Theodore Anthony Nugent on December 13, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan
Treasured as a skilled and daring electric guitarist and often reviled for his blunt and rarely gentle views on politics - especially issues involving hunting, guns and political correctness - Ted Nugent has never been a bland cultural figure. In recent years, his persona on reality television and as a conservative commentator has often overshadowed his music. However, during the '70s and '80s, Nugent was a major hard rock and arena rock solo artist who laid down a solid and consistent catalogue of guitar-fueled mainstream rock. Here's a look at the career of one of rock music's most polarizing figures.
Though inextricably tied to Detroit, where he spent his early years, Nugent actually came of age as a teenager and young guitarist in the suburbs of Chicago. In fact, that's where he founded his first band, The Amboy Dukes, a psychedelic, blues-tinged outfit that attracted some national attention during the late '60s. "Journey to the Center of the Mind" became quite a hit, fueled by guitarist Steve Farmer's drug-related lyrical content. Perhaps Nugent's anti-drug stance contributed a bit to the ultimately short-lived nature of the group's career, but by the early '70s its lead guitarist was moving swiftly toward a solo career based on his axe work and wildman persona.
Nugent as Guitar Hero:
After a few more years of hanging on to the Amboy Dukes name, Nugent finally went full-tilt solo for 1975's self-titled LP. At this point the guitarist, who often delegated lead vocals to bandmate Derek St. Holmes, transformed into a bona fide classic rock staple. Even so, mainstay tunes of this era, including title tracks "Free-for-All" and "Cat Scratch Fever," showcased Nugent's growing confidence as a lead singer. The artist closed out the '70s with five consecutive smash hit LPs in as many years, with the first four of these securing at least platinum status in the U.S.
Consistent, Steady '80s Output:
Even though Nugent's days as an album rock superstar had already begun to wane, the now-exclusive frontman of his evolving backing band hit the ground running with 1980's Scream Dream. "Wango Tango" kicks off that album with wildman fury, and though Nugent's voice probably lacks the richness and passion of St. Holmes and other premier singers of hard rock at the time, he does more than a competent job of interpreting his own material. Still, for whatever reason, Nugent began to employ outside songwriters as the newly potent hair metal threat perhaps forced him to seek a more pop-infused sound.
Pop Metal-Era Decline to Damn Yankees:
Nugent's music began to grow increasingly chauvinistic (if, as critics would note, such a thing were possible) as the '80s wore on, and it turned out that the formation of hard rock supergroup Damn Yankees played a role in saving Nugent from his self-indulgent solo tendencies. 1986's Little Miss Dangerous and 1988's somewhat gag-reflex-inducing double entrende record If You Can't Lick 'Em... Lick 'Em did Nugent's career few favors. But with new bandmates Tommy Shaw of Styx and Jack Blades of Night Ranger, Nugent toned down some of these theatrics and churned out some solid, successful arena rock.
Music Takes Backseat to Loud "Uncle Ted" Persona:
Unfortunately, during the past two decades of his continuing music career, Nugent has far more distinguished himself as an outspoken social critic unconcerned with subtlety or civility than the rock guitar legend he still remains. Regardless of his right-leaning politics and dismissive attitudes toward animal rights and self-labeled "wimpy" liberal activists, Nugent deserves serious respect as a major figure in hard rock and arena rock as well as a guitarist of high influence. Maybe one day reality TV and talk radio will lose its appeal for the Motor City Madman and he'll return to creating his mayhem on stage. We shall see.