Ted Nugent – Live in Enid!
Central National Bank Center
Words by Jeb Wright
Photo by Mark Schierholz
The Star Spangled Banner| Gonzo | Free for All | Snakeskin Cowboys | Yank Me Crank Me | Wang Dang Sweet Poontang | Hey Baby | Stormtroopin’ | Fred Bear | Cat Scratch Fever | Stranglehold
Great White Buffalo
Ted Nugent wrapped up his Sonic Baptism tour with two dates in the state of Oklahoma. I attended the first of the two at the Central National Bank Center in Enid, Oklahoma. The show was so rocking that only a few hours after the show one of the biggest earthquakes to ever hit the Midwest originated only a few miles from where the concert was held.
Truth be told, I knew Nugent was in town yet I was on the fence as to whether I would go. It was a couple hours drive. Nugent was touring without Derek St. Holmes, who has such a damn fine voice... I am a big Nugent fan so I was still considering it. Then I got an email from Ted’s assistant Linda Peterson asking me if I wanted to interview Ted on the phone. Well, duh… I love chatting with Uncle Ted as he was the reason, at eleven years old, I picked up a guitar. Long story short, I was at a 7th grade party and the girls were listening to the Partridge Family on the turntable. One of the girls older sister came in with an album called Double Live Gonzo and told us “this is party music.” Then, for the first time in my 12 years on planet earth I heard a song called “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” This is the live version… the one with the ‘F’ word. I was hooked. Fast forward to the 1990s when I had just started the website Classic Rock Revisited. My second interview was my guitar hero and inspiration, Ted Nugent. I was hooked once again.
Look… over the years I’ve interviewed The Motor City Madman probably 20 times and each time I’ve had a blast. Each time I see him backstage he has a warm handshake and time to chat. As we’ve gotten to know each other, Nuge understands I am not a gun person and I am not a hunter. Guess what? He’s cool with me anyway. We bonded as two musical blood brothers who worship at the altar of the Gibson Byrdland guitar and a Marshall amplifier cranked to 11…. or a Paul Reed Smith… or a Les Paul. The point is we love rock music and the roots from which it sprung.
Before our ‘phoner’, Linda told me Ted is playing like he is 25 again. Actually, she said if the 25 year old Nugent showed up then the 68 year old Nugent would kick his ass, musically. Now, that seemed hard to believe, but when I chatted with Ted he told me the same thing. When I got to the venue and I talked with tour manager Bob Quandt and assistant tour manager Frank Trzaskowski they both agreed wholeheartedly. I did in-person chats with bassist Greg Smith and Ted’s new drummer, 21 year old Jason Hartless. They fell over themselves saying how this band was kicking-ass and taking names. I was still not sure this was going to be as good as they said, after all they are all on the payroll. I was, however, starting to get intrigued.
My friend, James Rozell, a local rock-god and plastic-bottle Canadian whiskey drinker, accompanied me to the show. After my interview with Jason and Greg, we were told Nugent had not arrived yet but wanted to see me. We were told to go to catering and get some dinner if we were hungry. Well, we were. Damn, Enid put together a great spread. Lasagna, veggies and mashed potatoes and the best backstage cake we’d ever eaten… real china and heavy silverware, too. Those who have hung around backstage are more used to paper plates and plastic forks than fine dining. It was delicious. Just as I was thinking of having another piece of cake we were informed Nugent was in the building.
I was escorted into Ted’s dressing room where he met with three DangerZone members. These were fans who purchased a Meet and Greet package for the night. I have been to a lot of these types of events. Often they are nice, but quick… and the interaction is fleeting, despite the high price of admission. Not so for a DangerZone meeting. Nugent spoke with his guests as if he had known them his entire life. They asked questions, took pictures and Ted signed photos for them. Nothing was off limits and Nugent was a wonderful host. One of the DangerZone members presented Nugent with a military medal. Nugent was visibly touched and returned the favor by giving him a token as well.
All in all, I was impressed with the professionalism and the authentic way Nugent treated these people. If he were acting, he should move to Hollywood. The fans were all smiles when they left. Nugent then talked with James and me for a bit and signed some albums I brought with me. As we were heading out to our seats, the tour manager, Bob, caught up with us and said, “Ted wants you to come back after the show. He said he’s been telling you you’re going to be impressed and he wants to know what you thought of it.” We said we’d be glad to throw our two cents in and went to our seats.
When the lights went down the answer to the extent of guitar greatness we would witness was soon to be unfurled. Ted and band jammed out an instrumental version of “The Star Spangled Banner” that was very aggressive. Nugent played a large section of it with only his left fret hand, which was impressive. As soon as it was done, he went into one of the classic cuts from that live album I heard so many years ago… the song “Gonzo.” Right away it was apparent why Nugent invited Jason Hartless to replace drummer Mick Brown. While Mick is good, Jason is great. He plays like a man twice his age and experience. The kid -he is a kid at only 21 years of age- smashed, bashed and grooved his way through the entire night. His energy was infectious, his execution spot-on. When you focused on just him your jaw dropped… and when you didn’t isolate your eyes on the drummer, whatever he played was the perfect accent to the song… which in this case means to Nugent’s extensive guitar solos.
“Free for All” was the next tune and got the crowd on their feet, where they would stay for the entire evening. “Snakeskin Cowboys” included a few improvisational passages, including a slow section that was simply, for lack of better description… bad ass! “Yank Me Crank Me” is another killer Nugent classic, and on this night he let loose with a barrage of added solos that were nothing short of breathtaking. “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” was next and included a long blues section that allowed Hartless to impress us all once again.
Bassist Greg Smith took over lead vocals for the St. Holmes Detroit rhythm and blues classic “Hey Baby.” Greg is a solid bass player who was locked in with Hartless tighter than two horny Lego blocks the entire evening. They were like clockwork, which was not easy as they were driving the beat instead of laying back… which means they had to be on their toes at all times as no one was sure where the impetuous Nugent was going to take the song. They all three created an energy and attitude that had everyone in the crowd rocking-out from start to finish.
Smith sang “Stormtroopin’” after a cool intro by Nuge. The band smacked the classic tune upside the ass and had the crowd eating out of their hand. During the song, Nugent thanked the military members in the house for their service. After the song, he explained to the audience how, “Every song is the most important song. Every lick is the most important lick. Every gig is the most important gig… but this may be the most important song I do tonight.” With that he went into the tune “Fred Bear” which he wrote about his hunting mentor of the same name. Fred taught Ted more than just the art of hunting. Nugent learned a lot about life from the man, which is evident in the emotion on stage during the song. Nuge soloed like his life depended on it, while the band supported him.
During a slow section in the tune, Hartless let out his inner Keith Moon and bashed home some drum parts that were pretty impressive. The show continued with the massive hit “Cat Scratch Fever” and then the granddaddy of all monster Nugent guitar licks “Stranglehold.” Nugent and Smith both sang lead vocals which filled the song up nicely. What do we need to say about this tune? It’s freakin’ “Stranglehold.” It rocked. It was the last song of the main set.
Ted and band returned for a one song encore, but what a song it was…”Great White Buffalo” opened with that amazing riff in the Key of E. Ted has changed the song a bit here and there over the years, but on this night it was pretty much the classic version, though it did turn into “Spirt of the Wild” at the end before returning with a roar. Nugent reminded the crowd to vote in November and no one was confused who he was voting for when he ended the night by saying, “Make America Great Again.”
The lights came up and the standing room only crowd headed for the exit while James and I headed backstage. We found the tour manager who sent us back to catering while Ted showered and changed. Sadly, there was no cake left. I grabbed a root beer and we waited a while. When it was time, we were taken back to see Ted and in his presence I stated, “RECORD THIS BAND LIVE” which was all I really needed to say. And I meant it.
The three-piece Nugent had never been a favorite of mine, to be honest. Only once had he impressed me as a three-piece and that is when Tommy Clufetos was on drums and Marco Mendoza was on bass. This band, on this night, rivaled that band… and if you throw in Nugent’s flair for improvisation, which I had not seen THIS much of since the early 1980’s out of this cat (he always does some, but this was just insane), I have to say that I believe this ensemble has surpassed the classic live trio. I also have to admit the tour was aptly named, ‘Sonic Baptizm’ Summer 2016, because on this summer night, I truly did receive a sonic baptism!
Nugent smiled and liked what I had to say. I told him how I enjoyed the double lead vocal on “Stranglehold” and he agreed it was a smart thing to do. We discussed how they played off each other and then Jason Hartless entered the room and asked Nugent to sign some drum heads for him… now how cool is that? I told Jason he was amazing and he smiled and then Nugent and I did what we tend to do when we are in each other’s presence… we talked about music… from the Amboy Dukes to the modern day.
Some people despise Ted Nugent. And given his outspokenness and political platform I can see how one could disagree with his opinions. He and I certainly have some differences but -and his naysayers will say I drank the Kool-Aid- Nugent was tonight, and has always been, nice and professional toward me. Sure he’s a bit arrogant; hell, that’s why I wanted a guitar after I heard the live version of “Wang Dang” back in 1978. He’s outspoken and passionate about issues that I am uneasy about. That’s okay, too. We also agree on some things. We agree on working hard. We agree that most of the world has lost their mind. Most importantly, we agree on music. On this night, we agreed his band was amazing.
Ted will be done with the tour by the time you’re reading this article. The band will be on hold for hunting season. Nugent will be back, however. He told me he has new ideas and new riffs and that he hopes to get Hartless and Smith with him this spring for “a night of barbeque and machine guns” and start writing a new album.
If he can get this band in the studio, and write songs with the same piss and vinegar attitude that we heard on stage in Enid, Oklahoma, then Nugent’s guitar fans will be smiling ear-to-ear as this band truly is on fire!