No matter the title of his forthcoming record, Ted Nugent makes it pretty clear pretty quickly that he doesn’t have any intention of shutting up.
When we began this interview, ostensibly to give the Motor City Madman a chance to talk about Shut Up and Jam, a simple question about the title led — in true Nugent form — to a profanity-laced tirade about the current administration and the state of government. This being a site about music, not politics, we’ll spare you the majority of that. Suffice it to say that he’s not a fan.
Once that was out of the way, though, the 65-year-old rocker settled in (if, that is, you can say the ever-animated and hyperactive Nuge ever “settles” in to anything) to discuss some other topics. Over the course of the conversation, we bounced from place-to-place, with the always ever-so-humble guitarist touching on the new record, the influence of Mitch Ryder, the reunion with long-time vocalist Derek St. Holmes and the effects of aging.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk to Uncle Ted without including his love of the outdoors. (Upon learning his interviewer was from Louisiana, he proudly pronounced himself “a squirrel etouffee-eating motherfucker.”) There was also a mention of the great philosopher Dirty Harry, and could we possibly see … Ted Nugent for president?
FRED PHILLIPS: I have to ask first about the title for the new album, Shut Up and Jam, because anyone who knows anything at all about Ted Nugent knows you’re not really one to shut up.
TED NUGENT: “Shut Up and Jam” is just another spontaneous killer guitar riff that I started blasting out in the living room, like I do every day a couple of times a day — and I just started singing. I didn’t plan on writing a song, “Shut Up and Jam,” and I certainly didn’t plan on shutting up and jamming, but on occasion I do shut up and jam. Often enough, but not too often. It’s a direct result of my intense engagement as a responsible functioning “We the People” participant in this sacred experiment in self-government. Call me weird, but I believe guitar players qualify as “We the People.” We the people, all of us, have a Job No. 1 responsibility to remain engaged, which means putting pressure — gentlemanly and civil and polite — but pressure nonetheless, on our elected official employees to adhere to their oath to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and they’re not doing it. So I will shut up and jam, but not often.
FRED PHILLIPS: There have been rumors, perhaps fueled by the recent haircut, that you’ve got some political aspirations of your own.
TED NUGENT: You want to have the time of your life, go to my Facebook. I just did a little spontaneous experiment with my cell phone and recorded a one-minute goofy video, and there’s like four million hits on it already. One week, we had 12 million hits, and over 11 million of those — in fact, it was like 11,990,000 — all said I should run for president. Because they’ve seen me debate, they’ve seen me do interviews, they’ve seen me on television, even if they just watched the No. 1 hunting show in the history of the world, “Ted Nugent’s Spirit of the Wild” on the Outdoor Channel. People are really going crazy asking me to run for president. That’s an indication of just how tragic it currently is. Only under dastardly tragic conditions and political corruption and governmental abuse of power and criminality would the author of “Wango Tango” be asked to run for president.
FRED PHILLIPS: Let’s get back to Shut Up and Jam. Listening to it, there seems to be a good mix of the soulful blues rockers and the more in-your-face stuff.
TED NUGENT: My life is very diverse. I’ve toured like an animal all summer, every summer since 1958. I may be doing my 6,500th concert, but I won’t just play the concert and go to the hotel and order room service. I hang out. I meet with and I train with military and law enforcement. I do charity work with every imaginable children’s charity. You can’t name a children’s charity that we don’t work with. We do it all. We do it on the road. I meet with people, so I hang with these loving, generous American families who give and give and give for these wonderful military charities and children’s charities. I have a communication network with all imaginable people — ultra-hardcore Christian people, farmers, ranchers, cops, teachers, welders and mechanics, politicians, CEOs, governors and senators, just every imaginable walk of life. Because of the diversity of my daily life, my songs are going to be diverse. There’s going to be a really bluesy, soulful, emotional “Never Stop Believing.” There’s going to be a really uppity, positive, celebratory “Never Stop Believing.” [There are two versions of “Never Stop Believing” on the album, and a third on the Japanese release.] There’s going to be a “Fear Itself” about rugged individualism and standing up for what you believe in. There’s going to be a “Semper Fi” as a salute, admitting that freedom is not free, and only because of the body bags coming home from the war on terror are we able to still have an experiment in self-government. So, I try to thank them by participating in the freedoms and the rights their sacrifices have provided. It’s very emotional. Then there’s the occasional “Wango Tango”-type song that is just an escape mechanism that shuts down the current tragedy and heartbreak of politics and you just want to shut up and jam and rock ‘n’ roll. I think we can all agree that the greatest philosopher ever was Dirty Harry, when he said “a good man knows his limitations.” So I know when to engage, I know when to debate, I know when to rally and be an activist, and I also know when to shut up and jam or go climb a tree with a sharp stick and try to shoot a deer.
FRED PHILLIPS: Speaking of which, does the schedule allow you to do much of that these days?
TED NUGENT: I hunt every day, and then the tour starts. I even hunt when I’m out on tour a lot and do a little fishing here and there, when I have the time. Come the end of the tour, I hunt every day. I hunt about 300 days a year. That’s why “Spirit of the Wild” has been the No. 1 show on Outdoor Channel forever. Even before there was an Outdoor Channel, our “Spirit of the Wild” show set pledge drive records on PBS in the 26 states it aired on because we don’t produce the show. We just document the way real American families hunt, fish and trap. We don’t play games. We don’t apologize or defend anything. We just promote and celebrate real, hands-on conservation. Those of us who love the great outdoors should be promoting it and celebrating it more publicly.
FRED PHILLIPS: I understand you’ve had quite the creative outburst of late. I hear a second record is nearly complete.
TED NUGENT: I have so many killer songs. Obviously, Shut Up and Jam is wall-to-wall killer songs, but I’ve got so many more. In fact, on the European release is a bonus track called “Johnny B. Goode Forever,” and I’m actually pissed off it’s not on the American release because it’s a monster. Another acoustic version of “Never Stop Believing” is on the Japanese CD. Then I’ve got another 15 songs. It’s kind of cute. I’ve never done a concept album since Journey to the Center of the Mind, but the next album, as it stands today [June 18, 2014], the next album will probably be called Everything. Every song has the word “everything.” The title track is “Sex is Everything” … “Freedom is Everything,” “Spirit is Everything,” “Attitude is Everything,” “My Dogs are Everything,” “Guns are Everything,” “Barbecue is Everything,” “Music is Everything.” They’re just these scorching, grinding, guitar-driven songs. I can’t wait to get in the studio and record these suckers.
FRED PHILLIPS: You also reunited with Derek St. Holmes for a song on this record, and he’s touring with you again.
TED NUGENT: How about that vocal on “Everything Matters?” I wrote that song just for Derek. It’s such a masterpiece. He does just an incredible job. I was a little pissed off because I wanted Derek to sing three or four other songs, but when it came right down to it, he wasn’t available very much. He was out doing other stuff. And everybody said I should sing “I Still Believe” and “Never Stop Believing,” and they told me I should sing the blues version, too. I wanted Derek to sing that. I think Sammy [Hagar] was right. He said that’s my song and those are my beliefs, even though millions and millions of people have the same beliefs, if not hundreds of millions of people. So they convinced me that I should sing those songs. On the next record, I’m hoping Derek will sing a lot more songs, since his voice is just incredible. Here’s another thing: Derek didn’t play guitar on this record, and over my career, he hasn’t played much guitar on my records, but he’s an unbelievable guitar player — unbelievable — and nobody understands how incredible Derek St. Holmes is on the guitar. I’d like to produce an entire record just for Derek, because I think I can write songs that are perfect for his voice and guitar playing. There are a lot of irons in the fire right now, so we’re pretty excited about it.
FRED PHILLIPS: You mentioned Sammy Hagar. What was it about “She’s Gone” that made you think Sammy was the right guy to sing it?
TED NUGENT: Sammy and I have known each other for, I don’t know, almost 40 years. Montrose opened up for us in ’74, ’75, ’76, and we became fast friends because my band and his band, we were all brought up on the diets of rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll — Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Mose Allison, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis. All that authentic, monstrous, driving rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. I’ll never forget that whenever Montrose opened up for us, Sammy and Denny Carmassi — an incredible drummer, Denny played drums on my Spirit of the Wild record, and that was a dream come true because he’s unbelievable — and Ronnie Montrose and Bill Church, they would all watch every song at every concert me and my boys were doing, because they really saw the way we applied ourselves was so authoritative and so intense and so much fun. Sammy has mentioned many times that he’s learned pretty much everything about his musical approach from watching me. We’ve always yelled at each other that we should collaborate, write songs, record, something because he and I have jammed on stage many, many, many times with Montrose, with Van Halen, with the Waboritas. We’ve jammed many, many times together. It’s just perfect chemistry. So, I thought the way “She’s Gone” was just an old-fashioned blues rocker, and I sent it to him. He said, “I’m in. This is exactly what I want to do. This is perfect. The song was written for me.” So he convinced me — I wanted him to sing the whole song — but Sammy demanded that we do a duet, because he thought that I sang it better than he does. He’s wrong, but at least we did a duet. I’m really, really proud of that. He’s a monster talent. He’s one of the greatest all-time rockers, right up there with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger. Sammy Hagar is one of the greatest.
FRED PHILLIPS: I really think that “She’s Gone” sounds like something you might have done with Derek back in the ’70s.
TED NUGENT: Once you celebrate those original masters — I just mentioned them all — when you were brought up on Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and, certainly, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, that grind and that groove and that cadence and that uppitiness, it’s always with you. Then I witnessed Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. My band, The Lourds, opened up for Mitch Ryder before they changed their name to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. They were originally Billy Lee and the Rivieras, and we opened up for them at the Walled Lake Casino in western Michigan. When I saw Mitch Ryder and Jimmy McCarty and Earl Elliott on bass and Joe Kubert on rhythm guitar — a 335 Gibson, through a Fender amp — and the mighty Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, who played on my record Shut Up and Jam with me. What I witnessed from those guys was such an intensity, such an energy, such a firestorm of tightness — what James Brown and Wilson Pickett and the Motown Funk Brothers taught us — that I vowed that I would never play anything except with everything I’ve got, just like Mitch Ryder and his band did, just like James Brown and his band did, just like what Wilson Pickett does on stage, and Otis Redding, and all of those black heroes. That’s why Sammy and I get along. That’s why Derek is in this band. That’s why [Nugent drummer] Mick [Brown] and [bassist] Greg [Smith] love the music. That’s why Johnny Badanjek is on the record, and that’s why Michael Lutz of Brownsville Station — “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” rhythm and blues god — that’s why he wanted to produce this record, because we all love that stuff.
FRED PHILLIPS: Sounds like a lot of people and influences from throughout your career came together to make this one.
TED NUGENT: It really was a dream getting Sammy on there, getting Johnny on there, getting Derek back on a killer song, and recording with the greatest rhythm section a guy could ever dream of — Mick Brown and Greg Smith. These guys are just monsters. They perform my music like no other.
FRED PHILLIPS: You’re getting ready to hit the road in July, and I understand that you’re kind of a bionic man now.
TED NUGENT: I had both knees replaced Feb. 26 this year, because they were just both destroyed from all that leaping off the amplifiers and jumping off stuff all my career. I had no meniscus and no cartilage left. Right now, I’m sitting here talking to you, rubbing both of them. I’ve got ice bags on them because they are so fucking sore. The pain is just indescribable. The only time I don’t notice the pain is when I’m shooting a squirrel or kissing Mrs. Nugent, or doing an interview about the music I love.
FRED PHILLIPS: You’re known for a pretty wild stage show. Are you worried that might slow you down?
TED NUGENT: I was very concerned, but I did a concert about two weeks ago in Sweden in front of 40,000 maniacs, and I was dancing like a Motown Funk Brother up there, man. I’m not going to be able to jump off amps ever again, and I don’t have much spring in my step, but by all accounts they’re going to get better and better and within this year, they’re supposed to be better than new. I’m concerned, but I proved to myself in an hour and a half on stage cranking out the masterpieces, and really grinding, that I can still do the stroll and the rock ‘n’ roll lean. The mobility limitations are considerable, but I’ve decided you don’t need knees to rock ‘n’ roll.