Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Amboy Dukes - Baby Please Don't Go/Psalms of Aftermath

Amboy Dukes
Baby Please Don't Go/Psalms of Aftermath

Released 1967 on Mainstream
Reviewed by Brandon Tenold, 21/10/2008ce

Ted Nugent.

Say that name to someone born in the last 25 years, and they’ll probably think of a combination of cowboy hats, dead deer and opinions on foreign policy that often include the phrase “nuke the shit” in them. To us youngans, Ted’s more famous for writing books on how to make jerky than for his music or skill on the six-string. Indeed, whenever I’ve seen Ted on TV, he seems much more interested in espousing his views on the state of the U-S-of-A than playing his fucking guitar.

But things weren’t always that way. At one point, Ted had a reputation as a bona fide guitar hero, and this stretches back to even before his loincloth wearing glory days in the late 70’s. Y’see, before his solo career, the ‘Nuge was the guitarist in a largely overlooked but occasionally excellent Detroit group called the Amboy Dukes, and along with Jimi Hendrix, the Yardbirds guitar giants and his fellow Detroit peers, he helped to create heavy, out of control guitar as we now know it, with one song in particular leading the way.

Both the group’s first single and leadoff track of their self-titled debut album, the band’s cover of Big Joe Williams “Baby Please Don’t Go” is one of the finest acid-rock blues explosions ever put to tape. Using the cover version done by Them, which featured another future solo star, Van Morrison, as a template, the ‘Nuge takes Them’s already half-crazed version fully over the deep end, both prophesying his future guitar hero status while cementing it among LSD punks who never got into “Cat Scratch Fever”.

It begins with the distinctive riff played by Jimmy Page on Them’s version, but where Page merely let the final notes of the phrases quietly fade out, Ted lets them feed back into his hollow-body guitar, producing a snarling yet still controlled array of sounds. The bass also follows the familiar chugga-chug, chugga-chug pattern of the Them cover, where it remains for the songs entire duration. Finally, after about 30 seconds the drums kick in and Ted cranks the dynamics up to 10, with Dukes singer John Drake wailing “Baby please don’t go!”, although he phrases the first word more like “Babe-ah”. Only two verses later, and Drake gives Ted an “Aw, give it!” to signal that it’s solo time. More feedback squeals and roars ensue, and soon the Motor City Madman is off with a crazed solo that combines his soon to be trademark pentatonic noodley goodness with still more feedback abuse, even putting in a quote from “Third Stone From the Sun” in the middle. Aside from the occasional stabs of rhythm guitar and keyboards during key moments, most of the song consists of just Ted over top of the bass and drums, the rhythm section’s relentless chug only deviating to add extra intensity every few bars. Finally, Ted takes the dynamics way down while Drake comes back in to repeat the opening lyrics, with some background “ooohhhs” added for good measure. The band builds tension with Ted’s guitar remaining restrained, at times stopping completely. Finally, Drake again yells “Babe-ah please don’t go!” and the band explodes once again. Ted gets a few last licks in before Drake ends the song with a reverbed “HEY!”, and the madness is over.

The songs b-side, “Psalms of aftermath” is pretty much what you would expect from the title, a much more docile affair full of sitar drones and “Ahhh-ahhh” background vocals. It ain’t nearly as good as the a-side, brother, but then again, so are most other songs. While Uncle Ted still occasionally performs “Baby Please Don’t Go” live, I doubt this one survived the 60’s.

Unfortunately for the group (and the world), “Baby Please Don’t Go” wouldn’t even make a dent in the charts, and the band would have to wait until next year’s “Journey to the Center of the Mind” to get a chart hit. That song is good little garage-pop nugget, but it can’t compare to the primal scream unleashed on “Baby Please Don’t Go”. Considering the Dukes were among the first of Michigan’s proto-punk/metal/whatever hell-raisers to put a record out, the MC5 still being unknowns outside their home state and The Stooges just getting warmed up, perhaps the world at large wasn’t ready in late 1967 for this outburst of prime Deeetroit geeetar madness. In any case, it’s a rockin’ and ragin’ slab of primo garage-heaviosity. For a brief moment, Ted sounded like the craziest motherfucker to ever pick up a guitar, and he would not sound as gonzo again until the 70’s.

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