Hopping from late '60s psychedelic outfit the Amboy Dukes to a wildly successful solo career in the '70s, Ted Nugent has been rocking and repping Detroit for the better part of his 66-year life. These days, the controversial classic rocker is just as well known for his candid conservative politics as for crafting "Cat Scratch Fever," but even he knows that sometimes it's best to just shut up and jam. Which, coincidentally, is the title of his upcoming album, out July 8.
SHUTUP&JAM notwithstanding, Nugent had plenty to say when I got him on the phone recently. The Motor City Madman spoke bluntly about everything from rock in 2014—he's not crazy about Jack White's soul-free new music—to the importance of Independence Day to why the "sacred flesh" he eats is different from McDonald's. And as per his M.O., he managed to mock the city I live in before I even got out a single question. Here's what the Nuge had to say.
Hello. Now you're in New York City, aren't you?
Well I'm back here in America [laughs]. I'm in Texas. So maybe if you snuggle the phone really close and really get your heart pumping, some of the freedom from Texas might make it into the Manhattan area. Though I doubt it.
I was in Austin recently—does that count as real Texas or is it too liberal?
No, it is too liberal, but it's real Texas. And a lot of those pierced-nipple and spike-haired dudes and dudettes love Uncle Ted because many of them are into the organic, and you are on the phone with the most organic guy on planet earth. Venison: It's the sacred slabbage, baby.
Okay. So the Fourth of July is coming up—how does Ted Nugent celebrate Independence Day?
Instead of just waiting for the Fourth of July, we celebrate Independence Day every f--king day at the Nugent house. We really believe that independence is the supreme determination of the quality of life. I've spent so much time with our military heroes since the '60s and I've been humbled and honored to be welcomed into their lives. They're the greatest warriors on the face of the earth. And I've also saluted way too many flag-draped coffins to ever forget that freedom is not free.
That's a good reminder. Switching gears for a second, I saw you tweeting about Jack White the other day. You said his Fallon performance didn't have enough soul.
I was quite shocked. I don’t want to be critical—I want to celebrate Detroit—but I just didn’t get it. I know he wants to be avant-garde and I know he likes the dissonance, and I could tell he was looking for conflicting rhythms and sounds. And I'm a fan of Sun Ra, Yusef Lateef, John Coltrane, so I get that. But it doesn’t make me want to shake a tail feather. It did not make me want to shimmy. But I'm spoiled because I came up around—and created—the ultimate shimmy music of all time. I'm not hearing a tight groove [with Jack White].
And I'm all for showmanship—I rode a f--king buffalo on stage, I swing on ropes, I shoot flaming arrows, I'm well aware of the vaudevillian angle of my show—but I just couldn’t connect with the overt scramble for making a fashion statement with his hair, hat and suit from 1966. Sure, it was stimulating, but so is a Ferris wheel. I wish Jack godspeed—he's made some brilliant musical statements throughout his career and I expect he will do more, but his performance was a grave letdown. And I wanted to love it because it's so Detroit. I'm so hopelessly Detroit. And Detroit for me means the Motown Funk Brothers, the Bob Seger groove, the Eminem groove, the Kid Rock groove, the Amboy Dukes tightness. And I know good music that makes me want to shake, and Jack didn't. I was let down. I don’t think I was mean-spirited in my tweet, do you?
No, it wasn't mean. Are there any contemporary rockers you do love, aside from Kid Rock?
Oh God almighty, another Detroit monster is Chad Smith of the Chili Peppers. There music is intoxicating between Flea and Chad Smith. They're contemporary because they're still making good records, but I don’t think there's anything new that has a groove and soulfulness. The Chili Peppers just stink of soul—and that's the ultimate compliment. They continue what James Brown created. I like Dave Grohl, I guess he's a little newer. It makes you shake, it's uppity and spirited.
What about the Black Keys?
It grabs me, but not as much as it grabs some of the other people that rave about them. They have a nice funk thing going on and it reminds me of Funkadelic, but it's not quite grinding enough for me. I think the Chili Peppers outgrind the Black Keys. I respect and admire the Black Keys, but there's no guitar solos. With the Black Keys, I'm missing crescendos with the sax, keyboard or guitar solo. It never comes to me. All my favorite music is rife with crescendo and I'm not hearing enough with them. If you can get the Black Keys to hear this, tell them I offer my crescendo guitar anytime they desire it.
Let's talk a little about your new album—you have a song about loving BBQ. What's your No. 1 meat for Fourth of July grilling?
When you eat the sacred flesh like we do exclusively at the Nugent home, it's all sacred flesh that we accept as gifts from God and the great spirit. By practicing our bow and arrow diligently and exercising our reasoning as predators and our hands-on conservation stewardship—there's no such thing as a bad BBQ at the Nugent house. I killed a squirrel this morning with my Labradors, which is why they are the happiest Labradors in the world. Everything we kill really is a sacred gift. It's the most organic, pure and healthiest nutrition known to man.
What is sacred flesh, exactly? I'm guessing it's different from McDonald's.
Yes, there's not so much sacred in that slab. There's a little less sacred there. Well, still, God bless McDonald's and God bless the ranchers and farmers and meat producers and the vegetable and fruit producers. Farmers and ranchers of America feed the world, so we need to salute them. Is there room for improvement in this mass slaughter and production? Of course. But here's the beauty of why my meat is indeed sacred. When I say sacred flesh and we talk about the organic perfection of my diet, here's what I mean. When you kill your own animal, you absolutely refuse to waste anything. It’s a gift of sustenance. I give away tons of pure, sacred venison from the animals that we kill every year to the homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and to VA hospitals and military friends and families.
And you hunt on your land?
We have a 300-acre spread but it's really diverse, it's like a rainforest meets desert. There is every imaginable topography. I revere and cherish the hunting lifestyle—we don’t allow waste. We don’t throw groceries away. Gluttony and waste are such scourges across this country, while obesity and overindulgence is an epidemic. That's not going to happen in the Nugent house. If I line up every member of my family, you're going to see home healthy, athletic, energized people. We start by caring about our sacred temples, which is why we eat venison.
I have to ask, have you ever enjoyed a meat-free salad?
Joe, you're on the phone with the czar of salad. Mrs Nugent and I, every day we have slabs and salads. Avocado, spinach, tomatoes. That's where we get our veggie hit from. We don’t do potatoes that much, but mostly our meals are 60% salad and 40% meat.
What you have sounds great, but does not seem possible for those of us living in cities without 300 acre backyards.
You couldn’t be more wrong. Right across the river in New Jersey, your tax dollars are going to pay government sharpshooters who are killing the deer you could be killing and eating. Did you know that?
I did not.
Then this is crash course in human awareness. Why do you think your tax dollars go to scare bears away and relocate bears across the river in New Jersey? Because you're not harvesting enough of them—they're dangerously overpopulated. Bears are delicious. It's a renewable resource that's to be cherished and managed with reverence. Not treated as a liability to become a tax waste. There's a whole area around New York where the deer are just overrun because some animal rights freak won't allow you to hunt them. So your presumption is wrong. But your presumption holds some truth in that if Joe doesn’t want to hunt, Joe doesn't have to hunt. Maybe hunting doesn’t turn you on. I don’t know or care what your ideologies are, but I think you'd get a kick out of it.
I come from Minnesota originally, and I can say that hunting is not exactly my cup of tea.
Sure, not everybody is a wood worker or guitar player. It's about choice. That's the beauty of Independence Day: Joe can choose his pursuit of happiness, and so can Ted. Even though I'm also a journalist, so I also do what you're doing.
I would say you've probably accomplished more than I have in life.
Well, I'm 66, so I got a running start on you. Sixty-six, how 'bout that?
Yes, you've been doing this a very long time. When you sit down to write, do you find you still have anything new to say?
I was playing guitar when I was seven or eight years old. I was moved by the founding fathers of the greatest music in the world. In 1948, when I was born, Les Paul had just electrified the guitar. Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry and Lonnie Mack and the Ventures and Duane Eddy and Dick Dale and the Del-tones were already perfecting what could be said on this guitar. And it had such a grinding, stimulating sonic bombast to it. How could you avoid Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley? I was born in the eye of the storm and inspired by those gods I just mentioned. Then I discovered the Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Mose Allison, the blues gods. And I felt their defiance, their passion, their spiritual erection, if I may. [laughs] That's gonna read good. I've been doing this forever. This morning I picked up my guitar. I didn’t think, 'Oh, I should probably play a mid-tempo grinding rhythm track,' I just picked it up and stuff happened. Songs happen, grooves, riffs. It's out of body, stream of consciousness.
So your new record is called SHUTUP&JAM, which seems like an odd title for someone as outspoken as you.
At some point we should all shut up and jam. Here's the ultimate answer to that. Tom Morello is a dear friend of mine who I respect and revere as a musical genius. And we couldn't be more opposite politically, at least on the surface, even though his life conduct is probably more like mine than he'd want to admit. He gets up early, he puts his heart and soul into being as productive as possible. He earns his own way, and he provides for his family and protects his family. So far, it sounds like Ted Nugent. But some of his politics are so left, but you know what we do? We greet, we shake hands, we hug, we talk a little politics, we remain gentlemanly and civil, and then at some point, we shut up and jam.
That makes sense.
Yeah, I have this burden I have to carry every day. Everything I do makes sense, Joe. It’s a hell of a load and I carry it valiantly. Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand. You familiar with that song?
Yeah, I've gotten that one before.
Well, I'll leave you with that. Remember: Freedom ain't free and celebrate Independence Day every day.