10 questions with Ted Nugent
(Brian Johnston | Posted 2011-08-06)
Love him or leave him: it seems no one doesn't have an opinion about opinionated rock icon Ted Nugent.
Since he first burst on the scene in 1967, flailing his guitar into submission on the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of Your Mind," Nugent has been many things to many people. First, or course, "The Nuge" (or "the Motor City Madman" owing to his Detroit roots), is a great guitarist. He's also a great outdoorsman and outspoken advocate of gun rights as well as a staunch supporter of what some call the political right.
No matter what you think of Nugent, you must admit he has insight to offer on a variety of subjects. Recently, Ted allowed MGRs Brian Johnston to pick his brain on a variety of subjects. (Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this interview do not represent those of MGR, its staff or its employees.)
MGR: Your guitar playing is highly memorable because of your lead phrasing, but even more so by your riffs. They are so raw and in your face. How did you and do you develop your riffs and songs in general... do they come about from jamming/practicing or do they develop in your head spontaneously. I suspect the answer may be a bit of both, but what would the ratio be and how do you go about your practice/jamming sessions?
Nugent: Thank you. Have you noticed that? Amen and pass the pure animal SoulSpirit, loud and proud! I am fascinated and moved by the electric guitar, especially my mighty Gibson Byrdland guitars, today more than ever, and it all pivots upon my maniacal cravings for the deep, mystical sounds from my inner, instinctual soul. My friends and bandmates will tell you that I cannot pick up a guitar without some monster, sexy, grinding, intensely energized guitar lick from hell erupting forth. Being clean and sober my entire life has created a pure spontaneous, virtually uninhibited monster within, a lovely, raw, primal, loving monster that so craves driving rhythmical guitar patterns to the obsessed point that I simply cannot stop myself. I play my guitars every day, and am always unleashing a torrent of knee jerk gut inspired patterns and themelicks that are derivatives of the original Boogie Woogie and Honky Tonk guitar and piano patterns, just more aggressive and stream of consciousness. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it is. I lead an amazingly sensually stimulated life. Have you seen Mrs. Nugent, my stunning Zumba Goddess? My outdoors lifestyle plays a powerful role in this process, for I truly live a pure tooth, fang and claw life of hunting, fishing, trapping, guiding, outfitting and teaching hands on conservation and all types of shooting sports. This natural higher level of awareness, particularly in relationship to celebrating my natural predator and stewardship roles and duties to wildlife, bring about the purest connection with the animal world available to mankind. This spiritual connection brings out the ultimate animal in me, and everybody knows that the best music is as close to animal as we can get. I am there. My guitar is an animal.
MGR: Your style has kept true to form over the years, but certainly your technique and skills have improved. Can you explain the evolution or changes that have occurred from the early to middle to later records?
Nugent: Thank you again. Practice does make perfect, and I do ferociously beat the living hell out of my guitars all the time. Again, I attribute the attractiveness of my playing to the intense passion I have for guitar music and my insatiable cravings for and creation of my guitar music. This passion is contagious to all who love music, especially guitar driven music, like I do. It is important to note that I am oblivious to any scales or "authorized" notes, phrases or sounds. The road less traveled doesn't cut it for me. I crave the non-road, untraveled. Defiance is a powerful tool to maximize musical adventure. The ultimate musical dream in my opinion is to become inebriated by the pursuit itself, therefore developing a magical oneness with the instrument on a virtuoso level, while, even more importantly, never, ever losing touch with that spontaneous childlike irreverence and fascination with garage band youthfulness. Magic stuff.
MGR: I believe it was in Guitar World that you indicated Jimmy Page was over-rated and that you considered yourself one of the best rock guitarists around, if not the best. How is Page over-rated, since he’s so highly respected? Also, some followers of speed players or the more modern guitarists, like Malmsteem, Vai and Satriani would disagree with you and that you are not in their league. Could you explain the context of how your playing matches or betters some of these more metal-based heroes?
Nugent: I would have to examine the context within which those statements by me were or were not made. Certainly Jimmy Page is one of the alltime great guitar masters, as are Beck, Clapton, Jimi, Vai, Satriani, Ronnie Montrose, Joe Bonamassa, John Sykes, Bugs Henderson, Derek St. Holmes, Chris Duarte, Erik Johnson, Ricky Medlock, Damon Johnson, Rick Derringer, Malmsteen, EVH, SRV, Billy Gibbons and so many others. I dearly respect and admire them all, even genuflect at their musical genius alters. That being said, we all know that like everything else in life, music is extremely personal and subjective, and musical impact more often than not is measured in overall musical statement, more than just guitar technique. I would point to most of Keith Richards' body of work as a glowing example of powerfully moving musical impact with little emphasis on guitar master prowess in the virtuoso department. Grease and soul always trumps technique, per se. When music lovers, especially guitar music lovers, review my body of work, they celebrate a wonderful and unique impact and satisfaction for the overall delivery. If politics were to be put aside, all would admit that my best musical moments stand with the best of the best. Listen to Stranglehold, Just What The Dr. Ordered, Journey To The Center of The Mind, Cat Scratch Fever, Motorcity Madhouse, Dog Eat Dog, Stormtroopin, Out Of Control, Working Hard Playing Hard, Queen of the Forest, Free For All, Hey Baby, Live It Up, Wang Dang Sweet Poontang, Love Grenade, Crave, Hibernation, Spirit of the Wild, Little Miss Dangerous, Painkiller, EarthTones, Rawdogs & Warhogs, Fred Bear, my brand new "I Still Believe", "I Love My BBQ" and a whole bunch of other insane guitar landmarks. Killer stuff.
MGR: Apart from the guitar soloists out there, many of whom are very good, what are your thoughts on today’s music and guitarists, particularly in the pop and rock genres? Feel free to address the lack of soloing that takes place in songs or the general guitar skills involved or required in today’s popular music.
Nugent: I relish the guitar mastery of Satch, Vai, Bonamassa, et al, but am much more moved by killer guitar in the context of a moving song. In much of today's hit pos bands, I lament the loss of crescendo, that intense, animal musical mountaintop that can only be delivered by a killer firestorm of lead guitar screaming. I miss it terribly. Green Day and Nickleback make incredible music, are phenomenal musicians, but I am so let down and unsatisfied by the failure to go to the next level of intensity with guitar solo fire at that peak. I just don't get it, and I don't like it.
MGR: Why do you think it is that today’s guitar players don’t seem to ‘rock’ like they once did? Musical influences aside, why is it becoming a dying art and why are so many listeners migrating more towards simple melodic music driven by electronics?
Nugent: I hope I am wrong, but I believe it is the same reason we elected an inept, communist raised Chicago community organizer who praises the enemies of America, as president; a frightening, soulless disconnect from the important things in life and a celebration of the worse things in life. America is in the drop kick of apathy, slovenliness and gluttony. Heartbreakingly, much of the new music makes for a perfect soundtrack for such a subhuman condition. Thank God for Kid Rock. This Motorcity BloodBrother gives me hope.
MGR: Can you explain your current gear setup, including guitars, amps and effects in order to achieve your tone? Has your setup altered over the years and do you have preferences for certain companies in how they make their gear?
Nugent: I am a primitive man when it comes to guitar tone. I think Lonnie Mack playing Suzie Q and WHAM! I rotate an arsenal of Gibson Byrdlands, PRS and Les Pauls through my Peavey and Kustom amps. I have a Dunlop wah-wah, a Boss stereo chorus and an old MXR phaser, but I rarely stomp on em.
MGR: What is it about the Gibson Byrdland that you like so much over the usual solid-body guitars that adorn rock? Does it have anything to do with tone, size, how it handles?
Nugent: All the above. The Byrdland is the only hand carved, arched top spruce, hollowbody guitar out there that has that incredible deep, rich, fibrous voice. You can hear the spruce no matter what kind of amp you play it through. It turns me on and inspires me.
MGR: Music aside, I would like to know your thoughts on today’s teenagers – their laziness, lack of work ethic, and particularly the seemingly more feminized males. Certainly they are not all like this, but each generation seems to be harbouring kids with fewer life skills and audacity. Men are becoming progressively more laid back and less ambitious. Could this be having an influence on rock music development and its current direction, which was once very testosterone laden?
Nugent: It is ugly, isn't it? Be aware though that there are still really smart, tough, ruggedly individual young Americans out there. I point to the greatest warriors ever in the world that make up the American military. They are simply the best of the best and superior human beings all. I also get to meet lots of great kids across the country with all the youth charity work I do. When you find a soft, disconnected, fat, lazy kid, you can look right at the parent's failure to properly parent. The ease with which young people can accomplish so much with the advances in technology has made it too easy too often, and parents, teachers and mentors should push harder to discipline young people to work harder and be more independent. Unfortunately, our government is so corrupt and anti-American right now that a clear, negative message is being sent that strong and independent are not good attributes. The whole damn system has to be altered from the top down. I pray for America.