Sunday, July 28, 2002

Interview: Jesse James Dupree

Hard rockers Jackyl are probably known just as much for their on-stage antics as for their music, but for frontman Jesse James Dupree, it's all in a day's work.

"If you don't (give the fans a show), they might as well sit home and listen to the record," Dupree says in his no-nonsense Southern drawl. "I've got to have the whole ball of wax. I want to see a man shot out of a cannon."

The self-proclaimed "Redneck Punk" from Kennesaw, Ga., has done his share of crazy things on stage. He regularly destroys stools with a chainsaw, sings from the back of a mechanical bull and fires off his shotgun microphone stand. He's even been known to take the stage clad in his cowboy boots, guitar and little else. But one performance stands out in his mind.

"We played an awards show in Atlanta, and they tried to tell us what we could and couldn't do," he says, his grin coming through the phone line. "We snuck about 40 chickens and roosters in and let them out on stage. They're flopping and flapping around everywhere at this black tie event. The Indigo Girls were there, and they were going crazy. I thought I was going to have to bare-knuckle fistfight one of them. That was messy."

Stunts like that aside, the band is also one of the hardest working when they're on the road. In 1999, they entered the "Guinness Book of World Records" by playing 100 shows in 50 days. After that, the band took a brief hiatus to focus on solo projects, but they reformed in 2001 and started writing new music. This summer they're out on the road as part of the Rock Never Stops tour with Tesla, Motley Crue singer Vince Neil and Skid Row.

Though Jackyl didn't release their first album until 1992, they're often grouped with the "hair bands" of the 1980s. Dupree describes Jackyl's music as "blue jean, blue collar" hard rock and doesn't understand why they're grouped with the glitzy '80s rockers.

"I spent the '80s playing in club bands, and I was playing '70s rock," he says. "I never connected with all the bands that had their heyday in the '80s."

Despite his reluctance to be grouped with those bands, he thinks the new tour is a good fit.

"We've always steered clear of packaging with anybody; we stayed out in left field and did our own thing," Dupree says. "It's kind of cool being in the middle of it, though. We're playing with Vince Neil - the guy sold 30 million records in Motley Crue, you've got to respect him. And Tesla is as far from a hair band as you can get. They're a straight up blue jean heavy rock band; they never wore eyeliner or puffed-up hair and neither did we."

Jackyl is probably best known for their 1992 hit "The Lumberjack," in which Dupree first broke out his signature instrument - the chainsaw.

"It's just a very definitive instrument," Dupree says. "It's loud, aggressive, abrasive, destructive, stanky - everything rock 'n' roll should be when it's done right. It's really a perfect fit."

Since then, every Jackyl album has featured a prominent chainsaw solo. But does he get tired of being known as the "chainsaw guy?" Not at all. It's just part of the package.

"If it was just that, it probably would bother me," Dupree says. "But there's another whole group of people who know me for going to jail about 10 times for getting naked, or the guy who has a goose gun for a mic stand or the guy that set the stage on fire at Woodstock '94 … I'm the guy that's in the band that doesn't mind showing their asses to entertain."

In late 2001, Jackyl racked up hits of another kind, when they posted the song "Open Invitation" to their Web site ( The song, with its "I hate you, bin Laden" chant and blunt expression of the anger many people were feeling at the time, was downloaded 80,000 times in the first two weeks, causing the server to crash and costing the band about $10,000, says Dupree. But it's something Jackyl felt they had to do.

"We were in the middle of recording, and we wanted it to be a fun environment where we could crunch out some straight-up rock," Dupree says. "Then Sept. 11 happened. The only way we could vent was to record a song and put it out there."

That new album, which includes a song co-written by AC/DC's Brian Johnson, should be released later this year. AC/DC has been a big influence on Jackyl, and working with Johnson is like a dream come true for Dupree, who also traded vocals with the legendary screecher on the track "Locked and Loaded" from Jackyl's 1997 album "Cut the Crap."

"If you're a NASCAR fan, it'd be like Dale Earnhardt Jr. letting you take his car around the track for a couple of spins," Dupree says. "Brian Johnson is a perfect example of someone who has been very successful, but is still just a real guy. My friends will come over to the house, and he'll be there reading car magazines and having a beer. He's just a real, personable, down-to-earth guy."

Jackyl completed its obligation to Geffen Records with a "best of" album called "Choice Cuts" a few years ago, which leaves them free to shop their latest album to other labels. Dupree says they're looking for a company that really believes in the band.

The flamboyant frontman believes the future is bright for Jackyl. He thinks the world is ready for their brand of brash and cocky hard rock again. And if it's not, the band still has its hardcore fan base.

"We just want do what we do, and luckily, we've got such a supportive base - they've been incredible," he says. "I think the only thing that would end that is if I was to start rapping."

Friday, July 26, 2002

Interview: Ted Nugent

Some might say Ted Nugent is the walking, talking definition of dichotomy.

The outspoken - and often outrageous - rocker is just as at home screaming at the top of his lungs from the stage or sitting quietly beneath a forest canopy waiting on a trophy buck. He's a rock 'n' roll wildman who also touts sobriety and family values.

Nugent admits that some people might consider those things a contradiction, but for him, rock 'n' roll, family and hunting are all part of the ultimate life experience.

"My being, my gift of life, compels me to manage it for quality of life," Nugent says. "Clean, sober and at a higher level of awareness."

Nugent is currently rolling across the country on his annual summer tour and looking forward to the release of his new album "Craveman," due out on Spitfire this fall.

As with everything, the gonzo guitarist talks about his upcoming tour and the album with supreme self-confidence, often crossing the border into outright cockiness.

"It's sheer delirium," Nugent says of the road. "When you've got the caliber of musicians and support that I travel with, every night is a barbecue musical orgy. It's just so intense. You've got to be cut from a special bulletproof cloth to keep up with the energy my guys create."

The new album marks the return of a sound Nugent fans will be familiar with. It's raw, raunchy and angry, and the 53-year-old musician wouldn't have it any other way.

"I happen to be on a rhythm and blues jihad right now," he says with a chuckle. "I call it throbnoxious. The music is so throbnoxious. It's so rhythm and blues and so gutsy. It covers all bases from outrage and insanity to genuine spirituality. I couldn't be more proud of it. It's got 14 songs, and every one of them will rearrange your face."

Nugent credits bass player Marco Mendoza and drummer Tommy Clufetos with the power and intensity of the music. As for the attitude, that's all Nuge. One look at song titles like "Rawdogs and Warhogs," "My Baby Likes My Butter on Her Gritz" and "Sexpot" will tell Nugent fans all they need to know about the album.

The Motor City Madman says he's playing most of the songs from "Craveman" on this tour, but not to worry, he's also working in fan favorites.

One particular tune seems to have a lot of resonance during his performances. "Fred Bear," a tribute to bowhunting legend and Nugent mentor Fred Bear, brings the house down every night, the rocker says.

"The highlight of my life is 'Fred Bear,'" Nugent says. "We played it in the upper peninsula of Michigan the other night. I'm telling you, the man was there."

Nugent says the song has a mystical quality that engenders a feeling of brotherhood in the crowd.

"I have more hunters and fisherman per capita in my audience than any society on the planet," he says. "There is a blood-brotherhood campfire that ignites when I play that song that is just magical."

In the 1970s, Ted's testosterone-fueled anthems like "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Stranglehold" ruled the rock stages. In recent years, though, Nugent's become known just as much for his mouth as his music.

The guitarist, known affectionately by his fans as "Uncle Nuge," is a staunch political activist who also encourages his fans to get involved in government. He often closes concerts by urging people to write their congressmen.

The rocker is active in a wide variety of organizations from the National Rifle Association to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program to his own Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America. His work has earned him praise from conservative leaders like Tom Ridge and President Bush.

Among the causes Nugent champions is the fight against drug and alcohol abuse. No matter how wild he is on stage, Nugent says he's never taken drugs and never will.

"I've made it a crusade to let people know that you can't rock 'n' roll and have a fun life like Ted Nugent unless you're clean and sober - you'll hurt yourself," he says. "My idea of a party doesn't include puking and dying."

Nugent has even made it a goal to help other rockers overcome their addictions. He points out friends Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith and says he'd like to think he had a hand in helping them kick their habits. He's also taken on one of the most notorious musicians of today's scene, Kid Rock.

"I went down and jammed with Bob Ritchie, and the guy was chain-smoking like an idiot," Nugent says. "Here's a guy with an amazing voice - and Bob Seger was there, too - and these guys were chain smoking, two of the greatest voices out there. I put some pressure on them. I said 'Bob? Bob? What are you guys doing?'"

He also works to keep children off drugs through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, though his methods often raise eyebrows.

"I'm without question the most effective D.A.R.E. officer in the history of the program," Nugent brags. "When I confront children, they relate to me because of my attitude, my uppitiness and my street language."

That last part is what bothers some people, he says.

"I don't use the f-word with grade-schoolers, but I will use the phrase 'kiss my ass," Nugent says. "Some people will get all upset and say, 'ooh, he used the a-word.' Wait a minute, we're talking about saving kids. When was the last time the a-word killed a child? Let's get our priorities straight here. If you want kids to relate to you, you have to speak on their level."

But the two issues that are nearest and dearest to Ted Nugent are hunting and Second Amendment rights. The guitarist has become one of the nation's most prolific speakers on the subjects. He appears on radio and television talk shows, writes for a number of publications and has even written a pair of books - "God, Guns and Rock 'n' Roll" and a wild game cookbook "Kill It and Grill It."

But even in the hunting community, he has critics - people who don't like his straightforward and confrontational approach. Nugent says directly challenging anti-hunters, as he regularly does on talk shows, is the only way to get the message out.

"That's what the hunting community has always needed to do," he says. "Instead of backing down and saying, 'well, we catch and release,' we should be challenging people. We should be saying, 'No, no, no. Your tuna is dead. We kill our food. Get over it.'"

Nugent says taking the defensive in the face of anti-hunting attacks isn't going to help hunters.

"Never defend the sport; always promote it," he says. "When you see illegal and nasty behavior by our fellow sportsmen, either clean them up or throw them out. We've got to really be dedicated to upgrading this honorable hunting and fishing lifestyle imagery, so more people will join us in this environmental upgrade. That's all I really live for."

That and, of course, rock 'n' roll.

Friday, July 12, 2002

Interview: Doug Pinnick of King's X

Despite a string of critically acclaimed albums and an exceptionally dedicated fan base, progressive metal trio King's X has never managed to find mainstream success.

Bassist and vocalist Doug Pinnick says that's OK with him, though.

"It was disappointing in the past, but now I realize I've lived a life of dreams," said Pinnick. "We're still here, and we're still respected. Hopefully, we'll be here forever, and you can't say that about a lot of bands."

When King's X first hit the scene in 1988, they were very different from the bumper crop of hard rock acts that were climbing the charts. Their music was more complex, mingling elements of hard rock, funk, soul and R&B with smooth, Beatles-esque vocal harmonies. For Pinnick, who classifies himself as a "person who has always been on the outside," being different was nothing new.

When King's X formed, there weren't a lot of black musicians playing hard rock and metal.

"In my high school years, I lived in the ghetto with my mother, and people would say, `Why are you playing that white boy music?'" he said. "But I always had Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone to tell me it was OK."

Then, a couple of years ago, Pinnick admitted his homosexuality in an interview. For a few fans, particularly those who were attracted to the Christian overtones in much of King's X's music, it was hard to take. But Pinnick said most fans stood by him.

"The Christian fans don't accept it, but they say they still love me - and I've gotten a few hate letters from gay-bashers," he said. "But an overwhelming majority - almost all - of the King's X fans have e-mailed me and said they don't care. They're just proud I can stand up for myself and be honest, which is what they've always expected from me."

Those fans are one thing that has kept King's X going through nine albums and nearly 15 years. Pinnick said while their fan base may be smaller than some other bands, it's very passionate about King's X's music.

"Our family of King's X fans aren't the average hard rockers," he said. "I think that's why they stay forever. It's almost like they're addicted to it."

The fans have responded well on the band's first two trips through the U.S. in support of their 2001 release "Manic Moonlight." In the King's X tradition, the album is a bit different from their previous releases. Searching for inspiration, they used drum loops and some electronic sounds for the first time. Pinnick said fans are divided on the new sound.

"They're split pretty much down the middle," he said. "They either hated it or loved it, and very adamantly, too. They let us know what they thought."

Though the band is known for mixing things up, Pinnick said it's not intentional.

"It seems that most of our albums are different from the last one, and I have no idea why that happens," he said. "We just play our music and pour our hearts into it."

Pinnick said "Manic Moonlight" is his favorite King's X album so far, largely because it was a new experience for him. After the songs were written, he put down his bass and vocal tracks and then went on tour with his side project Poundhound. That left the rest of the production to bandmates Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill. Pinnick says it's like being able to hear something completely new from his own band.

"I just love the songs," he said. "I like it because I disassociated myself from it a little."

More recognition may be on the way for the band. They recently learned they'll be hitting the road with guitar maestro Joe Satriani and fellow prog-rockers Dream Theater at the end of the summer. To many, the pairing seems a match made in heaven, but Pinnick said he doesn't see much similarity.

"I don't think we have anything in common with the other bands, except that we all like complex music. But everyone feels this is something we need to do together," he said. "It's going to be fun. We're only playing for half an hour, but we get to play first and try to win a few new fans."

Beyond that, King's X will continue to tour relentlessly and make new music.

"We will continue to do this until something stops us," Pinnick said.