In the '70s, Nugent's relationship with his big hollow-body Gibson Birdland yielded some of his catchiest and most ferocious snarling rock tunes to date. A slew of these gems appeared on his third album, Cat Scratch Fever (1977), which went double-platinum and catapulted the outspoken musician into the big leagues. Kiss may have boasted makeup and explosions, and Pink Floyd presented giant flying pigs and lasers, but the wild-eyed Nugent became the jungle man of rock, swinging onto the stage from a rope, wearing nothing but a leather loincloth, and attacking his instrument like a hungry savage sinking teeth to deer carcass.
Even though Nugent hasn't released a new studio album since 1995's Spirit of the Wild, he's still rockin' loud and proud. During the summer of 1999, he participated in the Rock Never Stops Tour, which also featured fellow heavies Night Ranger, Slaughter, and Quiet Riot. And when he's not performing music, the Nuge enjoys hunting down and killing wild animals from deer to boar to bear. One of the highlights of his year, in fact, is his hunting retreat in Southern Africa. "We've never bought meat in our house, ever Jeff," he says. "We only eat what we kill ourselves."
As you might expect, Nugent is quite outspoken about his lifestyle. He's a spokesman for National Field Archery Association and is on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association. He also owns his own archery and safari booking company and writes about hunting and resource stewardship for 28 publications, including Men's Health and the Detroit News.
Guitar.com: How was your last trip to Africa?
Ted Nugent: To walk beside the Limpopo River, which the scientific community concludes is the cradle of mankind, and to kill big dangerous animals with sharp sticks at a spittin' distance and watch the life-deciding protein feed the native peoples - it's unbelievable. I shoot dozens of animals every year over there; in fact, I killed my first elephant this trip. Sharing the blade-swingin' celebration of reducing these beasts to family-sized portions and watching the children and elderly divide up this incredible resource is just so spiritual. It goes right into my music and right into my quality of life.
Guitar.com: Your first three solo albums, Ted Nugent (1975), Free-For-All (1976), and Cat Scratch Fever, as well as earlier material by Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, was re-released by Epic/Legacy in 1999. How did your guitar work evolve on the early Nuge albums?
Nugent: I think it got greasier and more soulful every year. Cat Scratch Fever I played the way it should have been played: grinding, grunting, and throbbing. But I didn't try to impress anybody with playing more notes or patterns. The only scale I know is the one I hang my carcasses from to see how much they weigh.
Guitar.com: Meat Loaf sang a few of the tunes on Free-For-All.
Nugent: "Street Rats," "Hammerdown," "I Love You So I Told You a Lie," you betcha. I'm an adventurous son of a bitch and knew Meat Loaf had great pipes. I write [music] for the resources that I can envision beyond my current arsenal, and I knew that Meat Loaf could sing those songs great. And once again, it's about soul, and he's got a lot of soul.
Guitar.com: Your distinct tone really came alive on Cat Scratch Fever.
Nugent: I was seeking this very specific hollow body, spruce top, warm, rich sonic tone of the Gibson Birdland, and I think we were able to capture that on tape during the Cat Scratch album. [Producer] Tom Werman was almost a guardian of that tone. He said, Man, you've got the most incredible live tone, and we've got to replicate that on the recording.
Guitar.com: Is the Birdland challenging to play?
Nugent: It's almost untamable. If you ever try to turn it up anywhere near the volume that I play it at, it would hurt you. It would eat your face. It just feedbacks and howls like a beast possessed.
Guitar.com: Do you remember your first performance with a band?
Nugent: I was 10 years old, and I played at the Polish Arts Festival at the Detroit Fairgrounds in 1958. I was up there with Joe Pedorsik, my original guitar teacher, and we played boogie-woogie and honky-tonk. It was a little combo.
Guitar.com: Did you know you wanted to become a rock musician at that point?
Nugent: Well, I was too young to formulate such dreams, but I did dream of making these sounds with the guitar. I just wanted to play stuff.
Guitar.com: When did you get your first guitar?
Nugent: I was born in 1948 and had a guitar by '54. It was a goofy little acoustic number with hula girls on it. I was very lucky because my dad instilled in me a great work ethic to dedicate myself to practicing the guitar, because it came difficult for me. It took me 10 times the amount of effort to learn "Johnny B. Goode" than any of my guitar playin' buddies. I can play the guitar pretty damn good today but it came with a lot of difficulty. This should be an inspiration for people to never give up. Maybe they can't get the right chords or make it sound like they want. But they've got to stick with it. But more important than the first guitar was the fact that my dad taught me to defy drugs and alcohol and tobacco and other poisons that would deter and compromise the quality of my life. The more stuff you take, the less you're guitar vision will be able to become a reality. That's the most important lesson I can ever share with anybody.
Guitar.com: So you must have stood out from the crowd back in the '70s, when many bands were into drugs.
Nugent: Yeah, I stood out like a sore elephant dick in your soup. Absolutely. I've busted more hippies' noses than all the narcs in the free world. I don't cotton to trends and fashion and the transparent rhetoric of peer-pressure, so I've always been militantly against substance abuse and irresponsible behavior.
Guitar.com: The first time I saw you perform was at Madison Square Garden in the late '70s, a show that AC/DC opened. After your set, the audience on the floor went berserk, throwing chairs into a big pile and lighting them on fire.
Nugent: Oh yeah, I remember that well [laughs]. We got banned from the Garden right after that show. It's about intensity, isn't it? The primal scream of a Ted Nugent concert is undeniable. There's a tribal gathering at my concert. It's about total uninhibitedness, hopefully to the point where nobody ever gets hurt.
Guitar.com: Let's go back further to your days with the Amboy Dukes. Anything to say about the guitar contests you had with Frank Marino [formerly of Mahogany Rush] and other musicians back then?
Nugent: With Frank Marino, Wayne Kramer [of MC5 fame] and other people? You bet. Brother Wayne Kramer. That was a funny little idea our booking agent Dave Leone had to jack the interest level up a notch, because none of us [back then] were major attractions even though we were all doing good business. Dave knew people would love to see a contest so he started promoting it as a battle of the guitar players, but what it was, really, was a great jam session. It was just a fun thing to be promoting in a wrestling kind of fashion; it was a wrestling match with guitars.
Guitar.com: Has playing guitar been therapeutic for you?
Nugent: It certainly has had a remedial effect for me in the cluster-fuck of a world we live in. Every night when I pick up the guitar and start playin', there's no Janet Reno or Bill Clinton, and God knows that's a gift. There's no taxes, no disease, no hate, no ugliness. It is very mesmerizing, very escaping, there's no question about it.