DOUBLE LIVE GONZO
Released January 1978 (Epic Records)
If there was a year that injected my soul with enough rock and roll to kick start the events that led to me being branded “rock & roll junkie”, 1978 could easily stake the biggest claim. Sure there was plenty of music in my life beforehand but as far as angst filled high energy rock, the closest I came to that point was bits and pieces of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, KISS, and Cheap Trick. 1978 exposed me to the likes of Van Halen, Rainbow, AC/DC, Foreigner and maybe the most bombastic rock and roll live album ever released — Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo.
Now in 2018, Uncle Ted may be looked at as a senile old turd who has managed more bad mouth output in the past five years in comparison to any amount of good album output in the previous twenty. Despite that fact, 40 years ago, Ted was an oversexed hyperactive, motormouth who managed to crank out album after face melting album starting in the early ’70s while tearing up concert stages from coast to coast and continent to continent. To say that there were few who could keep up with Nugent live would be a major understatement. To put it mildly — the dude was totally gonzo.
While Ted was busy doing what crazed red-blooded American male rock stars did in the ’70s, I was living the exciting life of an Army brat overseas surrounded by older kids with way cooler record collections than mine yet even so, it wasn’t an older rocker that turned me on to Nugent. It was our American neighborhood Dependent Youth Activities Recreation Center.
In mid-’78, someone thought it was a bright idea to donate funds to the DYA in our tiny housing area outside of Frankfurt, Germany to be used for the sole purpose of purchasing a stereo system and a pile of records. Great in theory (and of course great for wild-eyed kids looking for adventure) but in the days before the PMRC and record ratings, I guess someone forgot to even consider what might be proper for kids between the ages of 8 and 15. Yeah, there were a few mild ones but on one fateful day during the summer of 1978, while looking through albums by the likes of Chicago, The Carpenters, John Denver and the Bee Gees, I stumbled across the vision of this crazed long-haired guy on his knees, hands over ears, donning a foxtail and the biggest guitar I had ever seen. Next thing I know, the needle is hitting the wax and the crackling is punctuated by pulse raising guitar and more dirty stage speak than I even knew was legal. At that age, I was even a tad bit confused but yet too embarrassed in my innocence to inquire of any older kids as to what this maniac was foaming at the mouth about. All I know is, I felt like I was in the middle of the heavenly chaos of a rock concert! But seeing as this was a place for military youth, I felt it my duty to do what any respectful teenage boy should do when coming across something inappropriate for kids…
…I took it home. Well OK, I stole it. Yeah, my first thought was to hide it somewhere within the DYA to make sure it didn’t get confiscated but in the end, I figured it would be safer under my lock and key than say… ‘responsible adults.’ The only thing I hadn’t counted on was that the power of the Nuge would cause me to fall off my bed one night while rocking to the solo section of “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” resulting in my headphones being yanked out of my stereo and the stillness of the German night to be bombarded with the massive gonzo artillery of Nugent in full feedback fury. I also hadn’t counted on Dad laughing his ass off once he had helped Mom recover from her most recent near heart attack at the hands of her son. It was that day that I found out Dad was a Nugent fan and the upcoming Weekend Warriors show he took me to would be just the first of many cool concert experiences we shared together.
Speaking of concert experiences, since 1978, ol’ Ted has blessed (or cursed depending on your take) the world with several live releases including 1981 patchwork platter Intensities In 10 Cities, 1997’s Live At Hammersmith 1979, 2001’s Full Bluntal Nuggity, and a whole other slew of live toss outs, and quickie imports but none that have yet to challenge the live concert assault qualities of Double Live Gonzo.
With a beautiful train wreck of drums, bass, screaming guitar, and a mighty “YEAH!”, Ted and the gang (including guitarist and lead vocalist Derek St. Holmes and the rhythm section of Rob Grange and Cliff Davies) take the simple four-piece loud American rock and roll approach to administer “Just What The Doctor Ordered” and it’s all there from the jump. Instruments made for any form of air play topped off with vocals perfect for any arena or stadium audience. Few more perfect openers had to that point been created, and few since have been born and of course it all climaxes with screaming Ted guitar and from there, Double Live Gonzo manages to just keep going and going and going.
While he may not have wanted to be woken up just for thanks on “Yank Me, Crank Me”, madman Ted surely was not napping while pulling on his guitar and expressing his thoughts on a quick night cap as only chemical free Nuge can. And if somehow, he did manage to catch a quick snooze amidst all the screaming and distortion, he gets a second, third, and yes, fourth wind to tear on and get “Gonzo” before grooving into blues classic “Baby Please Don’t Go” — a song that while dating back to 1935 and revived many times by over the years by artists like Van Morrison, AC/DC and Ted’s ’60s group the Amboy Dukes, gets a full on Ted facelift live. The only confusion here is that as Double Live Gonzo features tracks from several concert locations, it is not odd that the listener might do a double take when the band wish San Antonio a good night a mere four songs in but that’s OK — the best is STILL yet to come on.
Flipping over to side two of record one (if you have the original vinyl version like I do), the audience is given a bit of a rest in a blend of groove and band member showcase tunes ala “Great White Buffalo” and “Hibernation” — a pair of jams that if your thing strictly lies in the land of loud and fast, could be a bit of a snoozer, but at the same time could never be confused with say, a similar length Grateful Dead free-form jam. Yeah Ted likes his rock and roll loud and crazy but at the same time likes to remind us that he does indeed know how to do more than just yank and crank on a guitar.
For my rock and roll taste, the second record here is where this release truly kicks in as feedback and fireworks set the tone for romp “Stormtroopin’” and as a barely functioning teenager beneath the frozen German landscape of the Taunus Mountains, these two sides of sweat and snow melting insanity helped propel me forward on many a dreary day. Taking into account just the building guitar solo (with nods to Chuck Berry‘s classic “Johnny B. Goode”), it’s now hard to believe it possible to go any higher but damn if Ted doesn’t do just that and when he yells “you know what I like!”, he ain’t kidding.
Any rock fan worth their salt can spot “Stranglehold” just a few notes in. The groove is unmistakable and is a concert jam for gals and guys alike. The bass is just low enough to get asses shaking (which the guys like) and building guitar more than enough to get at least a few hands off asses and into air guitar land. This is where the band truly shines and where the strength in this simple four-piece group is exposed. In addition to a dead on rhythm section, Nugent and St. Holmes exist as the perfect tag team of guitar and vocals and both possess their own unique abilities on the mic and the six string. The dual leads are enough to make any air guitar players head explode and if that isn’t enough, Ted wraps the whole thing up with screams and a good night for Springfield. Looking back now, I have to chuckle at the funny idea of a young Homer Simpson in the audience [laughs].
Now if my teenage brain hadn’t already been hooked, it surely was after listening to side four. Hook, line, and full on brain drained, bubbled up blood pressure, mother fuckin’ sinker. Holy crap! Just the insane stage banter kicking things off had me ready to jump off tall speakers and tear a new one in the snow covered fields surrounding my neighborhood. And if the first three sides didn’t help launch me crotch first into puberty, then the tail end (pun FULLY intended) sure did with a triple blast of songs I was familiar with but until Uncle Ted explained them here a la his own twisted take on the birds and the bees, I just thought they were cool tunes and not some ode to the gals I obsessed over from afar. Yeah, up to that point, I was in love. By the time Ted got done, I was thinking something else girl-wise. Maybe not totally sure what just yet but let’s just say, 1978 was a very good year and not just for rock and roll. But anyway…
While “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” may have accidentally clued me in that I shared Nugent fandom with Dad via my stumble during what to this day I still consider one of the most intense guitar lead breaks in live album history, it holds a place in my memory for much more. Yeah, the solo totally lifts off mid-flight but in the process takes the overall vocal response of the audience with it. There have been some live great albums but aside from KISS‘ Alive!, few with the power to put you right there in the middle of the audience and at moments on Double Live Gonzo, teenage me was there. Right smack in the sweaty, loud, smoky middle. Even listening now while writing this, I find myself closing my eyes and drifting back and forth between listening to this in my room with my huge ’70s headphones and catching the band live with my Dad the next year in Russelheim. After all that though, Ted is STILL not done!
Side four wraps up with the one-two punch of perhaps Nugent’s most well known tune “Cat Scratch Fever” and the bombastic “Motor City Madhouse.” One a tribute to, well, cats and the other a homage to his home turf of Detroit, Michigan a place known to have just as much snow as I had to endure during my teenage winters beneath the German alps. At this point, Ted forgets that he already beat you upside the head with enough rock and roll to kill a horse but Nugent being Nugent, he still isn’t content until he can pummel the audience with enough guitar brutality in just the last two songs than most bands are capable of tossing out an entire concert. Yeah, it’s Ted Nugent and the dude was, is, and surely always will be, gonzo no what you think of him personally or even his politics.
At the end of the day, Double Live Gonzo is plain and simply a rock and roll album filled with what made ’70s arena rock great. Loud guitars, pounding bass, brain crushing reverb laced drums, and audiences that were just as important to the experience as any other part of it. Yeah, we know looking back now that few (if any) live albums were truly and totally live but the bands and the creators of such platters were geniuses at duplicating the live concert experience for listeners to bring into their homes, clubs, cars, and headphones and Ted Nugent’s 1978 live offering is one of the best in capturing a time in rock concert history that was magical. The second half of the seventies was an amazing time to see bands live and paved the way for the incredible rock concert offerings of the eighties and I for one feel blessed to be able to pull out live albums by Nugent, KISS, Angel and many others and drop the needle on a memory of crackles and crowds, loud guitars and of course, gonzo rock and roll.
01. Just What The Doctor Ordered
02. Yank Me, Crank Me
04. Baby Please Don’t Go
05. Great White Buffalo
09. Wang Dang Sweet Poontang
10. Cat Scratch Fever
11. Motor City Madhouse
Derek St. Holmes – rhythm guitar, lead and backing vocals
Ted Nugent – lead guitar, lead and backing vocals
Rob Grange – bass
Cliff Davies – drums, backing vocals
Produced by Lew Futterman and Tom Werman
Engineered by Tim Geelan and Don Puluse
Mixed by Tim Geelan
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, January 2018
Ted Nugent‘s “Just What The Doctor Ordered” video: