Imagine your favorite uncle. The crazy, sorta racist one who’s a Vietnam vet, who tells you a bunch of endearingly bizarre stories every Thanksgiving and occasionally sends you all-caps emails about the Obama Decepticon and the importance of investing in gold. Ted Nugent is that uncle, but with two dicks. And he just so happens to be one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
The best thing about talking to Ted Nugent—and most great crazy people for that matter—is that he’s terrifyingly proficient at making you see his point of view. Though everything Ted Nugent says and does seems actively antithetical to everything I stand for (if you are unfamiliar, Ted Nugent loves America, hunting, and excessive use of military power and hates, or at least struggles to understand, everyone who is not a straight white American man), after talking to him for 30 minutes I was pretty sure I’d temporarily become a registered Republican.
Ted Nugent is not a man who traffics in nuance. If he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it to the best of his motherfucking abilities and with zero percent subtlety. Subtlety is for pussies, and Ted Nugent is a guitar-playin’, military-lovin’, prostate-havin’, shit-killin’, red-blooded American human male. More than that, he is completely present, totally invested in everything he does, whether he’s trying to rock a crowd’s collective ballsack off, grilling some freshly-slain venison, or arresting bad guys, which is something he actually does as a member of the US Marshall Fugitive Felony Task Force.
Nugent’s psychopathic dedication to everything he believes in is overwhelmingly evident on his new live record Ultralive Ballisticrock, where he and his virtuosic band the Nigerian Rebels tear through two discs and one DVD’s worth of enter-at-your-own-risk Y Chromosome-centric Rock ‘N’ Roll. The Nuge and I spoke recently about Ultralive Ballisticrock, what it feels like to take a life, and why America is the best.
[Editor's Note: Ted Nugent is going to be Ted Nugent. You know how it is.]
Noisey: The new live record is awesome.
Ted Nugent: Yeah it is, thanks.
On the record, you say over and over again that every show is the most important one of your lives.
Every song, every time we perform, it’s a test of ourselves. If you speak to all the world class virtuosos who have been at my side for the past fifty years, I think that they’ll tell ya that performing my songs is more fun than performing anybody else’s songs. I mean, if you get to perform “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Stranglehold” and “Hey Baby” and “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Brother Bear” and “Love Grenade” and “Craveman”… the songs are so driving and musical. It’s really the ultimate combination of garage band uninhimitedness and the most professional James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Little Richard, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Aerosmith. The music is so authoritative that it drives you to play really tight with each other. Every concert we attack like it’s the most important of our lives. Because it is.
You guys are playing so intensely on the record.
We’re completely crazed children in our first garage. We have this timeless uninhibited passion for the music itself. In fact, I’m actually playing my 6,500th concert this year. The politics that I fight and stand up for really increases the musical connection that I have with people. I know there are some people who hate my politics but still love my music, but I think even they are in awe that I have the balls to stand up for it, no apologies, no backin’ down. I hear it all the time. I’m not guessing or having a hunch about this.
Is there a musician who you wouldn’t work with because of their politics?
There’s no limitation. I’m the ultimate liberal. I don’t care what you eat. I don’t care whether you have a gun or not. I’d probably care if you’re smoking dope, because it takes away from your ability to communicate and it turns you from an asset into a liability. Because you smoke dope to tune out and to reduce your level of awareness. You’re not going to be much of a benefit to anybody if you’re smoking dope.
That’s a value judgment based on whether you want to be an asset to your fellow man or if you just don’t give a shit and want to turn into a liability. That being said, I’ve spent an awful lot of time with dope smokers. I have a great dialog with a lot of guys who are probably my polar opposite politically. Like Tom Morello, he’s almost the illegitimate son of Mao Zedong, but we have a great relationship. We talk Chuck Berry, we talk guitar tone, we talk his love for the outdoors. Some of my biggest heroes are the biggest heroin addicts who have ever lived. I have jammed with some of my heroes who were hopelessly doped out of their minds, but we were able to have moments of effervescent musical communication, whether it’s Eddie Van Halen or Jon Entwhistle, or Edgar or Johnny Winters. I’m going to appreciate them on a musical level and appreciate what they do offer, not piss and moan about what they don’t offer.
How familiar are you with the straight edge punk movement?
Well, I think if you really examine the phrase “Straight Edge Punk,” you’re probably on the phone with the father of that right now. I have no inhibitions and I pretend I’m Little Richard every night, and I’m inspired by the most outrageous, audacious, and defiant musicians who ever walked the earth. Little Richard perfected defiance. He escalated defiance into an art form.
What makes Rock ‘N’ Roll so uniquely American?
You can’t come up with this stuff unless you have a Constitution. You need to have a guarantee that you won’t have a king or an emperor coming and taking your productivity away. I don’t know how much history you’ve studied, but that’s the difference between the rest of the world and America. We are based on an experiment in self-government. I gotta tell ya, every meaningful, inspiring, driving piece of music ever has come from a black guy who either dreamed of being free, or celebrated coming free. And that’s where that unleashed ferocity and defiance that created Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and certainly Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix and James Brown—all the black guys, they were shackled. And then they did, and when they got their civil rights all hell broke loose. God bless ‘em.
One of the most badass parts of the live record is when you fire off this guitar solo and say, “You can’t get a solo like that in Canada! You can’t get a solo like that in France!”
You can’t. Well you can, because a lot of Canadian guys and French guys and English guys picked up on that black influence that I mentioned. All the English bands—the Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks—played soul music, and then they started copying that spirit with their own compositions. That’s why the music had so much uppityness.
How do you feel about hip-hop, then?
Hip-hop, I think, is anti-black. Even James Brown was a bit upset by the rap and the hip-hop as not being a genuine musical force. I think it’s a cool bebop, and I think it’s a cool groove sometimes, but it doesn’t have the effervesce and the uplifting defiance factor. I know the rap guys think they’re being defiant, but it’s almost like sheep music to me. I just don’t appreciate it, I think they glorify the worst aspects of the worst people. I try listening to it, but then I turn it off because I’m waiting for something to happen. Then I go put on James Brown.
Zooming out a bit, tell me this. How’d you get so damn good at playing the guitar?
Just like I told my grandkids this morning as we were shooting a bow and arrow. I was shooting my arrows into the same hole, and they said, “Poppy, how’d you do that?” I said, “The same way you’re gonna do everything in life. Practice, practice, practice. You gotta practice talkin’, and writin’, and readin,’ and baseball, and basketball, and ballet, and piano. You gotta practice throwin’ a ball, climbin’ monkey bars, swimmin’, no matter what you do in life. It’s all difficult, and the real happiness comes from overcoming difficulties. I’m 65 years old, kids, and I’ve been shootin’ my bow for 64 of those years. And it’s about practice, practice, practice. It’s very gratifying when you can throw that basketball through the hoop, and throw that baseball through the strike zone, and do a graceful pirouette just like a ballerina in the lap of God.”
Let’s talk about hunting. Tell me about what it feels like to kill something.
It’s an explosion of happiness and satisfaction for doing a job well done. You don’t dwell on the fact that you took a life, but rather that you put everything together that’s borderline impossible to penetrate the incredible defense mechanisms of these animals. You overcame that as a reasoning predator, and you made a clean kill. And of course there’s also the incredible happiness that you’re gonna have the best meat in the world, this wonderful, mystical antler, and the bleached skull, and the medicine, and the spirit.
What’s the greatest deer you’ve ever killed?
For me, it’s all about the encounter. Figuring out the ambush. I’ve killed hundreds and hundreds of pieces of game every year, and every one is a shot of thrilling adrenaline and self-gratification and of persevering and not giving up. It’s always a powerful moment. Not quite as powerful as the birth of a child or the victory of good over evil, but damn close. The only things more powerful than the success of a predator pursuit is sex, birth, death, and victory.
What about Rock ‘N’ Roll?
All of the above.
I think you just accidentally defined rock music.
That’s the first time I’ve ever put those words together, but yeah. I think there’s a physics of spirituality to the creative process. For me, to collaborate with world-class gifted virtuosos and create musical monsters is beyond measure. It fortifies your very being. Just think, with all the concerts and all the jams and all the songwriting moments and all the random playing, you can imagine how my cup runneth over. I’m a very lucky man.
Who from the next generation of musicians do you enjoy?
I still think the best music in the world is being created by the founders of it as well as the second generation, whether it’s Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Van Halen, Heart, Cheap Trick, Journey, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Styx, Foreigner—they’re still playing, even though it’s no original members. That music has an authority and an integrity that’s very compelling. It’s the soundtrack to humanity. Yeah you’ve got your Dave Grohls and certainly Kid Rock is timeless, so there’s no shortage of great music.
What advice do you have for the next generation of musicians?
Listen to the guys that invented this stuff. Play it often, and play their things often so your vocabulary and musical voice pivots on the soulfulness of those inventors. Don’t consider it a parameter, consider it an inspiration and break down all the parameters. The greatest musical satisfaction comes from obliterating anything status quo, and we do that every night. It’s a very inebriated feeling. I’m literally high on the music process every day.
My coworker Sasha is in the market for a gun. She’s never shot one before. What would you recommend she look into?
Her first gun should be a single-shot bolt action /22 rifle. That way she’ll become very familiar with the ultra-safety mechanics with loading one bolt at a time and working the bolt and drawing the hammer back so it becomes a mechanical muscular memory of load—where you’re pointing, becoming hot with the safety off, and squeezing the trigger with the sight control. That way it slows you down. You don’t want to start with a semiautomatic, you don’t want to start with a banger, you don’t want to start with a handgun. You don’t want to start with any of that. But more important than that is being tutored and guided by an experienced individual that knows all about safety and gun handling. With the quietness of a .22—and to make a note, she should probably start with what we call “.22 CB caps,” because they have a very mild, quiet report, though you should still wear ear and eye protection. It doesn’t have any recoil, it doesn’t have any loud report. It’s very gratifying, and a lot of fun.
Wow. That was an extremely thorough answer.
Yeah, you betcha. I’m an extremely thorough guy, especially when it comes to music and guns.
How long could you survive in the woods for?
Forever. Bare naked, with just what I have in my pockets.
What do you have in your pockets?
Oh, jeez. Every day of my life since I was a teenager I’ve carried a clean handkerchief, a lighter, some chapstik, a pocket knife, a folding knife, a Players’ folding wrench, I have my wallet—not just with my identification and sherriff’s credentials, but I also have some small pieces of paper unless I have to start a fire. This all may sound silly to the city folks out there, but believe me, it’s not. I also have a 10mm handgun and 60 rounds of ammo, and a 9mm handgun and 20 rounds of ammo. I also have folding reading glasses that help me if I have to see some small print or something. And about 20 guitar picks. And a flashlight. So yeah, I’ve got pretty much everything you’d need.
Let’s back up a bit—you’ve got a sheriff’s credential?
Yeah, I’ve been a sheriff’s deputy since 1982 back in Lake County, Michigan. I go on patrol whenever I’m back in Michigan, and I also conduct Federal arrest raids with the US Marshall Fugitive Felony Task Force in Texas.
Tell me more about that.
I’m afraid I can’t.
Have you ever had a felon in the midst of being arrested by you realize that he’s getting arrested with Ted Nugent?
Yes I have. It’s very, very funny. We get a kick out of that. I guess it’s cute, but if you’re a bad guy, I don’t really give a shit. Don’t think there’s any shortage of adventure in my life. If you’re not havin' a good time with me, you’re weird.
Drew Millard could not survive in the woods for ten minutes. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard