing to do with me, and I wasn’t used to that,” Nugent confides. “She was just so beautiful, I really wanted her bad.” They were married the following April. The peaceable part of the marriage ended — as far as one can figure out from insiders’ descriptions of a subsequent tour on which Ted was a depressed automaton — after his return from an Alaskan hunting trip in fall 1977.

A one-shot fanzine, published last summer, contained a brief interview with Sandy conducted by writer Liz Derringer (wife of guitarist/singer Rick Derringer).

“How do you feel about groupies hanging around Ted?” asked Liz.

“Well that’s kind of [sic] here nor there,” Sandy replied. “You know, he has his own limits, you know, as to what he does, and what he doesn’t do. It’s probably good for him, really.”

“How do you feel about groupies in general?”

“In general I don’t care for them. They’re not my favorite people.”

The estranged Mrs. Nugent is not alone in her misgivings about groupies, who are not many folks’ favorite people. Yet Ted has given them a place in his songwriting oeuvre that even wild animals, loud cars and fast guns can’t rival. His current 36-city sweep was originally called Ted Nugent’s Tour of Tight Spots. I am tempted to ask if Sasha is likely to grow up into a “state-of-the-art cunt,” like so many of the loitering nymphets he sizes up at his concerts, but the question seems spiteful. Nugent’s love for womankind is sexist and scatological, but ultimately his own concern; and if his road trips bring him into contact with a host of women who, “if not experienced, will be so within an hour,” then why should he and they not slake a mutual thirst?

“I just wanna jump on him so bad,” one heavily mascaraed young woman hissed in my ear late one night as we sat with Ted in a hotel bar. But when she later tagged along to the elevator and stood before him, Nugent gave her an exasperated wag of his head. “You’re really facin’ me down, aren’t ya?” he asked. “You just can’t understand why the Motor City Madman won’t carve an autograph on your butt with his teeth.” Then, with a brotherly grin, he said a firm goodbye.

At home, between posing by his cars and running the dogs, Nugent spends his time on such pursuits as plinking at the pine trees with his pistols. Fourteen years of target practice and heavy-metal music have rendered his left ear 85 percent deaf. He prefers not to dwell on this handicap, or most other private burdens, and his reticence is apparently contagious. Those closest to Nugent claim not to have sorted out his psyche, beyond the appraisal that he is a “nice guy.”

Nugent has set up a close-to-airtight world that does not seem to grind up its inhabitants like those of most rock personalities. He has a cadre of employees he calls “business associates” — musicians, roadies, agents, accountants, farmers on his mink ranch — and he pays them handsomely to play by his own unique rules.

At present, Ted and I are riding along a hedgerow on his eighty-acre farm looking for foxes (the four-legged kind). Ted’s pistol butt bulges out of his down jacket. “There are certain requirements you have to go through before you can accomplish anything,” he explains over the roar of the Bronco jeep. “It’s called kicking ass, it’s called slugging it out, and it just depends how efficient your slugging is.”

“How does, say, an accountant kick ass?”

“An accountant kicks ass by becoming a master of numbers, a human computer,” Nugent insists, then explains the ideal relationship between a hard rocker and an ass-kicking bookkeeper. “I mean, you throw out, ‘Hey, man, last week we had to rent four buses, it came to $6200 for three days, we had 27 guys on the crew. I want to pay them each $450 a week plus 50 dollars per diem and we’ll be doing six gigs averaging $65,000 a night. Am I gonna make money on this tour?’ And that accountant should be able to say, ‘Yes! I’ll give you the figures in a minute!’ My accountant gets a sensual thrill doin’ my books. Everybody should pursue the things that are a panic for them.”

“But there are so many people who can’t. . .”

“Fuck ’em!” says Ted, eyeballs popping. “They’re wimps! Did I, in fact, enjoy being the ultimate gas-station attendant for two years to buy my first guitar? Yes! I really did dig the shit out of showing those puds that no, you don’t just fill up their gas and dribble it all down the side of their car. You see a car comin’ down the road, you get the feeling he’s gonna pull in, so you zoom out and stand by the pumps. You don’t make ’em wait. No! You go out and stick a rag under the fuckin’ nozzle and carefully stick that sucker in there, put it on slow, open the hood, sayin’, ‘Sir, may I check your oil? Your battery? Sir, you’ve got a loose wire here, maybe we should get the mechanic out here, check the windshield wipers.’ And bring ’em some clean change, not with oil and scum drippin’ off!”

In short, Nugent believes you can get into anything if you try, and get what you want in the process.

“My band’s the loudest in the whole world!” Nugent leans back to see if this boast has braced his companion. “That’s easy to say,” he concedes, then apes his own haughty attitude. “‘You’re worth millions of dollars, you’re a top rock & roll act.’ Bullshit. I wasn’t worth squat-all when I was a kid, I wasn’t jack-shit, but man I did things right. Common sense taught me that. The wild craving to do things. I wanted to play my guitar. I wanted to play it with another musician and make music, make songs. I stayed straight, on the ball, perceptive and aggressive. I went to every club and said, ‘Listen, I don’t want any money, but we’ll play here tonight. After we play here, the kids are gonna want me back so bad you’ll pay what I want.’

“Fuck, it worked!” he exults as we skid back to the farmhouse. “‘Cause I got up there and smoked ass!

While he’s backing the Bronco into the barn (where he’ll discover that some obstacle over which we bounded has punctured the oil pan), I help load the rental car we’ll be taking in the three-hour drive to tonight’s gig in Indianapolis. We are running late and there is much to do, but Nugent functions best when working at breakneck speed. Whitey, his white-haired shepherd, and Paco, an excitable Irish setter who serves as Ted’s bird dog, fuss underfoot as he calls a mechanic, stuffs a suitcase, signs a packet of bonus checks (a total of $87,000 to band, crew and the employees of his mink farm) and bolts out of his driveway headed south. Elapsed time: 10 minutes.

Nugent, of course, is at the wheel, gobbling a bag of dates as we race down the country lane that leads away from his retreat. “With any luck at all I’ll be cuttin’ some real nostril-flaming farts by the time we hit Fort Wayne,” he promises as he rockets past an ambling tractor. “But I really think the best place to cut ’em is in church. They really resonate off those wood pews and people can’t get away.”

“How many times have you made this ride to play a gig?” I ask as the speedometer needle eases into the eighties. “Oh, about 20,” he says indifferently, his eyes searching the surrounding hillocks and ponds for deer, geese, raccoons and other kindred species.

He didn’t really discover the country, he tells me, until 1972. Assuming I may be taking him for a Midwestern hick, he adds urgently: “I don’t play in barns. I play in every major city in the world. I am a citified motherfucker. I am jack concrete git-down. I have my master’s degree in concrete jungleism. I was born and raised in Detroit — well, the outskirts, Redford Township — then we moved to Chicago in 1965. I was 16. It was horrible, I didn’t want to go. I was smokin’ in Detroit, the Lourds [one of his early bands] were just kickin’ ass. We opened a sold-out show in Cobo Hall with the Supremes and the Beau Brummels. We were the cat’s ass, we were rockin’ sons of bitches. I was totally bummed out at havin’ to move.

“We moved into a little house in the suburbs of northwest Chicago, a little town called Hoffman Estates. I started lookin’ for a band the day we got there. I went after my success with a vengeance. I wanted to prove to my parents that what I had in mind was good, proper and right. I would go to high school — a Catholic boy’s school — and I would wear my hair and clothes in the way they wanted me to, but I said,’When I graduate, look out, ’cause I am gone. And I’m gonna make it.’

“My father was overstrict. He was strict to the point of silliness.” Ted bites back an excess of wrath that startles me and makes him sputter. “‘Because I said so’ is not a reason. Silly things — like how to eat your dinner: beans first, then meat, potatoes, salad. One glass of milk all day. In the morning there were special juice glasses and only one glass of juice. Now, what the fuck’s that supposed to mean?

“Sure, we were on a budget. But that’s insipid. He was in the phone company and then he had a salesman’s business, traveled a lot. I’m sure he did all these things because he loved us [Nugent has two brothers — Jeff, 32, and John, 25 — and a 19-year-old sister, Kathy] and he was out there in our best interest. He was from the old school of discipline for discipline’s sake, which I disagree with totally. He was a staff sergeant at the age of 19 in the army, and he maintained that approach throughout our lives.”

I suggest that Ted’s ambition may have been stoked by his father’s militarism. “I don’t know. I don’t know what makes me do something, and somebody else not. It’s the intensity of your desires.”

“Why,” I wonder, “do you no longer smoke or drink?”

“I drank like a pig in junior high, just to be obnoxious,” says Nugent, chortling faintly. “That’s when I invented the Flyin’ Lip Lock — it’s an old Detroit dance — and also the Big D Barbecue Bone Lick. That’s when we’d go to the sock hops and we’d just chug an entire fifth of Jack Daniel’s or Old Grand-Dad or Southern Comfort or something and we’d just get — I was only 14 — we’d just get wounded. I would go flyin’ across the fuckin’ floors, chomp-in’ on chicks’ ankles. The ones who would cooperate, we’d give ’em the ankle rotation, where the chicks would get on’ your nose, they’d hold their ankles, and you’d s-s-s-spin ’em around. And when smoke comes out of their anuses, you know you’ve accomplished something!”

Nugent continues in this vein for a few minutes, detailing his discovery that sex — not pot or alcohol — was the ultimate high. “I mean, I smoked a lot of dope with the MC5 in 1967, and everybody’d be floppin’ around like gaffed bonitos on a sunlit beach and I would feel nothing. “Then,” he sighs, sitting back, “I realized I didn’t need to drink this stuff that gives me a horrible stomachache and smells like rhino cum to make me get wild. I mean, that stuff just gives you a fog. And I have no need for fog.”

Somehow we get on the subject of Patti Smith, and he offers to tell me what really happened during their notorious on-the-air squabble last June at one of Detroit’s biggest radio stations, WABX. Apparently Nugent and Smith had been trading friendly backstage insults for years, and when Ted heard her limo was pulling up to the station during his interview, he announced that he had smelled her coming a long way off. “Patti attacked — ‘Get outta here, Nugent!’ But I just called her all those famous names, like ‘scum goddess’ and ‘sperm-bank queen,’ and she stormed out and came back in with a copy of the Bible. She says, ‘Here, you idiot, read Corinthians!'” Soon afterward Nugent took his leave, hijacking Smith’s limo and plastering it with DOUBLE LIVE GONZO! stickers.

As we speed along, lost and late, on the outskirts of Indianapolis, a riot of red and yellow lights fills the back window. A state police cruiser pulls us over. “Guess I’ll see if I can get into a ballistics rap with this dude,” says Nugent confidently as he slips out from behind the wheel. He’s sent back to our car almost immediately and a stern trooper stands nearby, writing out the ticket.

“I told him he had a nice Smith & Wesson there,” says Ted as we pull away. “I told him he oughta see mine.”

Unruffled by his run-in with the law, Nugent decides to take a shortcut to the concert hall and jumps several curbs and median strips, arriving a few minutes before he is due to take the stage.

Backstage in tonight’s arena, a temporarily converted hockey rink, Nugent’s band is trading street clothes for rock & roll drag. Bassist John Sauter and singer/rhythm guitarist Charlie Huhn signed on with Nugent only a few months ago. Dark-eyed drummer Cliff Davies, who also serves as Ted’s coproducer, is a veteran who learned his chops in “an obscure jazz-rock band called If.”

The show starts while I am caught in a hallway, watching two meaty bouncers rattle long flashlights in the faces of a booze-breathed horde that wants to surge down the front aisle and press itself against the $10,000 custom-built barrier that protects the stage. Wary of the awesome decibels that are peeling back the ears of the crowd, I decide to watch from the wings as Nugent holds forth in his white stretch tights, hide jacket and silver beaver tail. The sound is thunderous, piercing and, yes, sometimes transporting — roughly akin to pressing a stethoscope to the roaring engine of a trail bike. Ted’s choreography is familiar — from his cross-stage rushes, scrambles and grand leaps onto the drum riser to his spectacular sail off the amps that kicks off an encore. The concert, except for the roller-coaster progressions of “Need You Bad,” from Weekend Warriors, is disappointing. But something almost dangerous is going on between Nugent and the kids. I begin noticing objects thrown onstage; by the seventh song the roadies have pulled or kicked away a rawhide lariat, a five-dollar bottle of Giacobazzi wine and a hunting cap with the logo of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

Several hours after the show, I am sitting opposite Nugent in his hotel suite as three teenage girls help me do an interview. The oldest one, a blushing strawberry blond from Norway, asks, “Woot kind of girls do you like?”

“Available ones,” muses Ted. “Small, firm, hiking-boot women.”

I suggest she ask him what his favorite color is, and she does. “Flesh,” Ted replies, albeit a bit distantly.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Now? Aw, I got girlfriends, boyfriends, dogfriends. Do I have one right now? No, right now I don’t have a lover, if that’s what you mean. I’m getting a divorce.”

Feeling a bit uneasy, Nugent contemplates a broken guitar pick and then decides to play “Sasha” for the girls. They sit, hardly breathing, for the three minutes it takes.

“God,” says a petite brunette in a wee, choked voice. “You got me cryin’.”

“Yeah,” says Ted, “doesn’t sound like the ol’ Nuge, does it? I usually cry myself when I play that.”

As Charlie Huhn strolls in, Ted winds up the evening with a little improvisational blues:

When you left me bitch
I didn’t know what to do
Yeah, when you left me, you sloppy pig,
I went downstairs and got my new ball peen hammer
‘Cause when I get done with your skull, baby,
I’m guaranteed to spend my days in the slammer.

Ted starts plunking his big boot down to accent a slow, crawling beat, playing each note as hard as he can pluck it. “Go, Theo,” says Huhn, and Ted cranks a little harder:

I ain’t got too many complaints honey
You always keep me warm — Yes you did honey
It was that ol’ friction you supplied — But now that I’m about to be single
I count all the women in a swarm.

I got busy little hands 
I got a busy little tongue
I got a busy little mind 
You keep fuckin’ around with me 
I’m gonna beat your tummy 
Till you’re spittin’ out mung.

Ted’s voice climbs to the top of his range, then cracks:

I tell you, ya fucked with me once too often
I’m whippin’ out my favorite toy
Said when I was just a little scunge in the city
My daddy gave a gun to his boy
And it’s a big one honey — .44.

Now when ya fuck with me honey
I’ll teach you how to pull it
Oh, when you fuck with me honey
I’ll teach you how to pull it
I’m busy right this minute,
right now honey with a Magic Marker
And I’m puttin’ your name on a bullet.

“Theo,” says Huhn, his cherubic smile a little off-center, “that is some goddamn crazy blues.”

The next day, as we leave town in a rented eight-seater jet, I ask Nugent if I can see the songwriting notebook he keeps. It’s a standard black and white student’s composition book, which Ted has retitled, “Decom-positional” and then “The Man’s Rock and Roll Bible/Nothing but Hits/Year-End Remnant Sale.”

Ted is brooding, watching the clouds slide by at 7500 feet as we head for Nashville, and I disconsolately copy out lyrics that reflect almost none of his depths or demons. Just about every song he’s written since 1975 is here, and virtually none of them holds up for two readings. Stuck in the back of the book are a concert song list and murky photocopies of Sandy’s and Ted’s birth certificates.

Two hours after his 100-minute set that night in Nashville, Nugent summons me, via his publicist, to his room in the Hyatt Regency Hotel. He’s told me that his idea of paradise is “six legs wrapped around me,” and there were plenty of willing groupies milling around after the gig, so I’m surprised when I find him alone.

He is so down and quiet that we simply sit in front of the TV and watch Brian Wilson’s eyes wander aimlessly on The Midnight Special. But Nugent becomes animated when Mike Love tells Wolfman Jack about the Maharishi. “Ma-harishi, in-fucking-deed,” Ted spits. “Why don’t you take some LCD and find some more maharishis?” Slightly recharged, he asks me what I thought of tonight’s show.

“Well,” I admit, “I was waiting for the encore, ‘Oh Carol.'”

“Yeah, that’s a trick closer, that’s a treat for me. That’s like I’m playing the same song fifteen years later. Did you ever hear it on the first Rolling Stones album? With the double-time hand clapping? And ‘King-Bee’? Jagger, man, what a cur, what a swine, the greatest.

“I think that rock & roll should be played by impulse and ungarnished,” he rules. “When you write a song, you should develop the essential thrust of the given lick and not change it. I don’t want any tricky musicianship! Fuck that! I hate it! I want drive! Hammerin’ away in unison, strictly reinforcing the thrust of the rhythm. No alter-rhythms, no counterrhythms, changes and groovy syncopation and all that fuck-all. And that’s what gave me trouble with musicians, because they all wanted to be tricky and clever and impress their musician friends. And I could give a flyin’ fuck.”

He quiets down again and we start to talk about his recent bout with loneliness. The Motor City Madman recalls that he did many of the dates of his last tour in a daze after crying himself to sleep the night before.

Well, ya finally saw a good one,” says Cliff Davies backstage after the Memphis leg of the tour, as roadies, groupies, local promotion people and security guards roam to and fro. He’s right. Nugent standards like “Stormtroopin'” had somehow gained a new, undulating pulse this evening, and overall the set was both well played and rousing.

Afterward, in the dim underground bar of yet another hotel, patrons swill drinks and tolerate the house band. Upstairs, a few rooms down from Nugent’s, a faltering tour band named Golden Earring gets high with Ted’s entourage and plans its next record contract with a seesawing mixture of resignation and artificially induced exuberance.

Nugent’s door is closed. He either has two to six legs around him or is resting in order to meet the next day head-on — aggressive, perceptive and full of heavy-metal gonzo gab. Let down by his absence, I think back to his comments on the good looks of one of the hopeful young nymphets gathered backstage. Somebody had reminded him that he’d been “in love” the previous night in Nashville.

“You all can entertain yourselves in the shittiest little way possible,” Ted had retorted in an even tone that made me, if only just for that moment, believe the rest. “I’m not in love except with that thing I’m about to go onstage with.” 

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