Forgotten series: The Amboy Dukes – The Amboy Dukes (1967)

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Prior to striking out on his own and becoming a guitar god, Ted Nugent spent several years fingering the fret in the Amboy Dukes.

Seated high on the stairwell as a psychedelic hard-rocking tour de force, the Michigan-based band’s debut album, The Amboy Dukes (Mainstream Records) really was quite revolutionary for its time, which is saying a lot considering how this was the era when rock acts were flooring audiences with novel noises on a weekly basis.

Right from the start, the disc knocks the listener for a loop in the form of a savage treatment of the Big Joe Williams classic “Baby Please Don’t Go.” No stranger to the garage-band sect, the song was indeed something of a staple in repertoires across the land. But the Amboy Dukes added a triple shot of flash and flourish to the tune in the form of a punishing jam flush with feedback and dueling guitars jostling and shoving for attention. Played at ear-destroying decibels, “Baby Please Don’t Go” clearly lifted its improvisational impulses from the Yardbirds, yet the Amboy Dukes padded the track with so much weight and muscle that it took the philosophy of having a rave-up to a whole new level.

Although “Baby Please Don’t Go” is a surefire stunner, it’s actually the original material on The Amboy Dukes that gives the disc an extra layer of credence. For me, the greatest cut on the record is the tipsy psychedelic pop art smarts of “Down On Phillips Escalator” that mirrors the best of the Who and the Creation. Dabbed with phased effects and heady rhythms, the eye-watering “Colors” and the moody Middle Eastern influenced “Psalms Of Aftermath” register as further freak-frosted songs featured on the collection.

Fronted by the blues-rooted vocals of John Drake that often recall Dave Aguilar of the Chocolate Watch Band on steroids, the Amboy Dukes fathered a sound powered by primal instincts. Dominated by gritty, grungy and overamplified tunes, the album could easily be categorized as heavy metal, making the band pioneers of the genre.

Having caused a bit of a stir with The Amboy Dukes, the band then laid a golden egg with a single released in the summer of 1968, the buzzing acid-fried pop rock of “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” which cracked the national Top 20 charts. Despite the fact the band continued to produce albums and tour like crazy, they never repeated such commercial success. Dissolving in 1975, the Amboy Dukes certainly had a good long run and their records are all pretty cool portrayals of vintage hard rock.

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