The Nuge Goes Legit

To write intelligibly about the experience of seeing Ted Nugent sitting in with the Les Paul Trio—let me repeat that—Ted 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 self–titled 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 description—it’s hard to believe old Charlie once played fiddle with Bob Dylan and wrote killer song stories about smoking weed—Ted 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 semi–impressed 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 Star–Spangled 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.

Glotz's picture

From his Mike Huckabee appearance this week?  Sadly, his politics detract from my enjoyment of his music.  (First artist ever.)

soulful.terrain's picture

I feel the same about Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Madonna, The Dixie Chicks, Barbara Streisand, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, and the other majority of left-wing artists that take every opportunity to interject their left-wing politics.

Shut up and sing.

jeffca's picture

Ted Nugent is one of those mediocre, arrogant, run-of-the-mill artists who richly deserves his irrelevance in both popular and musical culture. The guy, also, is as big a flaming a-hole as you can meet in show biz. That he can actually put that Stalin-sized ego in check for a gig at a venue where nobody wants to hear his crap due to the fact that it's in memorium of a man with about 10 times his talent and 100 times his genius just shows that he has, at least, some manners and can be a normal human being for short periods of time.

While Les Paul's artistic legacy has quite naturally dimmed with time, his technological legacy will never fade as long as humans record music. No musician has ever done what he did. Nugent, by comparison, is a cockroach. A disgusting, classless, loud-mouthed scumbag who doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same publication as Les Paul, let alone the same article.

Les Paul was a humble, hard-working man who loved to create music and experiment with sound. He had true grace, class and style. The only attribute that "The Nuge" (even more proof that he's an egomaniac) shares with Les Paul is a love of playing guitar... period.

Nugent need not ponder whether there will be this type of gig happening after he's died. There won't be. 

jeff henning

Brown Sound's picture

Talk about sour grapes and chucking rotten tomatoes, geesh ease up a bit. I'm very liberal and have loved Ted's guitar work since '75. I don't like some of his crazy right-wing rants, but I still respect him musically. You haters need to go back to flaming Ted's blog.

Thanks for the fun write up, Robert.

soulful.terrain's picture

 o.k. Robert,

 very slick...The title of the article doesn't necessarily go along with the op-ed piece.

But, since you opened it up, and felt the need to give a political rant on Ted Nugent (which has nothing to do with his music). May I use your own words?

Is the idiotic, political ranting Sheryl Crow a Republican hating, gun hating, left-wing friggin' cartoon persona she revels in?

Is Sheryl Crow an asshole of epic porportions like Ted?

I won't hold my breath for an answer.

By the way, for every 1 conservative musician there is 99 left-wing socialist/progressive musicians that rant on a daily basis...just thought you would like to know.

Brown Sound's picture

Wow, who let all of these political haters on the site? Geesh, stay off the music pages and stay in the ‘Open Bar’ area. Anyone can be an asshole, Ted or Cheryl, it’s their right. Same as with your arrogant "just thought you would like to know" line, shows that you are. Have a wonderful day picking fights.

soulful.terrain's picture

So, what you are saying is political rants need to stay in the 'Open Bar' right?

If thats the case, you need to refer back to Robert's intial post... you may want to direct your response to Robert then.

political haters?? Are you referring to Robert's intial post??



You are a typical leftist drone. You have no problem with Roberts slamming of Conservatives like Ted...

....but let a conservative voice his or her view in go ballistic and tell them to stay in the 'open Bar' area??

I've learned hypocrisy is a value with Libs.

eegreg's picture

After his duet with Mr. Huckabee, I thought my Ted listening days were over.  Thanks to this great piece: not so.

Thanks for separating guitarin' and schtick from politics.

Well done.



jrmandude's picture

he he.  Mr. Baird should relate his (real, chronologic) adolescence to the current music scene more often.

Brown Sound's picture

soulful.terrain - If you scrolled up a bit, you would have seen I ragged on a couple of Ted haters first. I just feel these negative comments with political agendas are out of place. As far as, Robert’s review, it was fine because Ted is an extremist and proud of it, even he would tell you that. So why don’t you do us all a favor and drop back in your troll hole with the rest of the Rush Limbaugh fan-boys. If the writing bothers you so, please leave. Good day.

soulful.terrain's picture you feel political agendas within music reviews are out of place?