The Nuge Goes Legit
To write intelligibly about the experience of seeing Ted Nugent sitting in with the Les Paul Triolet me repeat thatTed Nugent sitting in with the Les Paul Trio at The Iridium Jazz Club on Broadway and 51st Street just off Times Square on Monday May 16, I need to first explain two bits of context.
First, as a teenager, riding around in cars, slugging Strohs beer out of warm 16 ounce cans and trying to sweet talk teenage girls out of their tube tops---ahhh, the Dazed and Confused Seventies--I owned and in the case of his selftitled 1975 debut record, loved, yes, loved in my own adolescent back seat kind of way, Ted Nugent’s music. Of course, and this is the other bit of prologue, that was back when he was a mere arch top guitar badass slash former Amboy Duke who played music and that was it. No idiotic political ranting. No penning up deer and bison so he could shoot them. No tour slogans like “Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead.” Back before he became Uncle Ted, the Democrat hating, gun loving, right wing friggin’ cartoon persona he now revels in. While he’s not Charlie Daniels, who has become embittered beyond all descriptionit’s hard to believe old Charlie once played fiddle with Bob Dylan and wrote killer song stories about smoking weedTed is now an asshole of epic proportions. Or maybe not. It was clear onstage at the Iridium that canny Ted loves to play with his crazy shoot first image, poking fun at himself several times and showing that as much as he plays Mr. Super Middle American, he’s also a very skilled member of the entertainment community. “I used to play country music. But then I took the cast off and it all came back to me.” You could almost hear the rim shot behind that one. I mean he was engaging in schtick that was at least 50 years old.
All that and more made for the weirdest, most silly fun show I’ve seen in many years. The juxtapositions were jarring to say the least. The show began with the usual film tribute to Les Paul (he played at the Iridium every Monday night for the last 12 years of his life) and then guitarist Lou Pallo (who has to be 70 at least and wore earplugs all night), pianist John Colianni and a substitute bassist whose name I did not catch, serenely playing standards like “Blue Sky” and “All of Me,” that they played with Les. When Ted did not appear, a guy behind me kept repeating, “The ten o’clock show is the one where Ted plays.” Nothing like drunk mouthy New Yorkers. But suddenly there he was, clad in a camo cowboy hat and sleeveless shirt asking where his amps were. Anton Fig stepped up to drum.
I must admit that I was semiimpressed by Uncle Ted’s musical knowledge when he began talking about how the song, “Route 66” was the basis for all the licks he stole for tunes like “Stranglehold,” and how honky tonk was the basis for much of rock ‘n’ roll songwriting. He even went into how “Charlie Byrd and Hank Garland,” two guitar greats whose names I never expected to hear come out of Ted Nugent’s mouth, were responsible for the design of the Gibson Byrdland guitar that Ted has always favored. He continually spoke highly of Les Paul throughout the set, everyone in the band repeatedly took solos and there were no embarrassing rants. After playing versions of the “The StarSpangled Banner,” “Route 66” and “Johnny B. Goode,” The Nuge only played three of his own songs, and to be honest they were the three you want to hear: “Stranglehold,” “Stormtroopin’ ” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” Back in the day Ted was only the guitar player. Derek St. Holmes was the singer and for many the most identifiable part of Ted Nugent, solo artist. When St. Holmes left for good after the monster double LP career maker Double Live Gonzo, reportedly because of Ted’s control freak tendencies (now there’s a big surprise), Nugent’s records especially went in the tank. One look at the cover art of Weekend Warrior and it’s also obvious the Ted had run out of ideas.
At the Iridium he talked his way through the vocals and again because this rugged individualist is such a veteran entertainer/schmoozer, he made it work. It was interesting hearing him pick out the Stones “Satisfaction” as an example of honky tonk and then go straight into “Uncle Ted’s version of honky tonk” which was “Cat Scratch Fever.” While he’ll never be Django, let alone Jimmy Page, the man has some skills. Or even more accurately, what he really has is that unmistakable tone. It was pretty special seeing him in a small club where he turned into a comedian of sorts, complete with hilarious facial expressions and in the end was oddly personable and clearly having a ball. For one night at least, he checked his mouth at the door.