By STEVE SEYMOUR
The first time Ted Nugent caught my attention was the summer of 1968 when his band, the Amboy Dukes, issued their psychedelic masterpiece "Journey to the Center of the Mind."
That song leaped from your car radio like nothing else. Detroit-born Nugent wrote the tune with fellow guitarist Steve Farmer, while John Drake sang lead vocals. "Journey to the Center of the Mind," became the first and only hit for the Amboy Dukes, just missing the national top ten.
But, as follow-up hits failed to materialize, original members left and were replaced until only Nugent remained. He finally disbanded the Amboy Dukes in 1975, launching a solo career.
Recording on his own, Nugent's ferocious guitar-attack met with massive success in the last half of the 70s and he racked- up such hits as "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Stranglehold."
Having toured all summer, Nugent, amazingly, is approaching his 6000th live concert. Performing professionally since he was a pre-teen, the young Nugent had to bring his mother along in order to play at the fabled Grande Ballroom in Detroit, according to a story told to me by owner Russ Gibb.
Although Nugent experienced career ups and downs, he has always held his fans, especially those in the U. P., in high regard. In the spring of 1989, my wife Sue and I asked "Uncle Ted" for his autograph to add to the rock 'n' roll memorabilia collection displayed in our store. He responded with a note and a collection of three color photographs which he had signed.
"Give my best to all those rockers in the U. P. I dig 'em," Nugent wrote on his personal camouflaged stationery. He included a picture of himself on stage, another with a gigantic black bear he had felled with a bow, and a third showing himself surrounded by dozens of guitars. We later acquired a signed arrow which seemed to complete the collection.
Shortly after autographing those photos, Nugent enjoyed some of his greatest success as a member of the superstar rock group Damn Yankees. Besides Nugent, the group consisted of bassist Jack Blades of Night Ranger, guitarist Tommy Shaw of Styx and drummer Michael Caretellone. The band received subtantial radio play with "Coming of Age" in the spring of 1990 and hit again with the No. 3 smash "High Enough" later in the year.
Nugent has visited the U. P. many times on hunting expeditions. He even contributed a hard-rocking track called "Comin' Down Hard" to the soundtrack of "Escanaba in Da Moonlight," the deer hunting comedy written by Hollywood big-shot and Michigan-native Jeff Daniels.
In fact, Nugent's presence north of the Mackinac Bridge is so formidable that many Yoopers earnestly claim that the 58-year-old rocker actually owns property near their own camps. A local rumor even suggested Nugent had purchased the Mead Lodge on the Escanaba River. But such was not the case. "I would like to clarify the fact I don't actually own land in the Upper Peninsula," Nugent told the Upper Michigan Outdoor Journal.
The Motor City Madman loves northern Michigan and has proved it by performing here many times. He has appeared at Chip-In's Island Resort and Casino in Harris and the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba where he played on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005. On stage, he performed many of his hits including the magnificent "Fred Bear," his pean to hunting and the favorite tune of more than a few Yoopers.
The world of politics, meanwhile, is never far from Nugent's mind. A director of the National Rifle Association, he is pro-gun and anti-drug, if you weren't aware. Well-known as an outdoorsman, Nugent visited Escanaba again on July 31, 2006 during a campaign stop by unsuccessful Republican U. S. Senate candidate Michael Bouchard. Nugent fans shouldn't be surprised if their outspoken hero makes a run for governor in the next few years.
Always active, Nugent recorded his new 13-track album, "Love Grenade," at Jack Blades' Paradise studio in Santa Rosa, CA., in May. Blades co-produced the disc, and added bass to three tracks. He also contributed background vocals along with fellow Damn Yankee Tommy Shaw.
The project shines from start to finish, with plenty of Nugent's trademark guitar fireworks throughout. Midway through the set Nugent revisits "Journey to the Center of the Mind," the track that launched his career. The new version is just as addictive as the original, complete with Nugent's unforgettable swirling Gibson guitar solo. This time Nugent takes the lead vocal role. Although he does a credible job, long-time fans many wonder how Derek St. Holmes, the Nuge's former vocalist, would have handled it.
With the release of a great new album this month, Nugent has caught my attention yet again.