By John Johnson, photos by Chaz Dykes of Chaz D Photography
As a 12- to 14-year-old growing up in mid to late 70’s Florida, being a burgeoning rock radio listener, it was hard to avoid hearing songs by Ted Nugent. Some 40 odd years later, having never seen him live before probably due to his political leanings, as a burgeoning music reviewer, I felt I couldn’t avoid this opportunity. As previously mentioned, Nugent’s political mindset doesn’t connect with mine, but I entered the Seminole Hard Rock Casino Event Center to stay focused on the music. The first-time hearing “Free-for-All” and the drawn-out licks of “Stranglehold”, as a self-professed pre- pubescent “rocker”, I thought this guy was a guitar hero. A couple years on and not-so “pre” anymore, I marveled that someone could write songs like “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and have the overtly sexualized tunes played on the radio. I had heard over the years of the rants and heated political dialogue Uncle Ted (as he’s called by his followers) spouted at his shows, and was extremely apprehensive, but again, I was doing this for the music.
Taking my seat in the fifth-row center, directly behind actor/comedian Jim Bruer. I was reminded during soundcheck that I had forgotten my earplugs. Thankfully, the stellar staff at the Hard Rock came through and provided me with the proper ear protection. The Events Center has an amazing sound system, and it’s a very intimate venue, but in row 5 directly in front of a speaker array, I knew I needed some audio mufflers. I inserted said plugs just in time as Mr. Nugent blazed onto the stage with his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Regardless of who’s performing our anthem, or how long they believe it needs to be, it always gives me chills. It is our nations anthem after all. This set the tone for the banter that Ted would aggressively sprinkle in between every song. Reminding his cult like fan base that he was there to deliver a message of truth and that they were in a sanctuary of righteousness. Whether his age, constant movement, guitar playing or his government bashing repartee, the winded Nuge needed to share lead vocal duties with bass player Johnny Schoen. It was around song seven, after the recognizable “Free-for-All” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” that the evening took its obvious turn. Taking a well-rehearsed cue from an audience members “Let’s Go Brandon” hat, he tore into a roughly three-minute number with the not so ambiguous chorus of “F**k Joe Biden”.
This chant, of course, was met with glee by the mostly senior, predominantly caucasian crowd. Including the previously mentioned Mr. Bruer, who screamed the mantra with immense exuberance whilst laughing, not unlike his most famous “Goat Boy” character from SNL (I digress).
Although somewhat dismayed by this hypocritical act of Presidential disrespect, I reminded myself that I was there for the music and knew that they were merely practicing their First Amendment Right. However, I did notice a few audience members leave after this diatribe, answering Mr. Nugent’s suggestion that “If you don’t like it, you can get the f**k out”. They did. I didn’t. I wanted to stick to my guns, which seemed to be a theme for the festivities, with images of assault rifles adorning the speaker cabinets along with his overtly named ditty “Come and Take it”. At one point Ted, to no surprise, lauded our mostly absent Governor and even suggested that you don’t need a permit to have a gun. Once again, I prompted myself that, right or wrong, he was promoting his first amendment right while getting the second wrong, and I was there for the music.
Song ten was the classic “(Get your kicks on) Route 66”, and the tight three-piece band were joined on stage by original Amboy Dukes singer Bob Lehnert. Mr. Lehnert, clearly in his 70’s, seemed in great physical shape and held his own vocally, but his harmonica playing was the real standout. Ted teased of past stories and memorable experiences with Bob in the “Dukes days” but chose not to expound further. It was after this short trip down musical memory lane that the night took a turn I couldn’t avoid addressing.
Alluding to the moment he was about to play arguably his most famous tune, “Cat Scratch Fever”, the self-declared “nationalist” requested his favorite guitar. The bands guitar tech strolled on stage with a beautiful 1960’s Gibson hollow bodied Byrdland named Blackie and handed it to Ted. Upon taking his “beaten, abused and ultra-loved” instrument, Mr. Nugent exclaimed, “This is Blackie. Welcome Blackie…and I mean the guitar.” Wha? Amongst the evenings not so cryptic dog whistles (take your country back and permit-less gun carrying speak), this was an undoubtedly racist statement. Although I had come to hear him play “Cat Scratch Fever” to relive some misplaced yet pleasurable childhood recollection, I decided it was time to depart.
As I exited the event hall, I became aware of the several Hard Rock employees that, regardless of their skin color, were as uncomfortable as I. The memorable riff could be heard fading in the distance as I descended the escalator, uncomfortably aware of the glances from the aforementioned cast. At one point, I felt compelled to mention to a few of the amazing personnel at the opulently bedazzled Casino, that I was there on “music” business and thank them for all that they do. My take-away from the evening would be that, yes Ted Nugent can absolutely play the guitar and at often was bearably charismatic, but the “music” I attended for was overshadowed by his visceral tirades.
Further, I was also dumbfounded by the interesting fact (not of the alternative nature), that a self-proclaimed “Patriot” had once falsified his military draft documents by claiming he was mentally unfit, and reportedly shat himself to prove that point. Again, I digress, I came for the music and attempted to write an objective review on such.
Unfortunately, Uncle Ted made that extraordinarily difficult to accomplish. Which may be the reason he’s playing small venues on his farewell tour, while Taylor Swift, a recent target of his vitriol, sells out 3 nights at Ray Jay. Stick to the music Ted, I certainly attempted too.