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Ted, White & Blue: 6,000 Shows Later, Nugent Recalls Some Career Milestones

July 3, 2008

DETROIT _ This will be a most eventful summer for Ted Nugent. The Motor City Madman, who divides his time between residences in Texas and Michigan, will see the release of a live CD and accompanying DVD, both called “Sweden Rocks,” a book of socio political wisdom called “Ted, White & Blue,” and the film “Beer for My Horses” in which he acts alongside Toby Keith, Tom Skerritt and Willie Nelson.

The main menu for the summer is as it has always been: Ted and band storming stages from sea to shining sea. Friday’s show here _ on this, the gonzo guitarist’s 50th tour _ is estimated to be the 6,000th show of his full-throttle career.

Who’s been keeping count? Ted, probably. The curse of lifelong sobriety is that Nugent forgets almost nothing. On the occasion of this live milestone, we asked the 59-year-old rock ‘n’ roll road warrior to reflect on some of the more memorable stops along the way.

He seized the notion and began rattling off dates and venues, remembering everything from the style of his band members’ boots to the color of the mustard on the catering tray. The following high points have been heavily edited to fit the allotted space and dutifully sanitized.

Walled Lake Casino, 1962: “My band the Lourdes opened for a group called Billy Lee & the Rivieras. Billy Lee hadn’t changed his name to Mitch Ryder yet, but the energy of that band was already what they’d be known for as the Detroit Wheels. Their take-no-prisoners attack was everything I aspired to as a performer, and it’s still the benchmark I measure everything by. It has kept my spirit fully erect to this day.”

The Cellar, Chicago, winter 1965: “When my family moved to Chicago, I was heartbroken, but it helped create a fire in me. The Cellar was where everybody played, and the Shadows of Knight were the big bad dudes of town. The Chicago bands played well, but really white. It was too ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’; it lacked Detroit attack. Within weeks, my first edition of the Amboy Dukes owned that scene. We wiped the stage with the Shadows of Knight, because we played with the power drive so prevalent at the battles of the bands and BMF dances back in Michigan. That competitive spirit was in my blood.”

Detroit Pop Festival, Olympia Stadium, April 7, 1969: “This was the monster concert that demonstrated the strength of the Detroit scene at that time. Olympia was packed for an all-day show featuring nothing but homegrown killers: MC5, Stooges, Bob Seger, SRC, Rationals, Frost, and the Amboy Dukes headlining. But it was also a typical hippie production, which meant the money disappeared and the schedule went out the window. The show ran past curfew and they told us we couldn’t go on. But I had a plan. My guys had climbed up to the rafters and attached a 200-foot rope. With the masses below becoming quite unruly, I grabbed that rope and swung out over the crowd the entire length of Olympia. People’s eyes bugged out of their heads. The Amboy Dukes didn’t play, but I still stole the show.”

Cal Jam II festival, Ontario, Canada, March 18, 1978: “A million dollars for a one-hour set in front of 250,000 people, and I almost didn’t make it. I had been in the Sudan, and got out by commandeering a Red Cross plane to Egypt. I got a jet from Cairo to London Heathrow, a Concorde from London to New York JFK, a flight from Kennedy to Los Angeles, and finally a helicopter to the festival backstage 15 minutes before I was supposed to go on _ were I was notified that my wife had filed for divorce, my band was quitting, and my business advisers had completely ripped me off! When I stepped on that stage, the music was all I had. And thanks to the music, I improvised, adapted, survived and triumphed.”

Norfolk Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Va., April 20, 1991: “This was a welcome home concert with the Damn Yankees band for troops returning from the first Gulf War. When they came off the battleships and aircraft carriers, the patriotism _ the heartfelt appreciation for the sacrifice by which our freedoms are safeguarded _ was palpable. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when we played ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ that day.”

House of Blues, Los Angeles, June 15, 2008: “Whenever we play a House of Blues, I call upon the spirits of the founding fathers of our music. But not two weeks ago, something extraordinary happened. Suddenly Howlin’ Wolf was in me, James Brown was in me, Bo Diddley was in me. I channeled their spirits and the earth moved. It was the tightest performance of my life, the show I’ve always dreamed of playing. The word ‘perfect’ wants to jump out of my mouth. It was also a great lesson for those of us approaching 60 or thereabouts that, dammit, you can be physical, you can be spiritual, you can be at the very peak of your game. That’s something worth celebrating on the Fourth of July.”

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(c) 2008, Detroit Free Press.

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