The story goes back to the very early days of his career, when Nugent and his band won a contest to open for the Supremes.
“I was a kid. Had no idea about the world of professionalism or music,” the rocker recalled. “But we were so dedicated to play like the Funk Brothers. Like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard. The authenticity of that black dynamic and emotion and defiance and celebration of ‘free, free at last.’”
The aforementioned Funk Brothers were a group of session musicians who played on many of the most famous Motown releases of the ’60s and ’70s. The band was on site the night Nugent opened for the Supremes and caught the future Motor City Madman during soundcheck.
“They’re watching us, kind of snickering. And the biggest, baddest, blackest Funk Brother of all stood up and started moseying over towards us,” Nugent remembered. “So we’re putting our guitars away, the Funk Brother, big ol’ black dude comes up, puts his hand on my shoulder and goes, ‘That was great stuff, boys. You keep playing guitar like that, you’re gonna be a nigger when you grow up.’”
Nugent called it “the greatest compliment in the world,” explaining that the term was meant in a positive way. “That word was perfect expression that we had soul. Perfect expression that a bunch of little white whipper-snappers at least put everything we had into being tight like the Funk Brothers, like James Brown.”
“To this day I use it as a badge of honor,” Nugent admitted, adding that he still uses the phrase before a performance. “Every night before we go on stage, we put our firsts together and push with everything we have… and we go ‘Nig-up! Nig-up! James Brown! Wilson Picket! Motown! Funk Brothers! Funk Brothers! Funk Brothers! And then we hit the stage, and there’s not a Caucasian to be found.”
Despite Nugent’s declared reverence for Black artists, the rocker has been accused of racism on several occasions. Venues cited a “history of racist and hate-filled remarks” upon canceling a handful of his concerts in 2014. More recently, the rocker claims to have lost a sponsor of his Spirit of the Wild television show due to past accusations of racism.
“Everybody who pays attention — not the ones who call me a racist, but the people who are actually honest and pay attention know that I have paid homage and reverence to the black heroes of music all my life, which means I’m the anti-racist,” Nugent insisted in the Facebook video. “So if you find somebody who calls Ted Nugent a racist, you are looking at a subhuman piece of shit who lives a lie.”