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October 31, 2014

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At 62, Ted Nugent still firing opinions, arrows and rock ‘n’ roll

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Scott Harrison/Retna/www.harrisonphotos.com

Ted Nugent performs in Ovation Lounge at Green Valley Ranch on Jan. 23, 2010.

He is to be interviewed, but first he has some questions.

"I don't want to be rude, but are you a big dog, John?" Ted Nugent says. "Are you a writing fool?"

"They call me Kats, and I am a fool, yes."

"Good! I want you to get my strange manipulation of the English language. It's called creative license. It's like a machine-gun license, which I give out every night to the children," Nugent says, the verbal bullets reverberating over the phone line as he relaxes at his ranch in south-central Michigan. "How tuned in are you to this royal cluster(blank) of rumors that the NRA is going to endorse Harry Reid. Are you familiar with that outrage?"

There is talk of that, I say, and have seen some coverage of it. I add, "It would not be that outrageous, because Harry Reid did help start the Clark County Shooting Park here. He was at the groundbreaking a few years ago, and also the grand opening. I saw him shoot trap out there and he's pretty good. He helped make it happen."

"I see," says Nugent, who performs Saturday night at Buffalo Bill's Star of the Desert Arena. "It was a big moment for him. The reason I ask is, before I called, my phone rang and a big gun collector from Texas called me. He's a guy who has donated just tons of money to the NRA, and he calls me — and he is one of hundreds of calls asking me, 'Nuge! What do you know about the NRA endorsing Harry Reid?!'

"So I had a direct Nevada connection before calling. But being that this is the ultimate tour of my life, Harry Reid doesn't represent Jack Squat in my life."

That's where Ted Nugent is coming from. To millions of rock fans, he's a guitar god. But to millions of Americans who are devoted to hunting with any assortment of weapons — particularly a bow and arrow — he long has been a deity of a different sort. For nearly 40 years he has been an aggressive, even obnoxious, advocate of Second Amendment rights and the practice of the primal lifestyle, where, as he says, "You have can't grill it until you to kill it."

Nugent doesn't conduct many phoners these days, but he did agree to this one to help goose interest in the show at Buffalo Bill's. Some other nuggets from "The Nuge.":

On his musical inspirations: "Here it is in a nutshell: The purity of my response to what Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry started was as pure as you can get. I think Billy Gibbons said, in a tribute to Bo Diddley when (Diddley) died (in 2008) was that if a newborn baby was coming out of the womb and Bo Diddley's song was playing, it would do the gyration to the groove — you can't not groove to that. If you are a free soul, an open and attentive soul, you cannot ignore what Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley did. I was born in a time when Les Paul had just invented the electric guitar, so it was pure and it was primal."

On playing Primm's Buffalo Bill's Star of the Desert: "If they have electricity and class-three weapons owners, I've probably been there. But I don't think I've played there before, no. I've not been in that particular burg, no. But they deserve me. I hear they've got some real rock 'n' roll attitudes there. They need me."

On his current band: "I've been with Mick Brown on drums and Greg Smith on bass guitar, for about six years now, these guys... there's no words describe it, but I'll attempt to convey the insanity of it all: I had my guitar tech, Craig Colburn, who worked with me throughout the '60s and '70s, right up until 1982. So he was there right up until what would be considered the peak of mayhem, when all my records were smash hits and I pretty much ran the world. He came to a show we did at this just beautiful House of Blues-type place in Ft. Lauderdale, called the Revolution, of all names. "

"He was not ready for this. It was tighter, more ferocious than ever. We went through two and a half hours and he came backstage and was literally crying. He'd been out of the business, working with the Three Tenors, had had cancer, and he said it was just awesome. He said, 'If a 25-year-old Ted Nugent showed up, you'd kick his a--.' "

On being a self-described a "Commando of the Road": At age 62, with double-knee surgery, I should probably be in some rehab right now, which according to the snuggle Mrs. Nugent gave me awhile ago, I qualify. But no, I'm defying gravity, and I do celebrate in no uncertain terms a certain youthful quality. I keep going back to these state fairs and setting attendance records, and even at these wild, House of Blues-type chaos zones, I ask for the kids to take a good look at me. I'm talking, pre-teen kids. Lots of them. And I say, "My name's Ted Nugent, and the reason this is happening, the reason this is so much fun, the reason I have so much energy is because, I am 62 years old and clean and sober.

"Write it down. And that's what I attribute this to. I've taken such good care of myself."

On how playing rock 'n' roll plays into his cultural activism: "As I continued to hone and maniacally plunge myself into finding my Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley grind — I didn't even know I wanted mine, theirs was the only one I was aspiring to — I realized that we're all individuals. So in both my hyper-pursuit of the Chuck Berry-Bo Diddley licks — and I'm using those two as examples, but it's a carpet-bomb, wallpaper statement — I include Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and many others who were the godfathers of this — I had one foot in that primal scream music world, and I also had an equally intense foot in my dad's bowhunting lifestyle.

"My dad was already a bowhunter, and I got to meet and know Fred Bear, who was the godfather of modern bowhunting. And there's not a big chasm between that world and what inspired Bo and Chuck, and they're talking about rugged individuality and self-sufficiency and the Declaration of Independence, that purity tat was now projected into a soundtrack....

"But I'm the only guy who thinks this way, and I'm not thinking. I'm convinced of it, beyond the shadow of a doubt."

On the network news special that helped change his life: "About 1974 or '75 (Sept. 5, 1975, actually), CBS aired this special called, "The Guns of Autumn," and Dan Rather narrated this lie after lie after manipulated imagery, condemning and demonizing my purity, my clean and sober lifestyle, my quality hunting trips with my family, in defiance of the drugs and alcohol and the puking and insanity of my so-called peers — and I've never had any peers, so that's another story. I'd just shot a beautiful mule deer buck in Colorado, and I'm watching this guy on a major network claiming that what I do is horrible. ...

"It really was the "Guns of Autumn" when I went, 'I'm not a rock star. I don't want to be a rock star. I want to be a musician.' But I know what it means to be a celebrity, and how you have that access to the media. I know what a bully pulpit is, and I have an absolute honor-bound duty to participate in this experiment in self-government. ... And I was attacked for it, by people who think heroin addiction is just fine, or who think drinking and driving is OK. ... In 1975 I had a bumper-crop of 'F Yous.'"

On the potential fallout of taking such an activist stance: "All of my business associates clamored for me to shut up. And that just made me turn up the heat."

On his father's opinion of his music: "My dad hated my music — hated it!"

On a possible reunion of the super group Damn Yankees: "We did an industry gig recently, in January. The greatest thing about Damn Yankees is that they just happen, they just spontaneously erupt. And it was just kind of, shrug your shoulders, "Jam with Tommy Shaw on Thursday? I can do that!" kind of thing. That purity is the same as mine. Those are the kind of world-class virtuosos I've worked with in my career, Tommy and Jack (Blades) and Michael (Cartellone). The fire is still there, but everybody is so busy, all of us. ... It would have to be organic, as organic as my gut piles."

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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