Regardless of what you think about his politics, there's no denying the fact that Ted Nugent has solidified his place in rock history.
In addition to his successful solo career and his stints with the Amboy Dukes and Damn Yankees, the Motor City Madman has performed well more than 6,000 shows and contributed some of the most memorable guitar licks the rock world has ever heard.
Nugent's new live CD/DVD, Ultralive Ballisticrock (set to be released October 22), isn't just a souvenir of a kick-ass rock concert. It's an experience — a spiritual revival, sermon, history class and rally for America rolled into one.
Nugent and his band, including Derek St. Holmes (guitar/vocals), Greg Smith (bass) and Mick Brown (drums), were filmed and recorded by seven cameras in 5.1 audio mix during Nugent's 2011 I Still Believe Tour.
I recently spoke to Nugent about the new CD/DVD. We also talk his most famous guitar licks and more.
GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to make a live CD/DVD at this time?
What Greg, Mick and Derek bring to every concert is so intense, just the passion they have as gifted virtuosos. The fact that they put their heart and soul into every lick, every song, every night. Every concert is a musical orgy of fun and grind and funk and passion. I figured, "My god, we've got to capture this stuff, right now!"
How would you describe your live show?
Chuck Berry meets Natty Bumppo in the bend of the Lewis and Clark exploratory advance meat man point of view! Lewis and Clark had a guy who would go out in front of them and get meat for the tribe. He was going places where no one had ever been before. So even though Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, James Brown, Wilson Pickett and all of the other black heroes guide the foundation of my songs and musical visions, it certainly goes way beyond any of those parameters. We play with the intensity of our heroes, but we're also what I like to call "Paradigm Grenade Boys." We take "grenades," throw them into paradigms and then wallow in the shrapnel. That's the fun factor. I don't think any musical force ever in the history of the world has more fun than my band and audiences. If you're not having fun with me, you're weird!
You're on track to having performed more than 6,500 shows over the course of your career. Are there any shows that standout as most memorable?
Being clean and sober for 65 years, my memory actually works, and I do remember all of them. Every night is jam-packed not just with musical memories but also with life celebration. Sometimes people will come up and randomly mention where it was they first saw me play, and I'll be able to tell them what songs we did, what guitar I used and even what happened to the PA system. I remember them all. But I've got to tell you, because I'm surrounded by phenomenal musicians who have a passion for the music, I've never had a bad night. They've all been nothing less than phenomenal. That energy level imprints on me every night.
Let's discuss a few of your signature riffs and how you came up with them: "Stranglehold."
I think it's why God made the guitar and why Les Paul electrified it. So that "Stranglehold" could come out! [laughs]. It's such a knee jerk. The thing is, I don't think about anything too much. I just grab the guitar, start beating on it and making noise, and that rhythm, that lick (like most of my licks); that's where they come from. They're all spontaneous and come from a sound check or a jam session or when I'm tuning up. They're all raw, primal scream. There are a lot of great licks out there. "You Really Got Me" comes to mind, but "Stranglehold" is better than all of them.
Wikipedia describes the "Cat Scratch Fever" riff as a three-tone minor-key melody harmonized in parallel fourths. Is that an accurate assessment?
Is that what it's called? [laughs]. Actually, it's the chordal bastardization of the original honky-tonk. So many killer songs use the honky-tonk, and one day I was playing it. But instead of playing the notes, I started playing the chords. There you have it.
What are your thoughts on being part of the whole "hair metal" phase with Damn Yankees?
I never attributed us into that designation. We played beautiful rock and roll, rhythm and blues grind music. It was spontaneous. We never went in with the idea of seeing what the collaborative musical effort of Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, Michael Cartellone and Ted Nugent would sound like. We just started jamming on some James Brown songs. The connection was immediate and powerful and we just started writing songs from the heart. I'm proud as hell of that band and every lick we did. What a great musical adventure that was.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to guitarists?
Don't play tomorrow what you play today, and don't play tonight what you played yesterday. Force yourself to explore. Break free of any musical constraints that you discover you're a victim of. Become the Lewis and Clark of the guitar and go where no one's gone before. You can do it. It is in you. You just have to find it. So force yourself to go there.
Photos: James and Marilyn BrownJames Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.