CONCORD, Mich. -
The drive leading to Ted Nugent's house is lush with trees and water, and marked with the occasional yellow sign. "Lab Xing," one warns, showing the silhouette of a dog.
Another urges visitors to drive slowly: "Don't hurt my critters."
This from the "Motor City Madman," a rocker famous for decades of thrashing guitars with "10 digits of rhythm and blues doom," a hunter and reality show star known for killing whatever game he spots, and an outspoken conservative whose fiery talk has earned him a visit from the U.S. Secret Service.
It's a mild summer afternoon, and he's just back home from a show that kept him up until 3 a.m. He's a little tired and the water by the dock is calm. Gonzo, Nugent's hunting dog, is blissfully rolling in the dirt at his feet.
"Did you feel your soul being cleansed, just on the driveway?" Nugent demands. "Was it beautiful, or what?"
He's not really looking for an answer. He just likes to talk about this patch of wetland, a fen he says provides for oodles of frogs, deer and the rare Mitchell's Satyr butterfly.
"This is a piece of private ground that is thriving biodiversity," he says. "I couldn't be more proud."
So this is Ted Nugent offstage, Ted at age 63. The Michigan native is still excitable, opinionated and loud, especially since his hearing isn't so great these days. He punctuates almost every rant and declaration by shouting "Are you kidding me?!" or "Aren't I adorable?!"
But he says this place gives him balance. He can riff about music with his band members, spend time with his wife, Shemane, or dole out belly rubs to the dogs. (There are three: Aging Thunder is a little creaky and just barely tolerating the bouncy, spotlight-stealing puppy, Rocky. Gonzo is the "the wonder Lab, the master hunter," a retriever who'd bring back any rabbit, possum or woodchuck. "He's a good dog and he loves his daddy," Nugent says.)
Most likely, this is the place Nugent would climb into a deer blind and sit silently for hours, thinking about everything or nothing.
"I want to play music during the spring and summer, but then I want to go hunting every fall and winter," he says. The music is "so intense. It's so draining, you push yourself such outrageous, animal limits. In order to maintain that intensity, I have to get away from it."
Getting away means spending time on his land in Texas or in "my swamps" right here. They'll dine tonight in the log cabin house a short walk from the dock, probably on something he shot with a bow and arrow. Nugent says he doesn't do anything fancy for those meals -- he doesn't want to tarnish what nature provided -- but they'll sometimes use a marinade of garlic, pepper, olive oil and Vernor's, Michigan's beloved, peppery ginger ale.
"Here is the beauty of my perfect life: me, my dogs, my family, all of them, my band, my crew, my drivers, my pilot, my guys, my outfitters, my frogs, my production team, everybody. Meet anybody in Ted Nugent's life? Kickin' ass.
"Everybody in my world is good."
While he believes everyone in his life is good, and he is always right, he's willing to say that wasn't always true. He does have some regrets.
He didn't go to legendary hunter Fred Bear's birthday party. Thought he was too busy. That was a mistake.
"I Love You So I Told You A Lie." Maybe you've heard the song? Never should've been recorded.
He shouldn't have exploded during a CBS interview earlier this year, when he used some language he won't repeat now. During the interview, he lashed out at the notion he's extreme, directing some of his bleeped-out response at an off-camera producer. Nugent says he was passing a kidney stone at the time and taking pain relievers -- "thought I was giving birth to a hedgehog." He regrets that he "went into this disgusting street rant" instead of keeping control. (A few weeks earlier, Nugent stirred controversy by saying he'd be "dead or in jail" if Barack Obama was re-elected. The Secret Service was concerned enough to stop by and the Army canceled his Fort Knox show. He didn't list it among his regrets.)
And there's this: He loved his dad for the discipline, but Ma Nuge, he says, made him everything he is. Marion Dorothy Nugent was buoyant and loud and excitable, and she supported him from the moment he bought that big blond Epiphone, his first guitar.
He didn't go to her funeral.
"I loved my mom so dearly. But I rationalized. I was with her throughout her illness. I was not a funeral guy....it was always so ritualistic. I didn't feel that was the relationship," he says. "I didn't understand funerals. I plead ignorant. And I apologize."
After she died in 1989, he buried her remains here in his Michigan swamps, he says.
"It was a solemn experience," he says. "The breeze is picking up. Mom's talking to us right now."
He still doesn't see his family -- his grandkids -- as much as he'd like. Nugent will catch a few days with them during his tour, or when he heads back to Texas. They call him Poppy, he says, and they will wrestle and play as much as his knees (and his children, their parents) allow.
"I've been blamed by my children that I make it more difficult to put (the grandkids) to bedtime, because I get them more wired," Nugent says.
"But after all, I did write 'Wango Tango.' We may as well dance."