In the late '60s, when such things mattered, Ted Nugent was quickly gaining a reputation as a young-gun guitar hotshot, largely based on the back-to-back success of two singles issued by his group, the Amboy Dukes. The first, "Baby Please Don't Go," was a hopped-up rendition of the old blues standard, which Nugent and the band had learned off the version by Van Morrison's group, Them. The second was a group original, "Journey to the Center of the Mind," one of those tunes that shows up regularly on TV record ads for "Psychedelic Groovy '60s" collections. Nugent and the group continued to make great, musically interesting albums for the tiny Mainstream label, but had no more hits. They went through numerous personnel changes as Nugent's ego started asserting itself. They moved on to Polydor, then finished up their ride on Frank Zappa's DiscReet label as Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes before Nugent moved on to a solo career, dumbing down his music for larger commercial success. These are the recordings that made Ted Nugent's early reputation, the ones he made before he turned into a cartoon character.
Loaded for Bear brings together 18 tracks from the first three Amboy Dukes albums with the inclusion of the rare-as-hen's-teeth single "You Talk Sunshine, I Breathe Fire," a period piece if there ever was one. In addition to the pair of hits, album tracks like "Migration," "Scottish Tea," "Good Natured Emma," and "Flight of the Bird" show that Nugent had more musical concerns and a better sense of song structure going than his later solo hits would lead you to believe. On the other hand, "Mississippi Murderer" demonstrates that Nugent shouldn't be allowed within 20 yards of a slow blues, his stiff phrasing proving emphatically that fast doesn't always get the job done. Oh, there's some silly stuff on here, too, like "Why Is a Carrot More Orange Than a Orange," but that's half the fun of a collection like this, a chance to enjoy the landscape of a bygone era without having your high school photo exposed in the process. If you can temporarily divorce the present-time image of Nugent -- "the Motor City Madman" who has reinvented himself as an archconservative, conservationist family man while still wearing a loincloth and singing "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" -- you'll be rewarded with a collection of great music here. The smoking lamp is lit.