One could certainly find better adjectives to describe Shut Up & Jam!, Ted Nugent’s first studio album in seven years.
But that’s exactly how the Motor City Madman himself would describe this new collection of blues-inspired songs. Say what you will about his choice of words; it’s safe to say Nugent and his insatiable appetite for honky-tonk bastardization has never sounded better.
In addition to the tasty guitar work you’d expect from a Nugent album, highlights from Shut Up & Jam! include guest vocalist Sammy Hagar performing on the track “She’s Gone” and Nugent’s longtime musical cohort, Derek St. Holmes, showcasing his own soulful vocals on “Everything Matters."
The release of Shut Up & Jam! will coincide with another summer tour, during which Nugent will be — once again — joined by Holmes plus Greg Smith (bass) and Mick Brown (drums).
I recently spoke with Nugent about Shut Up & Jam!, his Gibson Byrdland and his Kamp For Kids, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
GUITAR WORLD: The music industry has changed so much in the last seven years. What made you decide to release a new studio album?
I'm such a lucky guy, having been 100 percent in charge of my life since I was a teenager. My outdoor lifestyle so cleanses, fortifies me and inspires me that whenever I pick up the guitar, fire comes off of the neck and those killer, grinding grooves happen all the time. Because I'm so involved with so many different aspects of my life and tour like an animal every summer, I just didn't put the logistics together to record these new songs. I finally couldn’t wait any longer. These songs have a fire in them, and I had to capture them.
Where do you find the inspiration for your riffs?
It goes back to the Amboy Dukes stuff. Even the Damn Yankees and the Ted Nugent band. Whenever I pick up my guitar, really fun, garage-band variations of what Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and the original boogie-woogie honky-tonk guys comes out. You really feel that original rhythm and blues structure and pulse in a lot of those songs because those original black artists all inspired me with their work ethic and musical prowess. They constantly worked on perfecting their craft as well as sharing their art. That still exists for me.
Tell me about your collaboration with Sammy Hagar on “She’s Gone."
Sammy and I have had such a wonderful relationship over the years that he sacrificed some of his time to come in and sing on it. Thank God! It's the same with having Johnny “Bee” Badanjek playing drums on “She’s Gone." Everyone who worked on this album craves and celebrates the same original influences that I do. When you have a team that is so passionate about the music and worships the same herb-land tone, this is the album that happens. This one will go down in history as having masterpiece rhythm and blues, rock and roll songs, and I couldn't be more proud.
Many of the guys you’ve played with have said you like to challenge them. Why do you feel the need to challenge the musicians you work with?
Because all of my guys will tell you that every single one of my shows is the most important show on Earth. We recently did 40,000 in Sweden, but it doesn't matter if we play the House of Blues for a few thousand or at Cal Jam for half a million. We play the same way and let the music do the talking. Just think of all of the musicians I’ve surrounded myself with: Derek St. Holmes, Greg Smith, Mick Brown. Then there’s Dave Amato, Tommy Aldridge, Marco Mendoza, Denny Carmasi, Carmine Appice. They're all world-class virtuosos who are driven by the music. Not one person I've ever played with wanted to be a rock and roll star. They all wanted to be a musician.
When did the Gibson Byrdland become your weapon of choice?
I remember His Majesty Jimmy McCarty of the original Mitch Ryder Band used to play a Gibson Byrdland through a Fender Twin amp. Need I say more? There's a certain voice and quality to what a hand-carved, arched, spruce top hollow-body projects. The 3/4 scale neck is more maniputable and danceable for the fingers, and the tone is so compelling. It feeds back at such a low threshold that it actually makes you play it differently. That's why I originated the muffled thumping pedal tone. Because if you didn't mute the other strings with the meat of your right hand, it would just squeal and ring like crazy. But instead of avoiding them, I reasonably harnessed the squealing and howling of the Gibson Byrdland. It has a special touch and a special tone. That’s why I love it.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Ted Nugent Kamp for Kids. What made you decide to start it?
This camp I began on behalf of the great Fred Bear. He was one of the greatest conservationists and a sportsman who reinvented the bow hunting lifestyle. I remember on our last hunt together he gave me a bit of advice. He told me to ignore my critics and laugh in the face of my haters. He appreciated how effective my celebration and promotion of conservation was. He understood the importance of resource-stewardship environmentalism, gun safety and the honesty in killing your own food and balancing the herd, so that thanksgiving can actually be celebrated for the right reason. When he died, I translated his direction into maximizing my name and resources into teaching as many kids as possible about the quality of life that I've been blessed with because of my outdoor lifestyle.
The mission of this camp is to teach kids about where happiness and quality of life comes from and that it's available to everybody. We've graduated tens of thousands of kids and their families over 25 years. The Kamp for Kids is now in four states: South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado. We’re very proud of that.
What’s the most important thing you want kids to take away from your camp?
It's all about having a higher level of awareness. About being clean and sober in order to maximize the application of your senses, emotion, spirit and gifts from God. The American dream is only available to you in its optimum form if you're clean and sober and put your heart and soul into everything you do. It's the same whether you're painting a fence, tuning an engine, teaching a classroom or playing guitar.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been blessed to jam with guys like B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Billy Gibbons. In every case, I was able to pick up on their musical vision because of that higher level of awareness. I was trained to pay attention.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.