Interview with Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent’s latest live album UltraLive BallisticRock has just been released. Mick Burgess called the Motor City Madman to talk about the album, the return of Derek St. Holmes and how Ted would fix the economy.

Where am I calling you today?

I’m at my ranch in Texas, just outside of Waco, south of Dallas. Even in October it’s still nice and sunny and hot here in Texas but I’m looking forward to some snow and going up north for a while.

First of all let’s talk about your latest release Ultralive Ballistic Rock. This is a live release. You’ve issued a few over the years. Why is the time right now for another live album?

I live by pure instinct and I don’t plan anything. I know that we need to rock your balls off all summer. You can’t keep going playing music like I do all year otherwise you’ll absolutely blow up. You just can’t maintain the outrageous energy that we do each night on stage. We don’t plan for this record and we don’t plan the tour. Every summer we just get up, rehearse and go out and put our heart and soul into our show. There is no question that the dynamics, power and communication that we celebrate every night on tour is so incredible. We always show the due respect to the identity of the song but we also play some games every once in a while and expand on things. Live you cannot control the beast, the energy, spirit and spontaneity in what we do live. Every concert is so special and inebriating. The energy from the audience is so ridiculously fun and exciting that you just know you have to share it with people. The Access Television Network requested to do a live Ted Nugent concert. Well…be my guest!! Bring your equipment and capture the beast. I realised what Mick, Greg and Derek did every night put so much authority into the music; it was so tight and dynamic every night that I demanded that the live concert that the TV Network recorded was put onto a live DVD and CD for general release so here it is.

Your first live album Double Live Gonzo is considered to be one of the great live albums of all time. How does your new one stand up against this?

It deserves a place right up there next to it. No doubt about it. I thought the live Swedish concert we did a few years ago was killer. Intensity in Ten Cities was all brand new songs recorded live. You’ve got to admit that I have the greatest album titles in the world. Live Gonzo, Intensity in Ten Cities and Ultra Live Ballistic Rock you just can’t beat those. I just love the music and don’t scrutinise anything. I know that what we do is so sincere and passionate and we dedicate all of our energy, heart and soul to make sure it’s the most professional, accurate and real world representation of the show that we do. I don’t go back and second guess anything as I know Double Live Gonzo had moments of infamy but then so did the later live albums. What we did on my 6000th concert a few years ago in Detroit, that live album is just outrageous and I love that one as well. With the current one with Derek returning to sing those classic songs and with the energy from Mick and Greg we knew we just had to capture it and share it with people. Live Gonzo is a classic album and I think Ultra Live Ballistic Rock is right up there with it. I’m very proud of it.

As far as the track listing goes, there’s all the classics that you are known for How do you decide what else to include bearing in mind your extensive back catalogue?

I love all my songs. We’ve got a few new songs in there too like “Love Grenade” and the song “Crave”, we play that one all the time. What about “Raw Dogs and War Hogs”? I just love these songs and we love playing them so we have to get them in the set alongside the classics that everyone wants to hear. When we went out at the start of the Black Power Tour, which celebrated and dedicated our appreciation to the Black Soul artists that inspired everybody, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, Little Richard, we decided to put out as much classic music as possible into the set and play those songs that we all love so much while putting a few of our newer songs too that we also love to play. You’ve got to admit that it would be some nasty, obscene crime; a violation if I didn’t play “Stranglehold” or “Cat Scratch Fever”, “Wango Tango”, “Motor City Madhouse” or “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” How dare I go out on stage and not play those songs!! I’m the biggest fan of my music and as a guitarist it’s beyond my wildest dreams to come up with a lick like “Wango Tango” and “Cat Scratch Fever”. These songs have a life of their own, they are a force to be reckoned with and I’m just grateful that I was the one that created them. There’s a few hundred songs that I’ve written but these are my favourites at this time.

Your current band includes Derek St. Holmes, Michael Brown and Greg Smith. You’ve had many lineups over the years. Do you hope this one stays together for some time?

I’d like to say forever as I love playing with them so much. If you look at the lineup of musicians I’ve played with over the years Denny Carmassi, Carmine Appice, Tommy Aldridge, Marco Mendoza and before that in the Amboy Dukes with Dave Palmer, Andy Solomon, Greg Arama. I attribute my success to all of them. These guys were monsters. I’ve been so lucky to have worked with these guys over the years, they are just the greatest musicians ever to have walked the earth. I’m also working at the moment with John Kutz. I’ve been jamming some demos with him and I can tell you he’s a stone cold son of a bitch, man I’m telling you. He’s like a Motown Funk Brother meets Cozy Powell and Tommy Aldridge all wrapped into one. I’ve got to be spontaneous with my music. Mick Brown is a monster and Greg Smith is a monster and I’d love to see it last forever so we’re going to have to wait and see how it develops.

Derek has been with you for years on and off since your 1975 debut album. What is about Derek that has made him such an important part of your band?

Firstly it’s his vocal prowess that inspires me to write songs. His tone and touch is just right. He’s such a soulful singer but people don’t realise that he’s also one of the greatest guitar players that ever lived. I cut him loose on stage each night and what he does on guitar is just genius. He’s just a full blooded blood brother. He went and did his own stuff after 1978 but I knew his voice was the identity to “Stranglehold” and “Hey Baby”. He’s such a killer singer and guitar player and I’ve prodded him for the last few years and he finally acquiesced and came back to the band. Derek has never sounded better and has never played better and on those songs that I sing like “Free For All” and “Great White Buffalo” Derek just plays a killer guitar.

Over the summer you’re pretty much on tour the whole time. How do you keep going?

We’re a hard working band and play at least six nights a week. We have very little rest during the summer tour. We just don’t like days off. We like the momentum and velocity of constant performing. It pushes you and increases the intensity of the performances. We love what we do so much, we just don’t want to stop.

Legendary drummer Carmine Appice played on your 1982 Nugent album. How was it having him in your band?

Cliff was such a monster on the drums and a true professional God rest his soul. We lost him a few years ago. He was an absolute joy to play with. Those words however could be used to describe most of my musicians. What a lucky guitar player I am to play with so many great musicians. The Amboy Dukes did a lot of touring with Vanilla Fudge and everyone was so reverential towards the great Carmine Appice. John Bonham always gave credit to Carmine for the soulfulness and thunder that Carmine created. Carmine is the real McCoy and I absolutely salute him.

That was actually your first album without Cliff. Was it strange for you to look behind you and see someone else on the drum stool?

The song is always the boss; the music is always the guiding force. You could never stop Carmine from being Carmine as he’s got a real thunderous attitude but when he played my songs he showed real respect to those songs because he’s a consummate virtuoso. He not only remained Carmine Appice but he performed the songs with respect. He put his heart and soul into the delivery of the songs’ identity and I think that’s job number one.

Over the years you’ve worked with various singers including Derek, Charlie Huhn and Brian Howe yet on the likes of Little Miss Dangerous and If You Can’t Lick ‘Em and Caveman you were the sole lead singer. Why did you decide to work without a lead singer on occasions?

It goes back to that whole spontaneity thing. I make music all the time and I played some licks on my guitar just this morning and they scared me. I get killer ideas for songs and I have a lot of fun creating music. In the movie The Last Samurai when Tom Cruise was trying to sheath his Samurai sword and he was fumbling around. One of the Samurai kids told him “Too many minds”. The worst thing you can do with music is have too many minds. In other words, if you think about it too much it can ruin the moment. When I jam with my band the same system that turns me on as a music lover is the same system that creates all the songs I’ve ever written. That’s the same system that makes me decide who sings the song, who plays on the song, how we arrange and produce the song. It’s that instinct that enables me to unleash these guitar riffs that have a groove to them, a throttle to them. I don’t play around with them, I keep them as they are. If I construct a song where I sing and where I like the way I sing then I’ll sing it. Those were decisions made at a moment in time that was spontaneous to satisfy my own musical cravings.

It’s been a fair few years since your last studio album, Love Grenade in 2007. Can we hope for a new album with your current line up?

I’ve been wanting to get into the studio for the last year as we’ve got so many killer songs. We’ve booked some time in March 2014 and I’ll have a new album out next summer. I’ve got killer songs that I’m very excited about and I can’t wait to record them. I have a bunch of song titles but I’m not going to give any to you just yet as I don’t know which title will end up with which song but I can promise you this; they are going to be fun and intriguing.

What did you make of the controversy linked to the cover of Love Grenade?

I didn’t make much about the fuss. Any fuss about me is usually transparent and petty and I don’t take much notice of transparent and petty things in my life. There’s just too many enjoyable, excitable real world things in my life and if people try to find problems with me eating venison or me promoting self-defence or me playing Little Richard music and calling my tour “Black Power” or having an album cover with a grenade with a pink ribbon on it as we made a donation to charity for breast cancer then everybody can kiss my ass!!

Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw your former Damn Yankees mates contributed vocals to that album. It must have been good to work with them again?

They are a great example of the calibre of musicians that I’ve been blessed to collaborate with. The Damn Yankees made world class music. That was such super, soulful music and I’m very proud of all things Damn Yankees. They are great gentlemen and musical geniuses and dedicated master craftsmen. It was a 100% positive experience for me and they are dear friends of mine and I hope to hell that we’ll make some more Damn Yankees music sometime.

If an album is unlikely what about some live shows?

I guarantee that if Jack, Michael, Tommy and me get into a room together, magic music will be created. It’s all upbeat and hysterical as we’re so excited to play together. Every favourite musician you’ve ever known, I don’t care if it’s Iron Maiden, the Chili Peppers, Jack White, Bob Seger, Aerosmith, Sammy Hagar, Van Halen or Deep Purple. All this music comes from the Black guys. There’d be no Rolling Stones, Beatles or Led Zeppelin if it hadn’t been for Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. When we get into a room we’re all excited and we’re all children of Chuck Berry. There’s not a musician I know who can’t play along with James Brown’s music. It’s the foundation of everything that we play. Everyone loves the soulfulness of our Black heroes. If we get together again, which I hope we will, I guarantee that the music will have soul, positive energy and we will celebrate those origins of those Black founding fathers who created all of this wonderful music. My tour is called Black Power in honour of these guys. Motown is probably the single most influence on the music that we love in life. Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, all things Motown especially the mighty Funk Brothers, there I have just identified the foundation of the greatest music in the history of the whole world.

You clearly love the Blues, Soul and Rock’n’Roll. Have you thought about making a pure Blues album at some point?

Everybody asks me that as we do a lot of Blues on stage and variations of it. I doubt that I could do a whole record of Blues of a traditional style as I think it’d get a little boring after a while but I would delve into a little more of that and one of my new songs has a guitar solo that turns into a Blues jam.

You were born and raised in Detroit. The City is suffering from big financial problems now. How does that make you feel?

It’s heart-breaking, but the heartbreak started back in the ’60’s when the Liberal Democrats began brainwashing Detroit which had the most productive work ethic epicentre of the world. I was born there. It was the most wonderful high energy, crime free city there was. We set the bar for work ethic and productivity. Then the Liberal Democrats came in and brainwashed people that they didn’t have to try so hard. They could demand sick days when they weren’t sick and even conduct themselves in a way that they’d get sick and get compensated for being irresponsible and I believe that’s criminal. Detroit went to Hell at the hands of the Liberal Democrats just like London did, just like England did, just like Spain did and just like Turkey did. Everybody makes excuses and believes that they don’t need to be the best that they can be but think they can cheat people and take advantage of people. That’s the real heartbreak. Even before the riots in Detroit in ’67 I saw Hippies and wasters thinking they could get paid and get high without going to work. This is why I’ve become so engaged in politics so intensely as I can see the suicide of Socialism and the suicide of Communism and I’ll fight it with all I’ve got which is why my music is so powerful and so passionate.

If you could become President Ted for the day. How would you put things right for Detroit and for America?

Number one, I’d end welfare as we know it. Nobody gets anything. If you’re experiencing hard times your family, your community, your church or charity should take care of you because they would know if you’re scamming. They can tell if you’re lazy and not willing to work. I would end food stamps, I’d end welfare and I would end all government responsibilities except to secure the borders and protect America’s interests and enforce its laws. I would ensure that not one damn politician would get one thing more than their bosses do. The bosses of course are we, the people.

You’ve done a few TV shows over the years such as Wanted Ted or Alive, Spirit of the Wild and Surviving Nugent. Have you any other TV shows in the pipeline?

Spirit of the Wild has been Number One on Network TV for 25 years. That’s a documentary type show. We don’t produce it, we don’t play games, we don’t use helicopters, we just turn the camera on and we hunt, we fish, we shoot and we do environmental work, conservation and charity work. We put our heart and soul into putting more back into nature than we take out. We share tons of venison with charities and soup kitchens all over the country. The shows that I have done have been big successes and no doubt I’ll do more in the future but when you tour as intensely as I do all summer I turn down offers pretty much every day as at some point I have to shut up and play with my band. Music is my top priority brother.

You were part of the reality group Damnocracy with Scott Ian, Sebastian Bach, Jason Bonham and Evan Seinfeld. Was that always just a TV show or did you think that you might get a band up and running from it?

It started off strictly as a TV show with the aim of connecting into the yin and yang of musicians creating music together and I thought it was a fun thing and we created wonderful music but I was let down by the TV show as they only showed about 10% of the music. There were a lot of jam sessions and collaborative music that was just brilliant but they were looking more for personality conflict which I think is hokey TV. I turn shows like this down all the time. I want to make a real music show. I’d love to do a show with my band or with Joe Bonamassa, Sammy Hagar and Kid Rock and make some killer music and show how musicians really create passionate, inspirational music. I just don’t have much time left after my music and my writing for 20 sporting publications and websites like I also do charity work with children’s charities and military charities and that keeps us pretty damn busy. These things are things that I LOVE. I Rock my balls off all year, I hunt, fish, trap and shoot and I do charity work. When I do charity work it involves music and outdoors and how perfect is that?

Your signature guitar is the Gibson Byrdland. That’s one beautiful instrument. What is it about that particular model that you like so much?

Just listen to “Stranglehold” and that tells you everything you need to know. It has such a rich voice and such an unlimited range of sonics, textures and tones. It’s a hollow body jazz guitar with a hand carved spruce top so it has an unrivalled resonating capability and at a high volume it will feedback with colours and tones and create a sound that no other guitars can do. The Byrdland was inspired to me by the great Jimmy McCarthy of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels back in 1960 and ’61 and I love the way it plays and I love the way it feels. I play my PRS’s and my Gibson Les Pauls but it’s my Byrdland that I reach out for when I want to create something outrageous. It’s a great, great instrument.

Christmas is around the corner. How do you celebrate Christmas in the Nugent household?

It’s a very special time for me and my family. We’ll be going to New York City this year as my eldest son is getting married and all my kids and grandkids; my brothers and sisters and our friends will all be there going crazy. We take advantage at every opportunity to get together as a family. It’s really a priority to try to get all my family together at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter from all around the country. Christmas is tough as they’ve all got their own children and they want to wake up in their own home with their Christmas trees. We’ll have a beautiful Christmas tree. We plant thousands of trees and we have giant forests in Michigan and in Texas and we cut our own trees down but we plant so many more than we use. It’s such a special time for me and my family.

It’s been a long time since we saw you over here in the UK. Are you hoping to get over here sometime next year for a tour?

Do you know how much me and my boys miss the UK? Do you know how much the UK needs my music right now? It’s been way too long. We’d love to come back every year but the summer only lasts so long and we’ve had to maximise our time over here in America over the last few years but I’m dying to get back over there and one day we will.

What plans have you got for 2014?

I’ll have a new album out and I’ll have a brand new book out. I’ll go on tour all summer then I’ll go out for the hunting season. Life is perfect man.

Ted Nugent’s new live album Ultralive Ballisticrock is out now on Frontiers Records.

For more on Ted Nugent visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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