Steve Ferguson & the Midwest Creole Ensemble
Mama U-Seapa, Schoolkids' Records CD SKR 1520, 1995 (55:27)
Hot mambo from NRBQ veteran
It's hard to restrain myself as I write about this record. Steve
Ferguson certainly didn't restrain himself, and neither did the Midwest
Creole Ensemble. They just hung it out in the wind and made a great
record. Period. Mama U-Seapa is a stellar slice of American music, with
a capital A, in the biggest and best sense of the word. With a little
help from some famous and not so famous folks, Ferguson has cooked up a
The original guitarist in NRBQ, Ferguson left the band in the mid-'70s
and dropped out of sight for twenty-odd years. Rumor has it he never
fell out of favor in Louisville, Kentucky where he remains a cherished
local treasure. He resurfaced for general consumption in 1994, turning
in guitar and songwriting duties on Chuck Berry piano-man Johnnie
Johnson's comeback album, Johnnie B. Bad. He followed that with his own
effort on Schoolkids' Records, Jack Salmon and Derby Sauce, and now
gives us Mama U-Seapa, a sizzling gumbo of blues, rhythm-and-blues, and
real rock-and-roll, all served up with plenty of New Orleans spice.
Both the liner notes and the music paint a picture of another place in
another time. Ferguson has built a mythology around Mama U-Seapa, the
mystical proprietress of a riverside cafe, a "mecca of easy virtue". The
atmosphere is heavy with the smells of barbecue and fried jack salmon,
and thick with intrigue. Innocents cross paths with the world weary.
Lonely men seek temporary comfort. The bourbon flows freely as a ragtag
bunch punches out pig Latin blues in exchange for a hot meal. Meantime,
the Creole princess's black magic hangs in the air, keeping the Upper
Mississippi crossroads safe for all peaceful comers.
It'd be easy to dismiss Mama U-Seapa as fantasy, but there's no denying
that someone or something like her brought life to the music on this
record. The richness and flavor of the tunes were inspired by a powerful
force, something organic, vivid and wonderful. Or maybe it's the other
way around. Either way, the finished concoction will leave you as woozy
and intoxicated as if you'd been there yourself.
Unfortunately, you're unlikely to ever hear any of this record on the
radio, unless you spend your time skulking around the extreme left-hand
end of the dial. Even then, you're likely to miss it. You'd be hard
pressed to squeeze Ferguson into any record label genre that shows up on
the charts. Comparisons to Dr. John, Professor Longhair and other
old-time New Orleans folks wouldn't be out of line, but when's the last
time you heard any of that stuff on the radio?
On the other hand, the Midwest Creole Ensemble is said to put on
legendary live shows. At Ypsilanti, Michigan's Frog Island Festival last
year, they reportedly left headliners Los Lobos (no slouches themselves)
slack-jawed in awe. If the live playing approaches what they captured in
the studio, I believe every word of it. There are a ton of great players
on the record, not even counting the famous guys (NRBQ hands Adams,
Spampinato and Ardolino, and Johnnie Johnson). All turn in
mouth-watering piano, organ, horn, accordion and vocal parts. The
backing tracks would be plenty tasty even without Ferguson's slippery
flatpicking and greasy vocals. It takes musicianship like this to do
justice to Ferguson's songwriting. From the achingly sweet, "You Hung
The Moon" to the turbocharged Bo Diddley beat of "Pig Latin Love Song",
the tunes are savory, simple and clean, familiar but fresh.
If it's been a while since you've been to a hootenanny, a fish fry and a
Saturday night social all rolled into one, you owe it to yourself to
have a listen to this record. It might be another twenty years before
you get your next chance. -- Jason Staczek
Glenn Brooks says... Lordamighty, yow! The best album of its kind I've
heard all year. Problem is, as Jason notes, what kind is it? Your local commercial radio
station doesn't even know music like this exists. Their loss, but don't you
We also ramble about Steve Ferguson in a Jam Session.
production notes & song titles
Steve Ferguson, guitar, vocals; Terry Adams, piano; Joey Spampinato,
bass; Johnnie Johnson, piano; Tom Ardolino, drums; The Midwest Creole
Horns; The Midwest Creole Singers; and many others.
Produced by Steve Ferguson and Howie Gano (with contributions by Terry
Adams, Michael Lipton and Rick Mattingly), engineered and mixed by Howie
Gano, mastered by Joe Gastwirt.
Fight Like You Talk | Shake & Bake | Hoo Doo Lovin' | Right String Baby,
Wrong Yo-Yo | Hey Little Brother | Cops & Robbers | Coo Cha | Lyin'
Cheatin' Blues | You Hung The Moon | Pig Latin Love Song | Jungle Love
of related interest
Jack Salmon and Derby Sauce, Schoolkids Records CD SKR 1504, 1993
Johnnie B. Bad, Elektra Nonesuch CD 61149, 1991 (44:50)
Stay With We: The Best of NRBQ, Sony Legacy CD 52432
Contains previously unreleased Ferguson tracks.