Sunday, 30 June 2019

Damn Yankees: I Talk To Jack Blades & Ted Nugent About "Don't Tread." Guess Which One Warns Me About Raccoons!

Originally published in American Music Press (March 1993)
By Devorah Ostrov

The Damn Yankees pose for a Kerrang! centerfold
The Damn Yankees have just finished storming through Japan in support of their new album Don't Tread, making sure each and every concert attendee got hit over the head with a hearty dose of American spirit.

Now the guys are back home, taking a brief respite before picking up the US leg of the tour where they left off. I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Ted Nugent and bassist/vocalist Jack Blades (ex-Night Ranger; this something of a supergroup also includes guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw from Styx and drummer Michael Cartellone).

My backstage pass for the Damn Yankees at the
San Jose Events Center Arena - February 21, 1993
Jack was relaxing at his Sonoma County farmhouse, reflecting on the mudslide that had recently wiped out his vegetable garden and tennis court.

"There's like two-feet of mud on my tennis court right now," he tells me. "It kinda flowed all the way down the hill. It was pretty awesome. That stuff's powerful! The ground was so soaked it just gave way."

Meanwhile... Ted could be found on his 1,400 acres of Michigan swampland, pursuing his well-known animal-whacking/nature-balancing crusade — which became personal when I mentioned the adorable raccoon setting up house on the roof outside my bedroom window. (I damn well knew I was baiting the trap, so to speak.)

"God bless 'em, they're cute!" Nugent enthused, much to my momentary amazement. "Until they bite your kid. You've gotta be careful 'cause they develop rabies real easy, and there's no control factor other than squashing 'em on the road. There's gotta be a balance. And concrete doesn't quite do the balancing act."

Don't Tread (Warner Bros. Records, 1992)
Now he'd returned to form and was on a roll. "It's like California banned mountain lion hunting. Well, they shot more mountain lions in California last year than ever before. But instead of hunters and sportsmen killing 'em they had to have law enforcement people kill 'em, 'cause there's too fucking many. They're out of balance. Kids were chased home from the school bus in rural California last year. People's dogs and cats were being eaten by mountain lions 'cause they're out of control."

He wasn't done yet, although his spiel did go off the rails a bit as it wound down. "That's a perfect example of what we're trying to fight through my organization, Ted Nugent World Bow Hunters. It's a conservation/hunting organization that embraces and nurtures and guards over the spirit of the wild, very much in the same balanced lifestyle of the native American Indians. And those of us who refuse to turn our backs on nature, like a bunch of city geeks, are crusading to pass this on to young people who are mindlessly drooling on themselves in the malls and street corners of the crack cocaine hellzones. We teach 'em hands-on about how they can be responsible, accountable members of society."

Good thing I didn't tell him about the peanut butter cookies I've been feeding to Rocky!

* * *

My friend Greg Langston & I meet the Damn Yankees!
I opt (as if there was a choice) to let Ted begin the interview.

Ted: Devorah, have you ever seen us in concert?

AMP: I saw you in concert in the '70s, but I haven't seen the Damn Yankees yet.

Ted: We're pretty cool.

AMP: So I hear. I want to ask you about your recent shows in Japan. All the shows were sold out, which I thought was curious because the band and its music seem so truly American.

Ted: You noticed. Yeah, we reek of American attitude and spirit! And I think that's why we go over. We just exude an exuberance and a spirit of shit-kickerness that the Japanese really relate to. For example, one of the guys translated an article about me over there that said I was the John Wayne of rock 'n' roll!

Jack: Yeah, they love it! One of the biggest songs we play over there is "(You Can Still) Rock in America" from my Night Ranger days. The flag comes down and people go ape shit! They get up and cheer and jump and yell and scream! It's so funny, 'cause you'll finish a song and they'll go "WHOOO!!!" for about two seconds and then stop, and it'll be dead quiet. It's very bizarre.

AMP: Do they understand the lyrics?

Damn Yankees (publicity photo)
L-R: Tommy Shaw, Ted Nugent, Jack Blades, Michael Cartellone
Ted: I doubt it. They kind of mutilate and bastardize our colloquialisms. It's the spirit and the energy of the show that blows their minds!

AMP: Do you include any other Night Ranger, Styx or Nugent songs in your set?

Ted: Sure! Yeah! One of the reasons I was excited about playing with Tommy and Jack was because both of them had songs that I knew I would love to perform myself — "Blue Collar Man," "Don't Tell Me You Love Me," "Renegade"... We do all those songs. And we do "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Free For All."

Jack Blades & Tommy Shaw in an advert
for GHS guitar strings
AMP: Were you guys friends before forming the band?

Jack: I didn't know Ted or Tommy very well. Night Ranger had played some outdoor festivals with Ted in the mid-'80s, like Texxas Jam and the Iowa Jam. And I'd met Tommy at the American Music Awards in '84 or '85.

AMP: So, did someone put you guys together?

Ted: Yeah, John Kolodner [from Geffen Records] initiated the first cattle-prodding between Tommy and me. He said, "You guys keep talking about jamming. Just do it, already!" So, I went to New York and we jammed. Within a month or so, Jack became available because Night Ranger had broken up, and John Kolodner said, "Hey, you gotta get Jack in there too!"

Jack: I got a phone call from John saying, "I have Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent in New York doing some songs." I said, "Man, that sounds wild!" He said, "Why don't you go check 'em out? See what you think." So, I flew to New York literally five days after Night Ranger had broken up and we all got together over a weekend. Michael had played with Tommy on a solo tour, so he was there too. And the four of us just started writing all these songs. We've been the Damn Yankees ever since!

AMP: And how does the "gonzo rocker" feel about being back in a band situation?

Ted: I've always considered myself just a member of a band. Sometimes the band is called the Amboy Dukes; sometimes it's the Ted Nugent band; and sometimes it's the Damn Yankees. But I've always considered myself a team player.

Gig advert for the Damn Yankees in Japan
AMP: Do you get three distinct types of fans coming to see their favorite band member?

Ted: I can't tell about distinction because there's such a vast, diverse wad of humanity at every show. You've got some Amboy Dukes fans out there that have to be wheeled in in chairs. And then you've got a bunch of Damn Yankees fans that are pre-pubescent!

AMP: Amboy Dukes fans still follow you?

Ted: Yeah, it's great! I did an autograph the other day for a guy who had a picture of me signed: "Ted Nugent 1967."

AMP: I've heard the band wasn't completely happy with the first Damn Yankees' album. What was it that you guys didn't like?

Ted: I think the first album was a fantastic album! My only real complaint about it is the overall mix. I thought it was mixed real blandly. I don't think the drums had any punch. I don't think the guitars had any twang to 'em. I thought it was done real disrespectful to our R&B pulse.

AMP: And did you have more of a say with Don't Tread?

Ted: I raised a big, greasy, toxic red flag and said, "Hey, goddammit, I played some sexy fuckin' rhythm guitar parts! If they're not on there, I'm gonna gut you with a rusty spoon!" And Jack and Tommy went, "Y'know, he's right!" And Michael said, "Yeah, I'm glad somebody fuckin' said something 'cause there's no vibrancy to the blend of the music." And I think we got it this time. I'm confident that we did!

Damn Yankees (publicity photo)
L-R: Jack Blades, Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw, Michael Cartellone
AMP: I'd like to ask you about some of the songs on Don't Tread. Firstly, congratulations on "Mr. Please" going to #1!

Ted: The number one rock track in America! Thank you very much!

Jack: That's not the pop/Garth Brooks chart. We're talking about rock 'n' roll charts. It's really cool!

AMP: The title track, "Don't Tread On Me"...

Ted Nugent on the cover of Creem magazine
May 1978
Ted: Great song! It's about independence. It's about people in the left lane — y'know, if you wanna go 55 get the hell outta my lane! If you wanna be gay, just don't come near me! I don't give a shit. I think it's weird, but I'm not gonna punch ya.

AMP: Umm... OK. What I really wanted to ask about was the use of the song during the US Olympics.

Jack: That was pretty bitchin'! They played one video a night for every 16 days of the Olympics, and it was cool that they wanted us to be the rock 'n' roll band. They wanted real American rock 'n' roll and the one thing we are is a no-holds-barred, straight-ahead, dyed-in-the-wool American rock 'n' roll band.

AMP: I noticed that the Tower of Power horn section play on "Dirty Dog." How did that come about?

Jack: I've been a fan since... Y'know, I'm from the Bay Area. I've lived here since 1975. I was in this band called Rubicon when I was like 19, and Tower of Power were my idols. That and Sly and the Family Stone. That's the kind of music I loved. So, it was really neat that when we needed horns, I said, "How about Tower of Power?"

AMP: Do you have a horn section when you play live?

Jack: No... We don't play that song live.

Damn Yankees & Jackyl at the
McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado
AMP: Another song I really like is "This Side of Hell"...

Jack: "This Side of Hell" is killer! That's my favorite song to play live! We just kill that tune. We absolutely kill it!

AMP: It's a great anthem to teenage lust! I guess I shouldn't be amazed that you're still writing lyrics about getting/not getting laid. But you are married with a teenage son of your own.

Jack: Yeah, I have a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old. I don't look at 'em as teenage-lust songs. I just look at 'em as lust period! And they just happen to have a good, strong groove happening. People might choose to call 'em adolescent or teenage or whatever... But that's just the fire I have inside of me, and when that burns out I might as well fucking quit! I mean, the reason most musicians get into this business is to meet babes!

AMP: Do your sons like the Damn Yankees?

Jack: Oh, yeah! They think its killer! They dig rock 'n' roll. They're not into that rap shit. I'm so fucking sick of that rap garbage. On MTV you see gangs walking around with guns; they should be shot themselves!

Ted: God damn car-jacking, purse-snatching, rap pieces of shit!

AMP: Ted, the one song you sing on Don't Tread is "Uprising." You might think I'm crazy...

Ted: I already think that.

AMP: ...but the general idea of what you're saying in the lyrics reminds me of the Amboy Dukes' song "Get Yer Guns."

Ted: Yes, ma'am! You're right on the money! It's about standing up and defending what you believe in. And it's about trying to change ugliness: "Another night of horror/ The streets are living hell/The gangland has no honor/Just that dying smell/Where is the vigilante?/He's better than the knave/Life's a penny ante/I refuse to be a slave." Y'know, I keep seeing these reports on television — the left wing, liberal pieces of shit media that say, "Oh, he took the law into his own hands." What're you supposed to do? Stand there and watch someone kill your family? Of course you take the law into your own hands!

AMP: Would that be your defense in court?

Ted: There's a more important law than what's in the books and that's your instinct to protect yourself and your family. I mean, my God, it's insane. I'd love to have been that cab driver [the taxi driver who was sued for using "excessive force" when he trapped a mugger by pinning him against a wall with his cab], except I wouldn't have just pinned him against the wall. I would've run over his fucking head 'till there was nothing left but a skidmark! Things are so fucked up! It's the same mentality that tried to put me in jail in Cincinnati.

Night Ranger with Jack Blades second from left
AMP: I heard something about that. What happened?

Ted: I shot a flaming arrow into my guitar like I do every night, and the Fire Marshall had a hard on! I think he was a gay vegetarian from Cuba. No offense to Cubans!

Jack: There's some antiquated rule in Cincinnati where you're not allowed to have an open flame. It's like when kids light [cigarette] lighters during the show, the cops fine 'em $50. We didn't know about this. Nobody told us. So, we did our show like we do every night, and after the show the whole dressing room filled up with cops! They took Ted away in handcuffs!

Q: Did you have to pay a fine?

Ted Nugent in an advert for PRS guitars
Jack: The judge was such an asshole. He said, "Did you know about this ordinance?" Ted said, "Absolutely not! Had I known it was against the law, I wouldn't have done it." The judge says, "I don't know who you think you are, but the fine is $1,000 and three days in jail." We were like, "What the fuck?" The radio station in town paid the fine and they waived the three days. It was kinda stupid.

AMP: Wasn't the singer from Jackyl [the support band] arrested at the same time for mooning the audience?

Jack: Yeah, he was standing in line behind Ted and the judge said, "Next!" Jesse stood up and said, "Not guilty!" They put his trial off 'till next week 'cause this judge was out to get everybody. The guy would've hung Jesse by his balls!

AMP: Ted, I can't end the interview without asking about your commercial for Energizer batteries...

Ted: Kinda cute, huh? They wanted me to shoot that fucking rabbit, but I told 'em I only shoot something I'm gonna eat. And I'm not gonna shoot a pink rabbit from California!

AMP: It's such a classic!

Ted: That's why I did it. I get a lotta offers for stuff like that, but it's gotta really be out of the ordinary and something I consider to be classic.

Damn Yankees (publicity photo)
AMP: And I loved your performance on Miami Vice!

Ted: Did you see that one? It was the #2 rated Miami Vice of all time. I thought I died like a champ.

AMP: Would you like to do more acting in the future?

Ted: Y'know, I'd like to, but Jesus Christ there's only 24 hours in a day; seven days in a week. It pisses me off! I need at least 50 hours a day and probably 20 days a week and about 150 weeks in a year. I'm just too damn busy. If I get a little break, and I'm still able to three or four years down the road, I'm sure I will. It's fun! And I'm good at it 'cause I've got a lotta attitude!

* * *

In case you missed it during its original run, here's Ted Nugent's advert for Energizer batteries! Enjoy!