- The Ted Nugent Byrdman Steve Story
It all began when I was 13 or 14 years old when we rode our bikes to Kmart, and I couldn’t help but notice the crazy looking Cat Scratch Fever album in the record section. I thought, who is the crazy guy on the cover, and assumed only weirdos heading down the wrong path in life would listen to this stuff!
It wasn’t long after that when a friend of mine down the street had the Cat Scratch Fever album and said, “This is awesome stuff. Take it home and have a listen.” I was doubtful but curious to no end, so I took it home and put it on the turntable. Might I say, I owned every available Ted Nugent release I could get my hands on within weeks. I became obsessed with this music and this individual in a way I have yet to successfully put into words. The best I can say for the moment is, it seems the music and persona of Ted is and always has been a part of me.
When I was 15 I would dream about seeing a Ted Nugent concert. I was actually worried that he might retire before I had a chance to see him live. I was proud to be the weird, obsessed-with-Ted-Nugent kid who wore a different Ted Nugent T-shirt to school each day. This same year, my mother and father agreed to take a family vacation in New Orleans where “it just so happened” The Nuge was scheduled to play at the Superdome. It was insanity for me! It was just post Intensities In 10 Cities, in July 1981. I was a mile away from the stage but at the time, it was all I had hoped a Ted Nugent concert could be.
When I was 16 I bought my first guitar. At that time I had only one motive in mind, and that was to play Ted Nugent guitar riffs. I had little confidence that I could do it but believed I had to try. In hindsight I realize, that one of the best things happened to me. My girlfriend of the time said, “Why did you buy that guitar? You wasted your money. You’ll never learn how to play that thing” Well, whatever that defiant part of me is that relates to Ted, kicked in big time! I have contempt for that attitude. Even if it were true, what a thing to say. Needless to say, SHE WAS WRONG! We broke up shortly afterward.
In a world with no internet, I continued following Ted Nugent’s every move year after year, attending as many concerts as I could, fantasizing as to how I could get back stage to meet Ted just once. I was frustrated to no end as I watched the large-breasted hot girls prance their way back stage at every concert. They didn’t give a damn about Ted! They likely couldn’t even name two songs. All I wanted to do was shake his hand and find a way to convey my admiration for him.
It didn’t take much to bring out in me, Ted’s rebellious yet reasonable persona as my own, and it filled an empty spot for me as a youngster. Regardless of how it may have appeared, it was strength and confidence for me. I avoided ever getting involved with drugs and hanging with the scumbags. I was a long-haired rocker who got off on saying no to those drugged zombies!
It wasn’t long before I was playing in local bands and we had our own music in the local record stores. Our band was famous locally for what we called the Tedly Medley. The Tedly Medley was approximately an hour of straight Nuge material. That sort of thing was a bit unheard of as a local cover band at the time.
As all of this was going on, I had become a swimming pool contractor right out of high school and was accumulating obligations faster than fast. Trying to grow and run a successful business and pursue my dreams of being a professional musician were a definite conflict. Just to complicate matters even further, my mother got sick and I lost her around this same time; I was 19. My father was approaching his 80s, and I was compelled to stay close for him.
One of my high school friends, believe it or not, was arguably as obsessed with Ted Nugent as I was. My “partner in Ted” is Brad Kline, the guy on the left in the photo above. Brad is still one of my closest friends today. We used to fly to Detroit from Florida every year for the Ted Nugent New Year’s Eve Whip Lash Bash concerts. I have to say, without Brad’s influence, none of the best parts of this story would have been possible. Thank you Brad!
One year we received an invitation to meet Ted from a German guy that Brad met while networking for Nugent treasure. This individual expressed similar admiration for Ted and wanted to meet us in Detroit one New Years Eve. He said it will be great, you can come backstage with me at the Whiplash Bash concert and meet Ted for the first time. We were ecstatic to say the least. Could this finally be our moment? Well, to make a very long story short, this guy really did have backstage access that he evidently earned as one of Ted’s biggest German fans, but it is a gross understatement when I say this guy turned out to be one of the most disappointing people we would ever know. We did meet the Krout alright. We played host to him for a few days only to have the back stage door slammed in our face after solidifying in 8 degree weather for hours!
After arriving home I wrote what would turn out to be my first influential letter. It was a letter to Ted describing how this guy took advantage of our hospitality all week long and literally slammed the backstage door in our faces due to his lack of character, when we were only moments away from finally meeting him. I did my best to articulate how devastated we were by this injustice. I addressed the letter to about five different members of management and the crew. Well, my letter was a breakthrough! I received a hand written letter saying: “Leave it to a goddamn Krout! Maybe next year we can exchange gifts. I like knives and guns.”
Brad and I decided to take this literally. We bought a topnotch knife and personally inscribed it for Ted and headed back up to Detroit the following year for the next Whiplash Bash concert. The knife read “To The Great White Rock N Roll Hunter From Steve & Brad.” Well, Was this our moment? There we were once again, standing at the very same door that was slammed in our faces exactly one year before. This time had to be different right? Ted’s manager came to the door, he took the letter and nicely wrapped-for-the-holidays knife for verification, and there we stood once again. I believe it was freezing outside this time too but for some reason the cold is not a vivid memory this time around. After a reasonable period of time, Ted’s manager returned and said “come with me”. About now the juices really began to flow. After a few of the most nerve-racking minutes standing outside Ted’s dressing room door, we ended up with about 20 minutes of Ted’s undivided attention. It was an accomplishment for us that words could not describe. We left with a couple of photos (photo 1 photo2) that thank the Lord, the photo lab did not ruin.
The next day, if that wasn’t enough insanity, we walked into a dumpy little music store/pawn shop and, for the hell of it, I said, “Do you have any Byrdland guitars?” The guy says, “No, but the owner of the store has one that used to belong to Ted Nugent that he wants to sell.” My adrenalin started to rush. I would have been excited to find any Byrdland guitar let alone one Ted used to own! I said, “Okay. I want to see it.” He said, “Okay but I have to warn you, he wants seven grand for it!” I said, “I want to see it.”
I didn’t really believe he had a real Ted Nugent Byrdland but I had to find out. Just in case, I went to the closest bank and took a cash advance of $3,500 and was ready to make my best offer. We met this individual an hour before our plane took off in the bank parking lot. When the man showed, SureasShit, if it wasn’t as authentic looking a Ted Nugent Byrdland as I could have ever imagined. It had Byrd #6 burned into the rear butt of the guitar and struck me as the real deal through and through. I walked away with the guitar for $3,500.
It took a year or two, but at the next Ted Nugent concert, a Damn Yankees show, I showed up with the guitar. To shorten a few more stories, between the letter and the guitar, I was able to get back stage once again. Ted looked at it and said, “It’s a beautiful instrument”. He confirmed it was one of his Byrdlands and stated it had been stolen from him. He thought by a former band member I believe. He told me as much as he was aware of regarding how and when it was taken. He then asked who I bought it from and how much I paid for it and signed it for me. He told me to hang onto it and take good care of it. Lucky for me he was playing PRS guitars with the Damn Yankees or in hindsight I believe he may not have let me off so easily.
Brad and I showed up at every Ted Nugent concert that came within three hours of our area with that guitar and on one occasion with Brad’s platinum album displays . It would seem it was our ticket in the backdoor every time! Ted finally began to know who I was. It was around this time that Ted nicknamed me “The Byrdman Steve”.
Well, everything must come to an end, or perhaps, a new beginning. As fate would have it, one hot day in June of 1994 in Tampa, Florida at a Ted Nugent concert would be the last time I would own that Gibson Byrdland #6 of Ted’s. When we met with Ted before the show, Ted showed an unusual interest in my Byrdland. He asked me if I minded if his guitar tech checked it out and I, of course, obliged. A few minutes later his tech returned with a thumbs up and said, “It screams!” Ted handed the guitar back to me, and we headed to the front to enjoy the show.
As we anxiously anticipated the lights going down, suddenly I hear them calling for me — ME over the PA system! I began to enter a state of frenzy. Tens of thousands there and they were calling for me to come to the front of the stage. When I got there, one of Ted’s crew tried to bring me back but an arena worker wouldn’t allow it. I was told “Ted needs to see you after the show” and he handed me backstage passes.
During the entire show I labored over what this was all about. I don’t remember the show, to be honest. I was convinced he wanted my Byrdland, and I was freaking out. This was the most important inanimate object of my life. My girlfriend (now wife) was with me. The first concert of her life if you can believe that! She suggested that I ask him if he has another guitar he would trade for the Byrdland. What a great idea that was! Why didn’t I think of that? Because I was in a state of frenzy.
After the show we had a good two- to three-hour meeting with Ted. Toward the end of the meeting, Ted pulled out a piece of paper with his logo at the top and drew up a contract. I left there without my prize possession. I think Ted was the only person on earth who could have taken that guitar from me without killing me first. I left with a piece of paper signed by Ted promising, as trade for the Ted Nugent Gibson Byrdland #6, I would receive a Howard Roberts Fusion, personal time together in the studio, my name in the credits in the up-and-coming Spirit of the Wild album (which eventually turned out to be Love Grenade, above Elvis no less), and a lifetime all-access pass to any Nugent event pass.
When we returned home I found a message on my answering machine from Ted stating, “Hello, Steve. This is Ted Nugent. I just wanted to thank you for the transaction. I am in the airport right now, but you take care of that good woman of yours.” I treasured the micro cassette tape this was on for years, only to have it eaten recently when I tried to transfer it. Ted did call me a day or two later when he was in the woods, but we had a bad connection and got disconnected. I still wonder why he called a second time.
After a week or so I called Ted Nugent Headquarters (Tedquarters) to check on the whereabouts of the Fusion Guitar, and it’s a good thing, too, because no one there believe they were really supposed to send out one of Ted’s guitars to some guy nobody had ever heard of! After some checking with Ted, they sent it and I received it two weeks later in a classic red Ted Nugent Anvil Flight case with the Ted Nugent logo on the side, covered only by some cardboard and tape for shipping. The case was nearly as cool as the guitar but I was originally told, you’ll need to send the case back. I was certainly disappointed and said well, I left my Byrdland with Ted in it’s case…? I received a call back that Ted said “Absolutely, keep the case!” This guitar is the Howard Roberts Fusion that can be seen in the Ted Nugent tour book of the 1980 Nugent Nugent tour.
The next phase of this saga was not as exciting for me. I must say after receiving the guitar and the phone calls from Ted, there was a lull, a long lul. I didn’t feel right calling and being a squeaky wheel, and I allowed myself to be disappointed for many years over the fact that the other items on the list had not yet transpired. I dropped a few hints at some quick backstage meetings with Ted a few times, but nothing came out of it. I was a bit bashful about it but not quite comfortable letting it go.
After an awesome Craveman concert I had a chance, once again, to talk with Ted for only a few moments backstage but I still didn’t man up and let him know that I was frustrated about the agreement we had. So, again, nothing transpired. I decided shortly after to send a straight-up, no-sugar-coated email to Ted’s assistant, Linda. She is on the ball and very good about returning email. Well, usually she is, but this time a whole day went by, and I was wondering what was up because this was just not typical. I didn’t want to be a pain so I figured I’d wait a bit longer before following up. I was at my office managing multiple phone lines when my cell phone rings on top of it all! I usually end these blocked calls and call people back, but for some reason I answered this call. I said hello and heard “Steve? This is Ted Nugent,” and Ted Nugent it was! There was no denying that after only a word or so. He apologized profusely for the agreement being overlooked and said Linda would be calling me with some invites. It was exhilarating. I must say in the back of my mind I wondered if a waiting game was going to start all over again, but within about a week Linda called me with an invite to Waco, Texas, to Spirit Wild Ranch to spend the week with Ted and the band during the Love Grenade rehearsal for the upcoming tour. Oh, and I accepted. I managed to have my partner in Ted Brad included and we flew out to Texas and spent four days with Ted and the band. Four days with Ted Nugent and his band in a small cabin style home on the ranch. There may be a God involved that prevented this from happening 20 years before because I would have probably keeled over just from the thought of it. It was an experience of a lifetime and certainly a whole other story for another time!
The Waco experience was in 2007. I’m happy to say that the total number of personal Nuge encounters has been plentiful enough, that I no longer can recall the when and where of each and every one. I believe quite some time passed after the Waco experience before further contact would was made.
My recollection of the next encounter was about 2015. It started when I was transferring some ancient 4 track recordings I had made in my early days to digital. I stumbled on an old 4 track recording I had put together regarding a song called Alaska. Alaska was a song Ted Nugent wrote and never released. Remember, this was the early 80s, no internet. I had obtained a recording of Ted playing the song Alaska on an acoustic guitar on a radio interview sometime around 1981-82 I’d say.
Ted’s version contained an acoustic intro, verse, chorus and another intro verse, chorus and that was the extent of the song. Desperate for new Nuge material as I likely was, I had decided to complete this song on my own, hence the 4 track recording I stumbled upon.
Squeamishly, I listened to this old recording and ended up thinking, geez, that ain’t so bad! I thought what the hell, I’ll just forward it to TedQuarters and see what happens. Later that day I’m out on a job site and my cell phone rings “Private” is on the screen. It’s not the IRS because they will never call so this time “I got the feelin'” Juices once again surging and SureasShit if it ain’t The Nuge himself! Steve? This is Ted Nugent! He always has a killer opening line but I’m lucky I can remember as much as I do. I’m floating in a higher place when Ted calls.
Ted said “I just wanna congratulate you on that recording of Alaska”! “Where in the hell did you EVER get a hold of that song?” He told me I nailed the feeling of the song as he had originally intended. He went on to say he had only played that song once, live with Carmine Appice on the drums and it was never recorded. I said ah, but once it was. I reminded him of that interview in the 1980s.
This particular encounter in many ways, at least to date, maybe of all time, was perhaps the most special of all. I have to remind myself from time to time that this was the only encounter that was about something I had done. It doesn’t get any better than kudos from Ted Nugent for my musical effort. Alaska
I believe it was around this time Ted gave my YouTube channel a shout out too. A surge of activity for a few hours, what a thrill that was for me.
While there’s no such thing as enough, at this point, I’m more than content with my Nugent absorption to date but, lucky for me, that was not exactly the end of it all. Out of the clear blue in 2016, I get a personal text from Ted with this photo!
If you’ve been paying attention, you may recognize that this is Byrdland #6. The guitar I traded back to Ted in 1994. He was FINALLY using this guitar after 22 years. Not only did he think of me when he decided to use it but he opened every show with it on the 2016 tour. One of his greatest tours too.
Okay, now things really must come to an end. Enough is enough one might say right? Just when I settle in that my ride is over, I see an ad on facebook for The Dallas Guitar Festival and Ted Nugent is the apparent headliner so to speak! I quickly contacted my buddy Greg Hagood who lives in the Dallas area and what do ya know, he’s already planning to attend this event. He gave me the warmest of welcome and told me to fly out for the festivity. After a little finagling with my work schedule I decided to do it. I gave a head’s up to TedQuarters but little info was known about Ted’s attendance at this show. I did learn that there would be a Ted Nugent booth at the festival and I would likely at least be able to say a quick hello.
I could write ten pages on this experience but the short story is, this turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life. Two days in a 12 x 12 cubical with Ted, his son Toby, Ted’s guitar aficionado Todd and my buddy Greg. We helped work the booth for the duration of the event. A weekend with Ted and oodles of the finest folks you’d ever wanna meet. The circle of Ted as I say is an amazing bunch. In many ways, this was the most personable time with Ted and the gang I can recall, and an extra thank you to my treasured buddy Greg for rolling out the red carpet for me!
If only my Mom lived to see this stuff…
It’s all over now right? No, can’t be more can there? A few months after the Dallas Guitar Festival in 2017, Ted is on tour once again. This time Ted plays two shows in my home town area in FL. After some communication with TedQuarters regarding the shows, once again my phone rings and the number said “Blocked” hmm, it’s not the IRS because they never call you so could it be, again? Yup! Ted calling to see if I’d like to join them at a soundcheck for a quick jam. I said no thank you…Yeah right.
I’m playing the Gibson, Howard Roberts Fusion I received from Ted in 1994 in this picture. I have oodles of people to thank for what amounted to an act of selfless kindness by many. At the top of the list has to be Ted! After that, the band: Greg Smith, Jason Hartless and then of course Linda at Tedquarters and the crew. It turns out that a soundcheck jam for which I thought I might be fortunate enough to participate in, was actually held for my benefit. A gesture of generosity on a level I was not aware of at the time and would never have asked, expected or even wanted of anyone to do. I don’t know what to say because “thank you” seems trivial… I left this event with a new signature on my Byrdland and rain-check for lunch with Ted next time he’s in town. FYI, I answer all “Blocked” and “Private” calls from now on. Keep y’all posted!
Steve “Byrdman” Lewis