Rock on, 'Ma' Nugent

Rock star Ted Nugent and other musicians encouraged by his mother, Marion, dedicate a 7,800-pound memorial to her role in the Chicago music scene

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Rock musician Ted Nugent is known for his frenetic guitar work, bawdy lyrics and bowhunting, but behind the wild life and times of the Motor City Madman has been an unlikely inspiration: his sweet, silver-haired mother.

Vibrant and endlessly supportive, Marion "Ma" Nugent nurtured her son's ferocious music and became an honorary den mother for bands passing through Chicago, advising them from her backstage perch at area clubs and from the pages of a magazine.

The longtime Palatine resident died almost 20 years ago, but she was honored Wednesday with an unusual tribute, the idea of one of those musicians who had become her friend. Eric Kinkel's plan had been to rename a street in the northwest suburb for Ma Nugent, but he settled on perhaps a more fitting memorial: a big, heavy rock.

The 7,800-pound hunk of red Wisconsin granite, into which Ma Nugent's likeness has been sandblasted, sits outside Durty Nellie's pub in downtown Palatine.

A brief unveiling ceremony drew about 250 people, some of whom waited two hours to hear their rock hero, dressed in a cut-off shirt, shorts and sandals, offer a few words about his mom.

"Boys and girls, look closely. My name is Ted Nugent. I'm 59 years old and I'm having the time of my life because my mom and dad made me the best I can be," he said. "This public tribute is merely a physical manifestation of what I celebrate every day of my life. My mom is with me every day. Which is why I'm so funny."

Mary Bacakos of Palatine brought her twin sons, 12, who have started a band called Designated Food Processors with two other boys. Ma Nugent, Bacakos said, "was the very first cool rock 'n' roll mom. Maybe we'll be next."

Ted Nugent was born in Detroit and spent most of his youth there, and his pummeling style of music has always been associated with the city. But for two formative teenage years in the mid-1960s, he lived in the northwest suburbs. A job transfer brought the family to Hoffman Estates, then to Palatine. Nugent attended St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, and with his mother's blessing, he formed the first version of the Amboy Dukes, the band that led to his initial fame.

"My dad was scared of rock 'n' roll," Nugent recalled in an interview before the ceremonies. "We watched the baptism of Elvis Presley on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' and it scared ... white folks. But my mom saw people smiling and dancing, and she saw that her son was happy."

Nugent returned to Detroit after his high school graduation, while his family stayed behind. As he began filling arenas in the 1970s, Ma Nugent frequently visited him on tour. She became part of the Chicago rock scene, too, developing a love and knowledge of the music as deep as any young fan's.

"She was a regular fixture in a lot of the rock clubs, mostly backstage, hanging out with the bands in a very motherly fashion, in an advise-and-counsel sort of way," said Ron Ramelli, former ad director for Illinois Entertainer magazine. "She really paid close attention to their performance, their clothes, their stage moves. She was really into it."

"Dirty" Dan Buck, whose band the Boyzz played "in-your-face rock" similar to Nugent's, said Ma Nugent rarely missed the group's performances.

"I think she liked the wildness of it, the freedom of it," he said. "The music we played and Ted played, it was ultimately freedom, I think. ... Maybe it was some kind of escape, something to remember Ted by when he was gone."

He said Ma Nugent supported not only musicians but also music fans. Ted Nugent, who has famously shunned the drugs and alcohol that drench the world of rock 'n' roll, said his mother encouraged others to do the same.

"A lot of people who were facing drug pressure, they fell for the lie of peer pressure and fashion," he said. "My mom was able to help them realize it was jive."

Ma Nugent's mentoring ways led in 1980 to an eight-year run as a columnist for the Illinois Entertainer. She advised readers on everything from whether Mick Box, lead guitarist of Uriah Heep, had died in a plane crash (he hadn't), to why rock stars of the time all seemed to wear white shoes ("it's the 'in' thing to do ... and properly spotlights their dancing feet").

Kinkel, then a part-time musician who printed stage passes for a living, met Ma Nugent at a music industry party in 1979, and their chat led to a deep friendship. He said she encouraged him to keep performing, and Kinkel went on to play benefit concerts for his sister, who had multiple sclerosis.

Ma Nugent died of cancer in 1988, but it wasn't until a year ago that Kinkel began to think about a tribute. He was planning to move from Palatine to a place in the country and wanted to leave something behind to commemorate one of the major influences in his life.

He approached Mayor Rita Mullins, who attended Wednesday's ceremony, with the idea of renaming a street after Ma Nugent, but she suggested he plant a tree in her memory instead. In the exchange of ideas that followed, Kinkel came up with what he decided would be the ultimate metaphorical tribute.

Paul Munagian, a local landscaper, donated the stone, and Kinkel paid for the sandblasting. He estimated that the total project cost $3,000 to $5,000. The unveiling started late, though most didn't mind the wait.

"I'm out here to see Ted," said Dave Fellberg, 49, of East Dundee. "He's the king of rock 'n' roll. I'm a rock 'n' roller too. He's clean. He's good. I couldn't miss another chance to see him."

The festivities were over in about 20 minutes, and Nugent's message to young fans also was succinct: "Kids, the most important thing is hug your moms every day, tell 'em you love 'em and do your damn chores."


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