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Rock/Pop

Terrible Ted dukes it out

The Nuge reunites the original Amboy Dukes for this year's Detroit Music Awards

Photos courtesy: Frank Pettis
The Madman in action at the Eastown Theater.
Original vocalist John Drake.
The Dukes’ first publicity shot; Nugent center.
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Published 4/15/2009

Metro Times has certainly taken its share of perhaps deserved potshots at the Detroit Music Awards over the years. And, of course, "Terrible" Ted Nugent has been in not one but the last two of our year-end "Dubious Achievements of the Year" wrap-ups, more for his often repugnant politics than for his music (which hasn't been that great recently, either).

But fair's fair, and this year, Howard Hertz, Gary Graff and the other folks who put together the music awards have scored one helluva coup by actually getting Nugent to orchestrate a reunion of the original Amboy Dukes, one of the Motor City's great late '60s musical units. The band will not only accept a Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award but there will be a musical performance as well, the first time the band has played together in more than 30 years.

No matter what you think of the "Motor City Madman," anyone with a semblance of musical taste would have to admit that the Dukes (named after Irving Shulman's classic novel about New York City street gangs) were a dynamic live and recording band. Not only did they take Detroit to the national hit singles charts with the still-great "Journey to the Center of the Mind," later memorably covered by the Ramones on their Acid Eaters album (and if you don't believe me regarding the song's worth, check out one of many videos of the band performing it on YouTube), the Dukes' version of "Baby, Please Don't Go" was also featured on Lenny Kaye's classic original Nuggets album, which, in many ways, was the aural big-bang when it comes to garage and punk rock.

Nugent would only agree to be interviewed for this reunion piece via e-mail. It definitely hinders any sort of back-and-forth between interviewer and subject — but he at least answered the questions. One can only hope that he takes me up on my offer of interviewing or debating him in person (or at least by phone) someday. But this wasn't the time or place for that; this, after all, is a celebration of the Amboy Dukes, which, like most bands, was the sum of its parts ... which means it was always so much more than just Ted Nugent alone, something he seems to agree with.

METRO TIMES: An Amboy Dukes reunion. Why now?

TED NUGENT: Now is always my favorite time. Coincidentally, the Detroit Music Awards noted we deserve the Lifetime Achievement Award for the world's greatest garage band — at least that's the way we see it. So the APB went out and my fellow Amboy Dukes are genuinely wild to do it. Another perfect musical maneuver for a great bunch of guys. Outrageous Motor City fun will erupt.

MT: Any plans to follow the Music Awards appearance with a full reunion tour?

NUGENT: No plans, but one never knows. The excitement level portends grand adventure.

MT: If so, were you at all inspired by the Stooges coming back bigger than ever?

NUGENT: Nothing about the Stooges inspires us. We are musicians dedicated to a soulful musical craft. Our inspiration comes from the powerful masters like the mighty Motown Funk Brothers, James Brown and all other black monsters of tight, moving soul music.

MT: There were several versions of the Dukes. I'm assuming this is the original band — the one that did "Journey to the Center of the Mind"?

NUGENT: That is correct — the original band that recorded the first, second and third Amboy Dukes LPs: Bill White on bass; John Drake on vocals; Steve Farmer on guitar and vocals; Andy Solomon on keyboards and vocals; Rick Lober on keyboards and me. Dave Palmer was not able to join us, so original Gang drummer Jim Butler will slam it out with us.

MT: What was the catalyst for the reunion?

NUGENT: My manager, Doug Banker, informed me of the desires of the Detroit Music Awards and we all knew it would be a major hoot.

MT: How has it been to be playing together again? Weren't there certain animosities in the past that led to various breakups? (I don't know that for sure; I'm just speculating)

NUGENT: We will rehearse and jam extensively prior to the April 17th awards event, and everyone exudes intense positive energy, attitude and spirit for the night. No negatives whatsoever.

MT: Why do you think you were the only original member to go on to bigger fame and stardom?

NUGENT: Shit luck and a Herculean dedication to animal tenacity and defiance driven by music that I crave. Other members were far more talented than I.

MT: You played Bad Axe High School shortly after the Migration album was released. Frijid Pink opened. I was there as a kid. It was great. Any memories of that particular show? It must have been weird playing in a high school gymnasium after playing much bigger venues.

NUGENT: I remember it like it was yesterday. Firstly, I was inspired and turned on by the name "Bad Axe." Plus, just the night before, we decapitated a sold-out audience of music-loving hippies in NYC at the legendary Fillmore East with Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Vanilla Fudge. The facility is never a consideration, as we put our heart and soul into every musical performance, no matter how big or small. Plus, that was the first gig with me singing most of the songs with Dave Palmer, the amazing Greg Arama on bass and incredible virtuoso Andy Solomon on keys and vocals. It was a world-class rock-out that night, wasn't it? I remember "Baby, Please Don't Go" went on for 20 minutes!

MT: You backed up the Supremes as a musician once? True or false?

NUGENT: I did not personally back them up, but my band, the Lourds, won the Michigan Battle of the Bands, and we opened up for the Supremes and Beau Brummels at the brand-new Cobo Hall, alongside the mighty Funk Brothers and the amazing Motown orchestra. It changed my life.

MT: Thinking of the Amboy Dukes makes me think back to when you first gained fame — first locally and then nationally — as a "guitar hero." Today, it seems sometimes like you're as well-known, if not more so, for your right-wing politics and often-outrageous statements. Do you agree with that assessment? Any regrets that that's the way it is? Wouldn't you prefer to be celebrated more for your music?

NUGENT: The celebration of my music is intense as all hell and global in scope. The outrageous intense energy of my music is eclipsed only by the over-the-top celebration of the defiance, which represents the soundtrack for millions of people. In a world where logic and self-evident truth is considered outrageous, I am humbly gratified that I live this wonderful life, speak out accordingly and create music to inspire the dance of defiance. I wouldn't change a damn thing, and, in fact, I am currently turning up the heat in 2009 and beyond. It is a beautiful thing.

MT: You've always been a staunch anti-drug person. Yet, you and the Dukes were responsible for one of the great drug songs of the '60s. How have you reconciled that?

NUGENT: No reconciliation necessary. Although I was virtually clueless as to the drug references at the time, the music still means what it meant to me then — a celebration of killer music performed by killer musicians. Reconciliation would be advised to those who so foolishly fell for the sheepish lie of peer pressure and intentionally destroyed their gifts from God by indulging in life-destroying chemicals. I pray for them still.

MT: I imagine we're going to hear "Journey to the Center of the Mind" at the show. Maybe "Baby, Please Don't Go." But can we expect to hear "Migration" as well?

NUGENT: We are all so very proud of all our music, it will be tough to pick and choose. We will perform "Journey to the Center of the Mind" and "Baby, Please Don't Go" for sure, plus more than likely a few others. The band is stoked!

MT: Last year, you were criticized by some folks locally for condemning Detroit as "a scab" on the state of Michigan and referring to it as "a once-great city" on Glenn Beck and Hannity & Colmes, suggesting "If America wants this country to smell and conduct themselves and be this huge sucking sound like Detroit has become, then by all means vote another Democrat in, because Detroit and Michigan is a case study in liberal Democrat policies being forced upon a once-great state." You also blamed the UAW for being the main culprit in ruining this state. Do you still feel that way? And as the "Motor City Madman" don't you still feel some pride for the city?

NUGENT: It is indeed my pride for this beloved hometown of Detroit that drives me to speak out. My words are accurate, sincere and painful, but true. I love the positive spirit, attitude, soul, goodwill and decency of good Detroit now and then. Only the guilty need feel guilty.

MT: By the way, I know two former Detroiters in the music biz who booked their flights shortly after the reunion announcement and are returning to Detroit from L.A. just to see you guys perform this week. That's not a question. Just thought you'd enjoy knowing that.

NUGENT: We pride ourselves on being the greatest American garage band ever, without the transparent baggage of fashion or trend, always dedicating ourselves to 100 percent heart and soul American music! If I wasn't in this band, I'd show up to see them too. We shall continue to make history.

The Detroit Music Awards take place Friday, April 17, at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451. Tributes to the late Ron Asheton and the 50th anniversary of Motown Records are also scheduled.

Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to mailto:letters@metrotimes.com.

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