Ted Nugent has been in the news again, with an Idaho tribe uninviting him to perform at their casino because of his “history of racist and hate-filled remarks.” It’s the same reason I stopped having him as a guest on my radio shows a decade ago — his vitriol became too over-the-top.
Nugent was never known for nuance and subtlety, but there was a time when he was just an entertainer, swinging on ropes in his loin cloth while wailing away on his guitar and singing about “Cat Scratch Fever.” He wasn’t political, and his only weapon was rock and roll. That’s the Nugent I loved having on the air. While he was the Motor City Madman on stage, he was very civil as we’d spend 20 minutes discussing music, touring, etc. — but after he went on an anti-gay diatribe on my show circa 2004, I vowed never to have him on again.
It was too bad, because in addition to being a good guest in the 80s and 90s, I also got to do a couple of fun promotions with him. In one, Nugent let me give one of my listeners the flaming arrow he’d shot across the stage using his guitar as a bow. For the other, we have to go back to 1980, when I was music director at WRCN/Long Island.
Nugent had released an album called “Scream Dream” and we were playing it lot, particularly “Wango Tango.” When I heard he was going to perform at the Nassau Coliseum, I called my contact at Epic Records and proposed something more than the usual concert ticket giveaway. Those were the days when record companies were much more willing to do promotions with radio stations, and my idea was approved fairly quickly.
It started out as your basic concert giveaway on the air, with twenty winners each getting a pair of tickets, but we added free transportation to and from the Coliseum on the WRCN Concert Bus. On the night of the show, we gathered all of our winners and a couple of station staffers on the bus and headed for the venue.
As we got close, I got up from my seat in the front of the bus and apologized, saying that I had to make a quick stop at a nearby hotel before we went to the show, but it would only take a few minutes. The driver pulled up in front, and I jumped out and went inside. When I emerged two minutes later, I had Ted Nugent beside me. I could hear voices on the bus saying, “Hey, Nugent is coming this way!”
Ted got on the bus and the crowd went crazy. As he walked down the aisle, he shook everyone’s hand, signed some autographs, and answered a few questions. My favorite was when one of our listeners asked, “Are you gonna rock us tonight, Ted?” — to which Nugent replied, “I’m gonna rock your dick off, man!” The crowd laughed and cheered and high-fived as he got off the bus. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.
I thanked the Epic rep for setting it up and Nugent for agreeing to it, and he said, “Anytime, Paul. Thanks for playing my records.” Then he went inside to get ready for the concert, and I returned to a bus full of listeners buzzing about what just happened. I remember thinking that to them, WRCN was now the greatest radio station that ever existed. Long before the internet, this moment would go viral by word of mouth, and we’d own them (and all their friends) forever.
That radio station probably doesn’t play much Nugent any more, and I wonder if the listeners who were on that Concert Bus even care about him these days. From footage I’ve seen, his concerts now seem more like extremist right-wing pro-NRA rallies than the good-time-rock-and-roll shows he put on in his heyday. Even if they still like his music, I’d bet that many of them have been as turned off by Nugent’s hateful rhetoric in the last decade as I have.
Ironically, Nugent’s new album and tour are entitled, “Shut Up and Jam!” It’ll be interesting to see if other venues stop booking him because of the vile bile he spews. After all, no one wants to have the Motor City Madman talk their dick off.