Interview and Photos : Robert Cavuoto
For over 50 years Ted Nugent has been an unstoppable dynamic musical force not to be reckoned with. Like a Rock & Roll freight train that never falters or gets unhinged, Ted continues to slay the wild hearts of fans and musicians throughout the world. On November 9th, via Round Hill Records, Ted will be unleashing his latest musical masterpiece, The Music Made Me Do It. The album features Greg Smith on bass, Jason Hartless on drums and offers powerhouse rockers like, “BigFunDirtyGrooveNoize,” “Where Are You Gonna Run To Get Away From Yourself,” and “I Just Wanna Go Huntin.” His reputation is forged in the uncanny ability to blend soul-crushing guitar riffs and well-crafted lyrics with sheer primal instinct.
Despite accolades and awards from mainstream music publications and organizations, Ted has been cranking out legendary songs his entire career. I can almost guarantee you have heard some of his most famous love songs like “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Stranglehold,” “Wang Dang Sweet Pootang,” or “Wang Tango.”
Buckle your seat belt, secure your safety harness, and kiss your ass goodbye as we embark on an interview of epic portions with the American legend, Ted Nugent, as he shares his views on his music, the creation of his latest CD, trapping beavers, and not being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Robert Cavuoto: Fans can always feel the extreme effort you put into the expression of your songs. What drives that artistic work ethic?
Ted Nugent: I was raised with that! Talk about the planets aligning for my American dream. I was born in Detroit in 1948 and still wallowing in the universal celebration of the American shit kickers. The warriors for freedom who had capitalism to incentivize them to survive to kill the enemy of clear and present evil with the Nazis and Japanese enemies. That positive energy was immeasurable in our human history. That’s an outrageous statement but absolutely accurate. Now you put it in Detroit in this exploded industrial revolution. Detroit was the epicenter of productivity of work ethic and pride for all the right reasons as we were the arsenal of democracy with Ford, Chrysler, and GM making tanks and howitzers so there was an effervescent atmosphere of the ultimate American celebration of freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Everybody’s neighborhood was so well taken care of and everybody earned their own way. My Dad said to me, “You can get a guitar, just get a damn job!” I cut lawns, shoveled snow, babysat, and delivered newspapers to earn money for my guitar and amp to pursuit my life, liberty, and happiness. It was really a perfect time to be a human in our history as I was bombarded with this drive and incentive to be the best I could be. Everybody from Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, uncles, and neighbors, everybody in the band; it was about work, work, work, and busting your ass. Here it is October 12, 2018, and everything I just said is still 100% applicable as I speak to you from 800 HP Hemi powered Hellcat, pulling up to an airplane to fly to a political rally for John James for Senate. I’m 70 years old and my band mates said it best a few months ago while on the greatest tour of my life, “If the 25-year-old Nugent showed up tonight, you would kick his ass!” [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: I thought your new song “BigFunDirtyGrooveNoize” really sums up you musically career in five words. Do you agree?
Ted Nugent: Let’s pretend I’m not me, and there is no such thing as an ego or bragging. Do I come up with the most clever song titles on planet Earth? [Laughing] Everybody always asks, how do you write a song, and I say, “I don’t, my guitar channels, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Little Richard and it just blows up!” When you think of the lick to “BigFunDirtyGrooveNoize” it is a classic rhythm & blues bass line, the words wrote themselves for the chorus! Just like the title track, what could you possibly sing other than, “Oh yeah the music made me do it.” What else can you possibly sing to that shit [laughing]? It’s about as pure of a stream of subconscious, out of body experience, let the music take you into uncharted territories to where I think no musician has ever experienced aside from Chuck Berry.
Robert Cavuoto: ” Where Are You Gonna Run To Get Away From Yourself” seems to perfectly combine your innate sense of melody with your ability to create killer riffs. Tell me about the creation of that song.
Ted Nugent: The answer to that question is the same answer for every song. Just this morning I ran my chores, set my traps, killed a couple of raccoons, ran the dogs, got my hands dirty and bloodied. Then I went into my shop where I put my hardware, rifles, and pistols away and there are my guitars and amps. I picked up the guitar and I wrote a masterpiece this morning. Wait, I didn’t write it, I unleashed a masterpiece this morning. When your soul is so cleansed of the healing powers of nature as a participant, not an observer; I don’t go on nature walks, I go hunting. I’m a predator. When you are integral to the spirit of God’s, tooth, fang, and claw, a renewable resource where you have dirt, blood, guts, and muck under your fingernails; you are the pulse of nature. Then you go in and there is a guitar connected to a big, loud, crazy, grinding noisy amplifier; the licks happen. Talk to my band members; when the guitar is hung over my shoulder the licks just happen. They always happen, and they continue to happen. The history of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard is so contagious that my fingers just go there. Then the lick makes me feel something. That is how “Wang Dang Sweet Pootang,” “Stranglehold,” “Fred Bear,” as well as all the songs on this record became. I never sat down and thought about a chord or where my fingers should go or what pickup I should switch to or what theme I might want to sing about. If you’re absolutely uninhibited, I love big grooves and guitar noise, it just happens. I bet that’s what Dave Grohl and Keith Richards did, except Keith had a little chemical stimuli going on [laughing]. I have chemical stimuli going on as well; they are endorphins in tsunami portions [laughing]!
Robert Cavuoto: Two of your longtime buddies didn’t participate in this new CD; Mick Brown and Derek St. Holmes, what happened?
Ted Nugent: I look to the heavens, make the sign of the cross, and genuflect daily as I have been so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by the world’s great virtuosos. Mick was a throttle dog for those seven or eight years, and Derek has always come and gone. He has his own musical projects and really wants to pursue it without any parameters or borders. When I make music that’s how I do it as well. I also make music when there is a Derek St. Holmes joining up with his vocals and guitar talent. My musical focus will encompass those talents. I knew when I wrote, “Stranglehold” that Derek should sing it and same goes for “Workin’ Hard Playin’ Hard” even though they were my sentiments and lyrics. On the CD, Shut up & Jam! there is a song “Everything Matters,” and I knew he would be perfect for that. My music is sacred to me; it’s my baby. You can recommend how I can dress and feed my baby, but ultimately I’m going to have veto power as the Dad. That’s how I look at my music. You look at a guy like Greg Smith on bass and a kid like Jason Hartless on drums from Detroit who carries on the spirit of Tommy Clufetos and Johnny Badanjek with their drum God abilities; you just jump on that. Greg, Jason, and I we got together and jammed when Mick went back with Dokken. I saw Jason and said, “Holy Shit” this guy needs to play my music. It’s always a judgment call, and I have to admit it’s really personal and really timely. Tomorrow’s music decisions might not have anything to do with today. They might have a life of their own, and when I pick up my guitar this afternoon, it will have a life of its own! I always pursue those talents and musical geniuses. Look at the drummers I have had; Cliff Davies, Carmine Appice, Tommy Aldridge, and Tommy Clufetos, there are the greatest drummers who have ever lived. Every musician I have ever been with has been so phenomenal that I feel blessed that I can continue to look to them or call upon them to put their heart and soul into every lick, song, and concert. I don’t think in terms of personalities or individuals; but rather the music makes me do it. Who would I recruit to stand on the wall of my musical Alamo other than Davy Crockett! [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: You did a version of “Cat Scratch Fever” on this CD with alternate lyrics. Is there a concern of backlash from your fans as that is such an iconic song?
Ted Nugent: It stands on its own merits; it’s such a grinder and fun song. It’s a sexy song and irreverent song. We love the irreverence don’t we [laughing]! Because we live a life of hunting, I have sung that song around the campfires as “Can’t Trap Beavers.” [Laughing] I ran into some dirtbag bureaucrats recently who wanted to hire beaver trappers to prevent my driveway from flooding due to an overpopulation of beavers. I said to the bureaucrat that you’re going to tell Ted Nugent that you are going to take my money to hire a so-called beaver specialist to address my beaver problem? Me, a free American who owns this lake and swamp that I’m not allowed to take care of this beaver problem? You expect me to believe that there is another man on this planet that is more of a beaver specialist than I am? This is a real conversation that I’m having with a bureaucrat! I told him when the beaver specialist comes, have him show me some cool guitar licks too! [Laughing] Nobody can handle beavers better than I can! I’m not being facetious; I mean like Bucky the Beaver! Bureaucrats will take our tax dollars to hire a specialist when the landowner can shoot the beaver; the problem is solved. So I played on that and changed the lyrics to “Can’t Trap Beavers” [Ted sings guitar part] “Leave it to Cleaver”[laughing]. I’m an adventurous Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea of musical non-compromise. So I feel I have the creative licenses to do whatever I damn well, please. I did my 6, 717 concert in Phoenix on August 5th and the energy, clasped fists, dancing, and hyper-passion for my music every night is so unified that they would put up with any bastardization of my song that I desire to pursue. [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: I have been a fan of yours since I was a kid and I love that fact that you never followed musical trends. You have always stuck to your guns. Tell about that unflinching decision not to waiver from your musical roots.
Ted Nugent: Again I reference the title of this CD; The Music Made Me Do It. If you interview Billy Joel or Steven Tyler or Sammy Hagar, they would all reference what Elvis brought to us on the Ed Sullivan show which was a pivotal moment. It wasn’t a standalone moment; it was a representation of those black artists who created the blues of slavery and the heartbreak of oppression. The simple tragedy of a man controlling another man and the emotion they sang about that horror. When you witness it, you immediately understand it unless you are a spoiled brat which we are surrounded by these days. What we witnessed was Elvis bringing that black emotion with the explosion of freedom and the ending of slavery. Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard showed that they can take that pure emotion of heartbreak and angst to turn it into a defiant irreverence celebration that only they could do. When that hit me in the opening volleys in the late 40s, early 50s a keeping that believable authority of black influences, that it touched us. Thank God there was an Elvis Presley to convey to us so that we could understand it. It remains an unmovable core of our musical vision. All these years later from 1962/1963 when I started beating on the guitar emulating what those black heroes and the blackness of what Elvis was trying to convey. Nobody says “Let’s go Country this weekend.” They say, “Let’s go Rock Out!” or “It’s time to Rock & Roll!” Any time someone has something exciting to do they use the term Rock & Roll. That music defines the individuality and deceleration of individual’s independence. Has there ever been anyone as more defiant that Little Richard to walk the planet? We can’t forget that. Bands like the Foo Fighter, Kid Rock, Jack White, and Greta Von Fleet are doing their version of that. If you go back to your first question about my origins in Detroit, that pulsation is inescapable, especially in the Detroit club scene with Bob Segar, Grand Funk Railroad, Kid Rock, and Eminem in his own metamorphoses. It’s not mysterious if you look at the panorama of those origins and I will not be tainted by trends or cookie cutter formulas music. I am an independent son of a bitch. I believe in what I believe in so thoroughly for 70 years. When you are clean and sober for 70 years, you tend to believe in the things you believe in. You don’t have any ulterior motives or anyone else to make you happy except fellow music lovers. That is why I’m so damn proud of this record because it is so real rhythm and blues Rock & Roll and I think people are going to love it!
Robert Cavuoto: What are your thoughts with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Do you think the future holds a place for you there?
Ted Nugent: I have some really clear thoughts. Its sacrilege, it’s ultimately disrespectful and cruel to Chuck, Bo, and Little Richard and all the founding fathers in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Because the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame means something and I don’t have to explain to you because you know, and you don’t have to explain it to me. Abandon egos, bragging, and Ted Nugent speaking on behalf of Ted Nugent; is it or is it not vulgar, dishonest, and obscene that Grand Master Flash, Patti Smith, and ABBA are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but Ted “Fucking” Nugent isn’t? Is that the most outrageous and disgusting lie you have ever seen? Joe Walsh nailed it; he said, “It’s not music lover driven.” He used the word fan, and it’s not fan driven. Its ultra leftist liberal CEO driven gang who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the music. I’m not taking away from the 90% of the people in it. I genuflect at the altar of all those great musicians like my friends in Cheap Trick, Journey, ZZ Top, and Kiss. They all deserve to be in there. I would like you to find a human being and walk up to, look at them eye to eye and believe them when they say Ted Nugent should not be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I would love to witness that exchange, you would see a person almost melt with guilt because you know they are lying. At the end of the day it’s not about me it’s about the music. James Hetfield said it best when Metallica was inducted, “Ted Nugent not being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke; Ted Nugent is Rock & Roll!”