How Ted Nugent Wrote ‘Detroit Muscle’: Exclusive Interview
It might be hard for some to imagine Ted Nugent picking up a medical journal, but that's where he found inspiration for one of his biggest songs.
Now a new album has emerged just as "Cat Scratch Fever" once did, although as far as we can tell there were no doctors involved. Struck by the muse, Nugent cranked through another set of opinionated and unfiltered originals to create Detroit Muscle, which arrives on April 29.
Nugent dug into the details behind his 16th studio album and a variety of songs from his musical history during a conversation with UCR. He also shared his favorite recipe to cook for guests, and why he's spending the bulk of each year hunting these days.
As always, you're casting a wide net with the songs on this album. "Come and Take It" is the first thing people heard from this record, and it seems like an answer song of sorts.
All of my music is a response or reflection of my very exciting, adventurous life. You know, we talk about, “Well, if we want some adventure, we go the road less traveled.” Well, have fun on the road less traveled. I go where there is no road and ain’t nobody ever been there before. I like no road ever traveled. I am Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea. But I have an A-10 Warthog, not a canoe. My point being is that my music, whether it’s “Wango Tango” or “Fred Bear,” two opposite extremes of expression, sincere love for a lost blood brother and sincere celebration of beautiful girls, they’re both honest. They’re both authentic. They’re both pure and primal.
[You can hear that] on this record, from “Leave the Lights On,” [which was written] after my brother John died, to “Drivin’ Blind,” grunt grind jazz blues; to “Detroit Muscle,” celebrating Detroit middle fingers on fire with enough horsepower and torque to cause Al Gore much pain and suffering, to “American Campfire,” to “Born in the Motor City.” I couldn’t be more proud of this record. What Jason Hartless and Greg Smith put into every song, every lick, every day. Michael Lutz [of] Brownsville Station, “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” is a musical monster. Tim and Andy Patalan, [they’re] musical monsters! It was a musical orgy every day in that barn. It was like a bunch of horny 12-year-olds with their first amplifier, surrounded by naked cheerleaders. That’s just a figure of speech, of course, but that was the atmosphere. I think it’s pretty obvious when you listen to the songs.
You were originally going to call this album Handsome Devil. What changed?
You know, I’m a knee-jerk spontaneous guy. I respond to minute-by-minute changes of environment and thought waves. Even though it was a wonderful moment when the [former] President [Donald Trump] introduced me [and] he called me a “handsome devil,” I never thought I was a handsome devil – but I think he may be right. After a shower, when I’ve washed my hair, I’ve got to tell you if I had a little bit of sleep, I’d be really good looking. We were making the music and I came up with that wonderful riff. I got a guitar one day [Nugent plays a riff] and nobody ever [plays riffs like that]. With that lick, like all of my songs – and people ask, how do you write songs? I don’t write songs. Never in my life have I sat down with a pencil and paper. “Hey, maybe I should write a song?” Never. I don’t write songs; I ejaculate them.
I pick up the guitar and what else are you going to sing? [Nugent yowls out the riffs to “Cat Scratch Fever”]. I had seen a medical journal back in 1975, I opened it up and at the top, it said, “cat scratch fever.” I’d never heard of that before. What’s that? So later on, that lick was cataloged in my memory bank. I went, “Cat Scratch Fever!” and I had fun with the lyrics. For “Detroit Muscle,” [I wrote], “Strap your ass in, I’ve got a fire breathing Mopar / Downtown Detroit is like a rock 'n' roll dream / Kick out the jams if you really want to go far / Motor city soul gonna make you scream!” I said, “What did I just say? What did I just sing? Write that down!” I’m so primal in my musical unleashing. I don’t write. I sing and then I’ve got to go back and write what I sang in every song. I’ve never sat down with a pencil and paper or considered key or tempo or anything else or chord changes. I play my guitar every day and fire just [comes out].
Watch Ted Nugent Perform 'Cat Scratch Fever'
What's the song on this new album that's going to piss people off?
Well, I think just my waking up every day is very effective at pissing people off. [Laughs.] Because there’s so many stupid people out there – but again, I say so many, they’re just a lunatic fringe, I believe. Unfortunately, they’ve got the media, big tech, academia, Hollywood and the government to reflect their stupidity, so it looks like a much bigger force than it actually is. But when it comes to thinking people, knowledgeable people, educated people who have a modicum of understanding of our history – the good, the bad and the ugly? I won’t piss off any of those people. I was with the United States Marine heroes on the 246th birthday and the love and connection I have with those great, critical thinking, disciplined warriors and their families is indicative of the asset column I dwell in with people who would take whatever risk and make whatever sacrifice necessary to be in the asset column. So that their life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness actually benefits others’ life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
That’s how I gauge my actions and my functions. I know that the Michael Moores of the world are very upset that I’m so happy and that I write a song called “Come and Take It,” not to mention, “Drivin' Blind,” about being clean and sober – and that this is my rock 'n' roll and that I have that to express my musical beliefs with cohorts and work ethic monsters like Greg and Jason, who share that musical vision. So I’m aware of almost everything, but I certainly don’t dwell on what I do that might piss somebody off. I literally wallow in the positive energy at the sushi bar or the feed mill or the hardware store, wherever I might go. I am so bombarded with positive energy, love and support that [the detractors], I’m aware of them and I do everything that I can to neutralize their horrible, toxic influences. But other than being a cockroach that needs to be spotlit and stomped, they play no role in influencing my thought or deed at any time. I would write “Come and Take It,” even if I didn’t have to. Even if there were no forces that are poised to come and take it, I would have just written it as a reminder. Do not try. Go ahead and try.
Listen to Ted Nugent's 'Come and Take It'
Your hunting season was once three months. Now, it's eight months. How did that evolve?
Well, there’s too many deer and I’m here to fix it! You don’t have to have your Aunt Edna go through the windshield of her Buick anywhere near my property, because I’ve got the deer herd under control, dammit! My hunting season is a sacred escape back to the primal scream of oneness with God’s creation. I don’t spectate nature, I participate [with] nature. In the ‘60s and ‘70s when the Amboy Dukes played 350 concerts a year, I would scramble to get a couple of days of hunting in – because I loved it. It cleansed my soul and if you’re as hyper as I am – which you’d better not try, you might hurt yourself – you must adhere to the greatest philosopher of all times, "Dirty Harry," where he stated rather eloquently and profoundly, “A good man knows his limitations.”
While my so-called peers were escaping the insanity of the velocity of artwork, the touring, the recording, the celebrity bullshit, they tried to escape it with drugs and alcohol and it was killing them. I knew that it was killing them, so I remained clean and sober and tried to help them get clean and sober. In the meantime, I knew my batteries were super charged in the great outdoors. I started to realize, once I started selling millions of albums and the demands on my time became pretty dangerous, I said, “No, no, not only am I not [just] going to carve out a Monday and Tuesday to hunt. I’m carving out October.” They’d say, “Well, you can’t do that! You can hunt later on in life!” I said, “No, no, there’s only one October in 1976. I’m going hunting.”
Now, I hunt with a bow and arrow, so the challenge and the demands, the samurai focus is very powerful. It provides total escape from any stress, any demands, any other considerations in life. As I did [with] my guitar playing and musical creativity and everything else I do in life, I started realizing, “You know, October’s not quite enough. I need October and November.” Of course, it caused management and booking agents and everybody else to go crazy but I went, “Well, you know, you go ahead and go crazy. This is why I am not going crazy” – because when I come out of the woods, I am so fresh. [That’s why] the new record, Detroit Muscle, it is so fresh and so pure and so youthful and uninhibited.
What's your favorite meal to cook for guests?
There’s so many. Preparing the purity, the sacred flesh of wild game that you killed and handled yourself – you prepared it and aged it and butchered it yourself. There’s a spiritual connection there. Your recipes are guided by instinct and maybe influenced from Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, maybe even Eddie Van Halen’s [ex-]wife, Valerie Bertinelli. These are some great chefs. We have a culinary adventure in my life, but my favorite recipe is dead shit and fire. There’s nothing better than fresh anything! Squirrel, rabbit, doves, ducks, geese, deer, hog that is carved reverentially over some good mesquite hot coals. You might have a little vat with garlic and butter and some good seasonings that you dip the meat in, and then you singe it over the hot coals.
Everybody I’ve ever prepared it for literally makes faces. They go, “Oh my God, what is this? It’s the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth!” A whitetail back strap, which is the top of the filet mignon, off the ribcage, preferably aged for a week in the cooler at 35 to 40 degrees, then cut into medallions, dipped in that garlic butter, olive oil, garlic butter, some seasonings – it doesn’t matter. You can experiment with seasonings. But simple stuff [works too], even just salt and pepper. You dip it in that seasoned goo and then slap it on the grill where it sizzles for maybe 30 seconds per side. It’s so delicious. It’s so tastebud erecting that that’s how we eat every meal. Every meal at the Nugent house is sacred, because it was a gift.
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