"I have some of the finest hate on the planet for me," brags Ted Nugent, infamous Duke of anaconda suit and polar bear's ass-fur-on-the-head fame. It's probably true. His strange reputation has become a mixture of one part hate (however explainable or un- or ir- rational), one part respect and admiration for his abilities as a guitarist, and one part awe and bafflement at his shenanigans.
Nugent has always remained up front here. The groupies delight with his big black limousine and lower lip biting or back stage fondling, the Duke in the limelight on stage, and until recently, handler of all the Dukes' business affairs, complete with "briefcase, date books and Bic pens". Phil Nicholsen takes care of the business now. Says Nugent, "Everybody can hate him now. But at one time, when there was shit to be given out, I was the one to do it. Now if it doesn't have six strings, I don't want it. Before, I was really the leader of the group. I was the 'Brian Wilson' of the Amboy Dukes. When someone had a complaint like 'We don't like Rusty on stage, he's always high and sings flat', they came and told me and I had to tell Rusty.""It's the group's group," Nugent insists, but all fingers point to Nugent as responsible for the Dukes form and existence. He gathered the Amboy Dukes in Chicago, brought them back to Detroit and gradually replaced all the original members and kicked out and replaced others. "No Amboy Duke has ever decided to leave," declares Nugent belligerently; "It's always been decided for him. I don't know what you've heard ... something like 'Nugent sucks'. Well, I don't care; maybe I suck, but they were fired!"
"But at one time, when there was shit to be given out, I was the one to do it. Now if it doesn't have six strings, I don't want it. Before, I was really the leader of the group. I was the 'Brian Wilson' of the Amboy Dukes. When someone had a complaint like 'We don't like Rusty on stage, he's always high and sings flat', they came and told me and I had to tell Rusty."
"It's the group's group," Nugent insists, but all fingers point to Nugent as responsible for the Dukes form and existence. He gathered the Amboy Dukes in Chicago, brought them back to Detroit and gradually replaced all the original members and kicked out and replaced others. "No Amboy Duke has ever decided to leave," declares Nugent belligerently; "It's always been decided for him. I don't know what you've heard ... something like 'Nugent sucks'. Well, I don't care; maybe I suck, but they were fired!"
"In Steve Farmer's case," (who was with the Dukes from "Baby Please Don't Go" until Migration) "he can't play guitar and he can't sing on stage. He sings like a bitch in the studio and is a fine writer, but he has no place on stage. I tried to teach him some licks and get him to play really well. It turned out that his dynamite writing and great studio vocals just weren't enough to keep up with the group. In other words, whenever the Amboy Dukes go into the studio or need a writer, Steve's always there. Or, he hastily added, "I'd like to think that, but he can't play guitar and there's just no room for friendship on stage."
"I'm still best of friends with Steve; John Drake and Rick Lober, too, for that matter. Drake and I played together for six years. Rick was really mentally uptight with us because I wouldn't let him smoke dope on stage or at practice. We decided that neither one of us could stand it."
Although this musical tyrant's relations with Farmer and Drake remain cool, things weren't as mutually well understood in the case of Rusty Day (who, by the way, according to (sort of) reliable sources is now singing with the Vanilla Fudge!?). "Rusty hates my guts. It's great," sneers Nugent. "It's true. Rusty threatened to cut my arms with a razor. That was after I hit him in the head with a pipe. But he was in the back of the limo and couldn't reach me. That was coming back from the Fillmore. You can't pinpoint the conflict with Rusty. If you were Ted Nugent he'd hate you. It must be the combination of the letters." Right on, Ted!
The Dukes present personnel seems pretty stable (whatever that means). Greg Arama on bass, Dave Palmer playing drums and Andy Solomon on organ, plus Nugent, have been the Amboy Dukes since Joumey to the Center of the Mind about a year and a half ago.
And then, of course, there's Nugent's notorious views on narcotics. Despite his scarfed thigh (sign of the smack freak) and seemingly drug inspired music, Nugent claims not to be at all involved with dope. And he's got his rap down tight (like the Salvation Army street crusader with an entire spiel that must be finished once he starts) and sarcastic...
"That's a hot subject ... but all right, drugs suck! I never used drugs. I take gelatin capsules. 'Oh, drugs are cool'. Numerous friends of mine have had good experiences ... two died. My drugs are my land up north and my big car to rip people's heads apart and the engine that goes 170 and all are products of my guitar. Drugs are for the druggist, but I don't see any use for them."
The difference between Nugent and the street preacher is that the latter spreads his beliefs to/on others, while Nugent (according to Nugent) is concerned with drugs in relation to him and his own music. He claims that he is not an anti-drug vigilante. In fact, rumors have it that psychologists believe rock and roll (which would include the music of the Amboy Dukes) induces drug use. In that case, it would seem that Nugent is encouraging or feeding his grievance. On the other hand, Nugent was once able to "rule the Dukes" as he put it and set up a $500 fine for anyone in the band caught using drugs. "It had to do with the people I played with for six years. When I wanted them to do a new lick or a funny part they couldn't get it into their heads 'cause they were flipping out. Which is fine, but it should come after the music. The music should induce it. "But, you know, they were just hemorrhaging right there on the floor." Did he ever catch anyone? "Yeah, but nobody ever had the $500, so I forgot it."
The Amboy Dukes have always remained on the outskirts of the Detroit scene, never really belonging to another city and not totally affiliating themselves with Detroit either. "Before I always thought of myself as being from Chicago," says Nugent "cause that's where it all started for me. We never really considered ourselves a Michigan band, but we will from now on," he said recently (and with a touch of irony, since the Dukes have moved to Long Island), but added, "When we go on tour we consider ourselves the Amboy Dukes, planet earth and do our damndest."
As for the other Michigan bands, like everyone else, Nugent has made some general and specific observations. "The new bands have so much to relate to and riff off. I've been playing for ten years trying to get down these incredible licks, but some of these younger bands are really playing their nuts off on stage. Savage Grace slay me. Mitch Ryder's organization --the drummer-- stuff like that rips my ass apart. The SRC are really doing some progressive things -- one of the most progressive groups around. Unfortunately, too many of these groups are doing rock and roll and blues. Blues and rock have really been done. Like the MC5 are one of the finest rock bands around, but I always think, 'What are you doing, Wayne, playing that shit? I've heard all that before.' There's just too much musical capability in some of these guys to stick to the same things. Old rock obviously has its excitement and blues has its deep feeling, but can't they incorporate somehow that same feeling and excitement in your own thing?"
The Dukes and/or Nugent's music (and Nugent's presence thoroughly dominates, often overpowers, the group) definitely falls into neither of these categories. It's creative long droning intense guitar with definite moments of genius and held together somewhat by heavy drumming and strong bass parts. Their later tunes, are also very tense, almost nervous. Nugent's sporadic brilliance and the Dukes use of dissonance and rapid sequences of rhythm changes are confusing. It's like there is so much running through Nugent's head that he doesn't have time to develop it separately and put it all together. The result is a flashiness that, whether deliberate or not, is often a point of dissent.
The Dukes' new album Marriage will be out this week and is their first album for Polydor, after getting out of a shuck and jive contract with Mainstream Records. Another episode in the chapter of manager/record company vs. group hassles as told by Ted Nugent... "There was a cat named Bob Henkins who somehow got out of the used car business with his father and into the rock world. He dug people, but he had no communication with either music or people. He got hold of the Amboy Dukes and screwed us out of shape. He got hold of the Frost, the Scarlet Letter (now Savage Grace) and Ellie Pop and tried to screw them, but they all shook him. I knew him way back when he was a partner with John Rhys about five years ago when I had the Lords in Detroit. Then, anybody could have come up to any kid who played guitar, say 'recording studio' and right away they're his victim. I thought he was the king man who was going to do it for me. So, when I got it together in Chicago, I called him to come and hear us. Bob came and liked the sound, and told us about the real king of the music industry, Mr. Bob Shad ... Mainstream Records ... Mr. Gentleman himself ... the cat who had his hands on Cannonball Adderly and Wes Montgomery ... you name 'em. He had his hands on them all right, but as soon as they saw what went down, they split. Henkins talked us into recording for Shad, telling us how perfect he was and we bought it, 'cause we had nothing else to go by. We recorded and really got fucked."
Although they did have a hit on Mainstream ("Journey to the Center of the Mind"), Nugent claims it was in spite of the company instead of because of them. "'Journey to the Center of The Mind' would have made it on 'Shitsville Incorporated'. It was #10 in the nation without a bit of promotion. They finally promoted it after it fell off a spot."
How were we treated financially? No finances. "We were super burned on everything. We saw writing royalties, they can't shake that ... but nothing on the recording or performance royalties. No one made anything from Mainstream except Steve Farmer and I for writing. Migration sold like a bitch, but it's been over such a long period of time it never made the charts. It had a regional break out in every state in the nation, but Mainstream claims it sold nothing."
Fortunately for the Dukes, the Mainstream contract was poorly written, oft-violated, and easy for lawyers to break. So, to continue this melodrama, exit villains Henkins and Mainstream, and enter our heroes...
"Phil Bassile manages us now. He's also got Vanilla Fudge and Dusty Springfield, and does the tour direction for Beck, Ten Years After and Led Zeppelin. We were on tour with the Fudge and he dug us then, but didn't want to work with Henkins. When we fired Henkins, we played his club in New York, 'The Action House'. He saw what was going down with Henkins and is going to mend it."
The Dukes are quite satisfied with their new contract on Polydor, and the album, Marriage, will be released shortly. Nugent explained that was not about marriage of the man/woman/wedding cake/ring variety. "It's planet-cosmos. It's not really a very far out thing, especially for the people here in Michigan 'cause we've got our own thing here, you know the festivals and revivals. It's about the marriage of love and man and woman and music. Music is the wedding band. It really is."
The cover of the album will be a partially frosted wedding cake. Beneath the faded frosting will be pictures of the crowd at Woodstock, and at the top will be figurines of the four Dukes getting married (Far out!). Instead of a priest ... you guessed it... amplifiers. As Nugent said, "It's really as plain as day."
To explain Marriage further and at the same time sum up the group's progress the last few years, Nugent related this analogy: "The new album is to Migration what Migration was to Journey to the Center of the Mind. Journey was an orange fart. Migration was the orange, with the fart removed. Marriage is a whole new color with no farts blown."