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Members include Greg Arama, bass; Rusty Day, vocals; John Drake, vocals; Steve Farmer, guitar; K.J. Knight, drums; Rick Lober, keyboards; Ted Nugent, guitar; Dave Palmer, drums; Andy Solomon, keyboards; Bill White, bass.
The Amboy Dukes' hard-driving acid-rock guitar onslaught brought psychedelia to the American Midwest in the mid-1960s with feedback- and distortion-driven garage pop classics such as "Baby Please Don't Go" and "Journey to the Center of the Mind." The band's subsequent efforts never matched the quality or success of their early efforts, however, and the band became more widely known as the launching pad for guitarist Ted Nugent's concurrent careers as a successful solo artist, staunch advocate of wildlife hunting and fishing, anti-drug spokesperson, conservative political pundit, and reality television star.
The group borrowed its name from a defunct Detroit band that in turn had taken it from a 1945 pulp novel by Irving Schulman, infamous for its graphic depictions of drug abuse, sexual acts, and violent exploits among urban Jewish gangs. The novel had already inspired the 1949 film City Across the River, starring Tony Curtis, Thelma Ritter, and Richard Jaeckel. In what was perhaps a tip of the hat to this literary and cinematic pedigree, the Amboy Dukes recorded a remake of the Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers hit "I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent," from the 1956 Tuesday Weld film Rock! Rock! Rock!; it was released on the Dukes' 1969 album, Migrations. As the band's lineup changed over the years, Nugent became the predominant force. Gone were the drug references in the group's songs and album cover art, and woe befell any band member foolish enough even to suggest substance abuse in Nugent's presence, for the outcome would be immediate dismissal.
Before forming the Amboy Dukes, Nugent had played in a variety of Detroit and Chicago bands. Learning to play guitar before he was 10, Nugent was playing professionally by the time he was 11. In 1960, he fronted a band called the Royal High Boys. He was only 13 when his band the Lourds performed at Detroit's Cobo Hall as opening act for such acts as the Beau Brummels and the Supremes. In 1964, Nugent told High Times writer Glenn O'Brien, the Lourds "were peaking. ... We were getting ready to open up some shows for the [Rolling] Stones." His father's career intervened, however, and the elder Nugent's transfer landed the young guitarist in Chicago.
It wasn't long before Nugent put together a Chicago lineup that he christened the Amboy Dukes (another Amboy Dukes, who had their sole hit with a cover of John Fred and the Playboy Band's "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)," existed in Great Britain). After he graduated from high school in 1967, Nugent moved back to Detroit, bringing his bandmates with him. The group practiced hard rhythm-and-blues songs by such acts as the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, Joe Tex, and Sam and Dave before landing a solid hit with a reworking of a Big Joe Williams blues song, "Baby Please Don't Go," which had been recorded by Van Morrison's band Them not long before. The single was a regional hit, loaded with ample guitars, a driving rhythm section, and powerful vocals from singer John Drake, a former band member of Nugent's early band the Lourds.
The Amboy Dukes--featuring Nugent, Drake, rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer, bass guitarist Bill White, keyboardist Rick Lober, and drummer Dave Palmer--were gaining in popularity when Nugent received his draft notice. He avoided enlistment, he told O'Brien, by refusing to bathe or shave for 30 days prior to his physical. "Two weeks before," he continued, "I stopped eating any food with nutritional value. I just had chips. Pepsi, beer--stuff I never touched ... little jars of Polish sausages, and I'd drink the syrup. I was this side of death." In addition, he relieved his bowels and bladder in his clothing for a week prior to his exam. On the day of his physical, the man who would become rock music's most outspoken opponent of drug abuse nasally ingested crystal Methedrine. "I was so proud. I knew I had these chumps beat," he told O'Brien. "The last thing I remember was wakin' up in the ear test booth and they were sweepin' up. So I went home and cleaned up."
The Dukes signed with Detroit record label Mainstream in 1967 and released their debut album The Amboy Dukes, which featured "Baby Please Don't Go." The album was recorded in one night on a four-track recorder. After the album's release, White and Lober left the band and were replaced by bass player Greg Arama and keyboardist Andy Solomon. In 1968, guitarists Nugent and Farmer collaborated on the composition of the group's national hit single, "Journey to the Center of the Mind." The song dealt with mind expansion, presumably through psychotropic drugs--a conclusion supported by the album cover's artwork, which featured drug paraphernalia.
The trend was also apparent in songs like "Why Is a Carrot More Orange Than an Orange" and "The Inexhaustible Quest for the Cosmic Cabbage." The latter song, ten minutes in length, is notable for its inclusion of a portion of Hungarian classical composer Bela Bartók's Second String Quartet and a segment parodying the Beach Boys. Following the release of the album, Nugent fired vocalist Drake over creative differences, replacing him with 350-pound white soul singer Rusty Day.
After signing a two-album contract with Polydor Records, the Dukes recorded Marriage on the Rocks: Rock Bottom and Survival of the Fittest; the latter album, drummer K.J. Knight recalled on his website, "sold 50,000 to 75,000 copies." The album was recorded over two nights in the Detroit-area Eastown Theater. In 1971, Day and Arama were fired for drug abuse, and Palmer departed to embark upon a career as a recording engineer. Day eventually died of an overdose, and Arama died in a motor vehicle accident.
After these changes, the reconstituted group recorded two albums, Call of the Wild and Tooth, Fang, and Claw, for Frank Zappa's Discreet label in, respectively, 1974 and 1975. By this time, the group was billed as Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. Recognizing that he was covering the overhead for a group of musicians of whom only he had immediate name recognition, Nugent cut his losses and embarked on his highly successful solo career. The years salved some of the hard feelings between Nugent and his former cohorts, however, and members of various incarnations of the band, including Drake, Farmer, Arama, Andy Solomon, Lober, and Dave Palmer reunited at one of Nugent's fabled "Whiplash Bash" New Year's Eve concerts in Detroit to perform "Journey to the Center of the Mind."
by Bruce Walker
The Amboy Dukes's Career
Ted Nugent formed first incarnation of band in Chicago, taking name from defunct Detroit band, 1965; Nugent returned to Detroit, recruited John Drake, Steve Farmer, Bill White, Rick Lober, and Dave Palmer for new version of Amboy Dukes, 1967; released debut album, The Amboy Dukes, featuring cover single "Baby Please Don't Go," 1967; White and Lober left band and were replaced by Greg Arama and Andy Solomon, 1968; notched Top 20 hit with title track from album Journey to the Center of the Mind, 1968; Drake replaced by Rusty Day, 1969; released albums Migrations and Marriage on the Rocks, 1969; released Survival of the Fittest, 1971; Day, Solomon, and Palmer departed; band changed name to Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, 1971; Nugent pursued solo career, finally retiring band name Amboy Dukes, 1975.
- Selected discography
- The Amboy Dukes Mainstream, 1967.
- Journey to the Center of the Mind Mainstream, 1968.
- Migration Repertoire, 1969.
- Marriage on the Rocks: Rock Bottom Polydor, 1970.
- Survival of the Fittest Polydor, 1971.
- (As Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes) Call of the Wild Discreet, 1974.
- (As Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes) Tooth, Fang, and Claw Discreet, 1975.
- Journeys and Migrations (double reissue), Mainstream, 1975.
- Dr. Slingshot (compilation), Mainstream, 1975.
- Marsh, Dave, and John Swenson, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1980.
- Buckley, Jonathon, Orla Duane, Mark Ellingham, and Al Spice, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 1999.
- High Times, Summer 1977.
- Phonograph Record, March 1974.
- "Amboy Dukes," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 30, 2003).
- "Amboy Dukes," Classic Bands, http://www.classicbands.com/amboy.html (January 16, 2004).
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