Ted Nugent: Double Live Gonzo (1978)
Ted Nugent is one of those rock stars that you either love or hate. Let's face it, the guy plays a mean guitar, had a string of classic albums in the 1970's, and has remained at the forefront of hard rock/metal guitar music for three decades. Unfortunately he's also somewhat of an eccentric madman with his beliefs on a multitude of topics ranging from gun laws, animal rights, hunting, women's rights, and politics. Yes, to some he's a bit of an asshole, but let's take a look at something positive, namely his 1978 album Double Live Gonzo, perceived by many to be one of the best live albums ever released.
Recorded from shows during the band's tours in 1976 and 1977, this features perhaps Nugent's strongest line-up ever: Derek St. Holmes on guitar/vocals, Cliff Davies on drums, and Rob Grange on bass. St. Holmes in particular might have been the best singer that Ted ever employed, but unfortunately he and the wild guitarist never saw eye to eye, and this recording was to be his swan song. The opening cut "Just What the Doctor Ordered" kicks things off in raucous fashion, with Nugent's guitar dripping feedback before the famous lick starts in. St. Holmes belts out "Got me an overdose of rock & roll" with powerful conviction before that trademark rhinoceros roar of Terrible Ted's Gibson guitar comes crashing into the mix. Before closing out this blistering opener, Nugent makes sure to add some spontaneous solos that come straight from the textbook of 70's heavy metal guitar artistry. Gonzo then informs the audience that the next tune will be "Yank Me Crank Me (But Don't You Wake Up and Thank Me)" a rather silly cock rock tune dripping with Ted's sexually perverse lyrics ( a favorite lyrical theme of his) and himself on lead vocals. While Ted is no Steven Tyler, he does have a unique voice that does fit well with his material. The band then plows through the ultra-heavy "Gonzo", a song written for some serious air-guitar, with Nugent's rapid-fire solos just all over the map in between some meaty riffs and lyrics sung by Ted that really don't amount to anything. This tune segues into a cover of the blues classic "Baby Please Don't Go", featuring a snarling Nugent vocal and hot, distorted blues licks. With Davies pounding on the drums, Ted lays down screaming leads that probably made other guitarists like Alvin Lee, Frank Marino, and Joe Perry take notice. A song that is as American as apple pie, "Great White Buffalo", is up next, a rocking tune about Indians, buffalo, and the coming of the white man. Nugent grabs the microphone and does his little rant, before cranking his guitar up as loud as it can go and firing off some hot slide licks. The real kicker for guitar fans though is the final track on Disc One, the 16 minute instrumental "Hibernation." Nugent begins by telling the audience the history of his guitar, spitting out lighting quick sentences that are as fast as his solos. In moments, shards of feedback and volume swells begin to rumble, leading into a very melodic, almost Allman Brothers flavored jam with the band firing away while Nugent sways with soaring and speedy lines. It's nice to hear a change of pace from the guitarist, as most of his material is much heavier and aggressive, but on "Hibernation" he displays a real rootsy Southern Rock feel. Those who doubted Nugent's guitar prowess should give this tune a spin.
Disc Two is really the meat and potatoes of this album, and where it gets most of its legendary status from. "Stormtroopin'" is one of Nugent's most famous songs, and in a live setting really kicks ass. This is where Ted says, "I am first and foremost a heavy metal guitar hero!" Well, he doesn't really say that, but judging by the ferocious riffs that are flying around in this tune, he perfectly fits the mold. With St. Holmes wailing with vocals like a young Glenn Hughes, Nugent is left to just play. And play he does, with wild and reckless abandon, sweating every ounce of feedback and distortion out of his guitar. No player in rock ever mixed Chuck Berry inspired riffs with heavy metal thunder, but here Nugent does it at the drop of a hat, showing a monster tone as well as amazingly fast chops. It doesn't let up there, as the band then rips into the classic "Stranglehold", an 11- minute moody rocker that has one of the most ominous opening guitar riffs in rock history, simple yet effective. Derek St. Holmes pulls off his most impressive vocal performance on the album, a powerful combination of rock and soul, and mention needs to be made of the meaty bass lines of Grange as well. Mr. Nugent gets a chance to show off his jazz chops a bit on the extended solo, which then leads into a rousing Allman Bothers inspired twin guitar duel with St. Holmes. This is just one of those songs that is simply an all-time classic of heavy rock guitar, and features an amalgam of styles and tones.
As if the last two tunes don't leave you breathless, there are of course three more. "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" is another of Ted's "love" songs, although I'm sure not too many of our female readers would appreciate the lyrics behind this one. For my tastes, this song has some great guitar work, but I find the tune itself kind of asinine and severely overrated, although many long time Nugent fans will probably disagree. Anyone who has listened to classic rock radio at all in the last 25 years will no doubt be familiar with "Cat Scratch Fever", perhaps Ted's most recognizable anthem and a song that contains one of rock's classic guitar riffs. In this live version, the band really kicks it up a notch with a beefier rhythm and heavier guitar tones than on the studio album. I think also the song at the time was fairly new, and the band really dug the fact that radio as well as the live audiences really picked up on it, and gave it their all. Another live staple, "Motor City Madhouse", finishes off the set in a non-stop frenzy. Always an excuse for Ted to drop in the city he is playing for in the lyrics, "Motor City Madhouse" is a fun extended rocker that serves no other purpose other than to get the crowd worked up and rowdy. Again, if you appreciate amazing guitar solos and pounding rhythms, this is the perfect song to crank in the car with the top down, or to blast in your room while you play air-guitar in front of the mirror.
Let's be frank, I don't expect you to believe that Nugent is a master songwriter, or is as important a part of heavy metal history as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or Deep Purple, but there's no denying that he had a hot streak during the 70's that produced some exciting material. Double Live Gonzo is the Nuge at his best, which is on stage, rippin' it up for an appreciative audience, and proving that he is a force to be reckoned with. Add another 1970's live album to your list of must haves.