Ted Nugent comes to Rams Head Live. (Bill Pugliano, Getty Images )
Last week, protesters chanted, "Hey hey, ho ho, let's shut down this racist show" outside of a New Haven, Conn., music venue.
Their target was Ted Nugent, the 64-year-old rock 'n' roll guitarist from Detroit whose brash demeanor and conservative views have garnered him more headlines than his music has in recent years.
The protesters were upset by a column Nugent had penned for a conservative website last month about the George Zimmerman verdict. In the column, Nugent fully supported the jury's verdict and called Trayvon Martin a "17-year-old dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe."
To some, it was an egregiously offensive generalization. In Nugent's eyes, it's the truth. When asked if he felt the characterization was too frank, Nugent howled with laughter.
"The emperor has no clothes and you have a booger coming out of your nose. Sorry for being so blunt!" said Nugent, who headlines Rams Head Live on Friday.
"See what's happened? We've become not only dumbed down but we've become sheep-like, and feelings are more important than saving lives."
Whether his views hearten or disgust you, it's hard to deny Nugent's natural gift as a lightning rod. In 2013, he's so unhappy with America's direction (exemplified by his hometown declaring bankruptcy earlier this year) that he's made it his mission to loudly speak out against his critics.
"I'm so effective at spotlighting the cockroaches," he said. "The cockroaches have a media and the cockroaches have a government, so they turn on me everyday and I couldn't be more proud. My name is Schindler and I have a list. And the Nazis don't like it. Kiss my a--."
In recent years, quotes like these have rung louder than Nugent's Gibson Byrdland guitar. But that hasn't stopped him from touring (Nugent has a new double live album called "Ultralive Ballisticrock" coming Oct. 22). He says no other act today exudes the pure abandonment of rock 'n' roll like his band.
"There's something very special about a Ted Nugent show in that it still possess and exudes that youthful, defiant uninhibitedness of the garage-band days, but we actually know how to tune our instruments and play them," Nugent said. "We put our heart and soul into every lick, every night, every gig, every song. It's really a firestorm of human emotion and believability."
While he's beyond confident in his own band's abilities to wave the flag for in-your-face rock 'n' roll, Nugent seems less sure in bands from newer generations. He says rock is alive and well because bands such as ZZ Top, Heart and Cheap Trick are still performing. But he doesn't deny that rock needs new blood.
"Now the point of new representation, I'm afraid we could get a little teary-eyed and heartbroke [sic] if we try to find somebody who, right now, is keeping that alive right now, because I gotta tell you right now, I don't see him," Nugent said.
He then gave credit to the derisive Canadian quartet Nickelback as a band "who makes incredible music but [without] lead guitar." To an artist whose guitar solo on "Stranglehold" was named the 31st greatest of all time by "Guitar World," that's a sin he can't look past.
"Where's the crescendo, kids? I mean, come on!" Nugent said.
Nearly 38 years after his debut solo album, Nugent does not lack confidence in his guitar playing. To hear him tell it, he's still amazed by his own ability.
"I have to admit, my guitar playing is simply astonishing," he said. "I finished every concert and I go, 'What the [expletive] was that? Those notes weren't legal. Half those notes don't really exist, and I still play them."
Nugent believes in his rock 'n' roll the same way he does his politics — wholeheartedly and without apologies. Naturally, that has found him many supporters and detractors, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"There's a line drawn in the sand and I know who stands on my side — really, really good people," Nugent said. "Everybody against me is really, really bad people. I'm absolutely convinced of that."
If you go
Ted Nugent performs Friday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Laura Wilde will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.