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The Jam Session: Steve Ferguson

 Wherein Glenn Brooks, Jason Staczek, Scott Boggan and Bill Kuhn get together with some choice brews to listen to the music of Steve Ferguson.

Steve Ferguson Mama U-Seapa
the review

"Shake & Bake"
BK You gonna do the intro, J?
JS I'll do the intro. Steve Ferguson and the Midwest Creole Ensemble's Mama U-Seapa. This is "Shake & Bake." (foursome stunned by funky intro...)
GB This is shake and bake!
BK Shakin' and bakin' already. (pause)
GB Is it all instrumental?
JS No. Just the intro.
(laughter as Steve starts singing)
BK A real radical departure.
BK This guy's got one of those voices that, you know, can carry pretty much any track.
GB Yeah.
SB So how do you rate the organ playing on this one, J?
JS Smokin'.
SB So give me some background on Steve Ferguson.
JS All I know is that he claims to be one of the original founders of NRBQ. That's all I know.
BK But no one's ever seen him with NRBQ.
JS That's right. No one's ever seen him. They just see Al Anderson. The fat guy.
BK I thought Al Hirt was the fat guy.
GB I think everybody named Al is big. You ever hear the nickname "Small Al"?
BK This is nice stuff. Yeah. Definitely down in the bar, hanging out, having a good time kind of music.
GB So it says he hasn't recorded in twenty years. Something like that.
JS Well I don't know if he ever...besides the other album. What's the other one we know about?
GB  Jack Salmon and Derby Sauce. Great title.
SB I don't get it.
GB I don't either, but it's a great title.
JS I don't know what he did before then.
BK He's been holed up somewhere for twenty years? Is that the deal?
BK The liner notes say twenty years passed.
JS Twenty years have passed since the last....
BK Twenty years passed. That's all it says. Twenty years passed.
SB So. Have you heard the first NRBQ?
JS I don't even know what that is. What is it?
SB I don't know. I thought he was on it. But maybe he never recorded with them.
BK That was when they were just RBQ.
GB After he left, they became N.
JS What about Johnny Johnson? You guys know anything about Johnny Johnson?
GB Johnny Johnson is...
BK That's the old Chuck Berry keyboard guy?
GB ...Chuck Berry's keyboard player.
BK Yeah. Yeah. Did wild stuff with Chuck Berry. He was really quite amazing.
GB Did a couple of albums on his own just recently.
BK Yeah. He just had a big comeback.
SB And Steve played on them, right?
JS Well that's what they say.
BK He sounds like he could lay down those Chuck Berry licks.
GB Yeah. Wrong color, but right sound. It's got that N'awlins feel.
SB Big time.
BK But in fact he is not a New Orleans boy...
JS Apparently not.
BK ...he's a...
JS I don't know. Does it say what part of the Midwest he's from?
BK Well, not that I see.
GB Nice. He could give Dr. John a run for his money.
BK Here we go. He played at this bar, Mama's Cafe in the French colony of Shippingport, on the Ohio River. As it says, Mama's Cafe was a mecca of easy virtue.
SB Oh. Very nice.
BK It's that discreet wording you don't get very often these days. Like a house of blue lights.
GB Yeah. When you think about it, isn't "easy virtue" an oxymoron?
BK Well. I think that's true.
GB Very nice, J.
JS Thanks. Thanks. I picked it out myself. What do we got? We got comin', uh, "Pig Latin Love Song."

"Pig Latin Love Song"
BK I thought this was " Big Latin Love Song."
JS Pig. Pig. It's P-I-G.
GB Sung in pig Latin?
JS You tell me.
SB Well it says in here something about he used to..."He and a wasted looking guitar player with a goatee and strange hat who liked to sing in pig Latin would play long into the night."
GB I'll bet.
JS This is cookin'.
BK Cookin'. Got those horns in there.
SB Steve Ferguson did the horn charts.
(pause, as they contemplate Steve's vocals...)
GB I have no idea what he's saying.
BK It's like some of those New Orleans bands singing that kind of Creole, gumbo mix.
GB Yeah. Iko, Iko.
BK Iko. Yeah. I think it's a forgotten virtue in pop music, the unintelligible lyric. Pretty much you can understand everyone nowadays.
GB And if you can't understand them they print the lyrics. Takes the mystery away.
(more of Steve's pig Latin leads to snickers...)
JS I can't get it. U-Seapa! I heard U-Seapa!
SB Ah, that was good, you're mine, all mine.
JS Is that pig Latin?
GB Ickbay, mamama, U-Seapa-way.
JS U-Seapa's pig Latin for what? Peas?
BK This thing cooks, though. It does have that Bo Diddley, bum ba bum....
GB It does, yeah. Duh da-duh da-duh da-da-duh duh.
BK But a real faster version. Not the usual...
JS That's how the Midwest Creoles do it.
BK Down at the plantation in Ohio.
GB Bo Diddley just got an award from...
JS In Dayton.
GB ...some rhythm and blues association.
JS The Rhythm and Blues Association.
SB What was the award?
BK Writing half of rock 'n' roll.
JS Lifetime...
GB Lifetime achievement award. The Ray Charles Lifetime Achievement Award.
JS That's right. That's right.
BK Why is Brother Ray the Lifetime Achievement Award? He wrote the big check?
GB It may be. No, I think it's just named after him because...I'm not sure why.
BK He's achieved in his lifetime.
GB Well he has, although, nothing in the last twenty years as far as I'm concerned.
JS Hey, hey, hey!
GB What?
JS Easy on Brother Ray.
GB Brother Ray? I love Brother Ray...
SB C'mon, you sound like Elvis Costello over here, bud.
BK As long as Bonnie Raitt ain't around we're OK.
GB ...I consider him a great man. But I'd like something more than Pepsi commercials out of him.
JS He's an artist.
GB Yeah. We could use more.
BK Is that the same way you felt when Michael Jackson started doing Pepsi commercials?
GB That seems to be a match made in heaven.
(tune ends)
JS There you go.
SB That was tasty.

"You Hung The Moon"
SB Coming soon to a club near you, I hope.
JS Yeah, definitely not to the radio near you.
BK No. That's the problem. Radio unfriendly and it's a shame.
JS But why is that? What is it about it? If people heard this, they would like it, right?
BK Absolutely right. Radio is just so conservative, commercial radio.
GB So sliced and diced. What do you call it?
BK What demographic does that play to? Everyone? I'm sorry, we don't have a demographic for that.
SB It's not classic rock. It could be, but...
GB But it isn't because it didn't happen to be recorded twenty years ago.
SB Yeah.
BK No one was around with a tape recorder when he first played it. I like this one, too. Really nice, grab your sweetie, out on the bar floor.
GB Ladies' choice.
BK "You Hung the Moon."
GB Very pretty.
BK I don't quite know what "you hung the moon" means.
SB It means you're godlike, I think.
BK Really?
SB Well, somebody had to put the moon up in the stars.
BK Well, I guess that's it.
(pause to soak up a verse...)
GB Nice voice.
JS But you know, it's not radio friendly just because a major label hasn't picked it up and decided to make it radio friendly. I mean if somebody wanted to get this on the radio they could get it and push it, right?
BK It would take a big push.
SB But what push would it go on? This isn't adult alternative. This isn't like adult contemporary. This isn't classic rock or hard rock.
JS But who makes those categories?
GB Who plays Dr. John? Nobody.
BK The more adventurous adult alternative stations would play stuff like this if it's pushed.
SB Like The Mountain [a Seattle adult alternative station] or something?
BK If it was pushed. I don't think they would play it on their own.
GB I never understood the phrase. I always thought adult alternative was childhood.
BK Or senility.
JS Speaking of alternatives, I was having dinner with some friends last night. One of them was a nurse. She was trying to explain to her husband what a colostomy bag was. He didn't know...
BK This sounds like lovely dinner conversation.
GB Very nice. Of the sort that you get with people in the medical profession.
JS She says, "Honey, think of it as the alternative anus."
SB Wait a minute, that's not quite accurate, is it. It's more of a storage device than an organ.
BK I thought that was Pat Buchanan's job.
GB Oh, man.
BK We are not now actually in a bar, although we might sound like it.
GB This is Vashon Old Stock Ale from the West Seattle Brewing Company. Highly recommended.
SB They got this on tap anywhere around?
GB You know the West Seattle Brewing Company up on California?
SB Haven't been.
GB Definitely your bare bones brew pub.
SB Sweet. I'm all over it.
BK What we've got coming up now is "Right String, Baby, Wrong Yo-Yo."

"Right String, Baby, Wrong Yo-Yo"
GB Didn't Carl Perkins record this?
SB He did.
BK I thought that was Elvis?
SB One of those old Sun guys.
BK It actually was Carl.
JS This won't play on the radio.
GB No.
BK Well. Yeah. You're right. I kind of have this vision that there's these outlaw stations in east Texas playing this stuff, but I don't think so.
SB I don't think so. I mean if you listen to the country stations now...
BK You drive cross-country and it's the same bland thing in every single city.
GB Yeah.
BK Which is why you have to celebrate people like this because they're hanging on to a tradition that's going to be totally lost if people don't play it.
JS That's absolutely right.
GB Yeah this is lovely stuff.
BK Yeah, it's great. You know the thing is, it's played in an authentic mode. You can see punkers playing this, and playing it twice as fast, and having it be real fun stuff, but you completely forget what the music is about.
JS You know, what you said, if they don't play it, it will die.
SB Well think about it. We're probably the last generation that has any appreciation for this, right?
JS That's probably true.
SB Anybody ten years, fifteen years younger, you think...
BK Yeah, we're like seventeen, eighteen, so...
JS Steve, he looks like he's probably in his '40s
GB Easily.
SB It's hard to tell through that pancake makeup.
BK That's a great shot of him on the album cover. Tammie Faye?
GB On the back, though, he looks like the sort of guy who's had considerable amount of chemical preservatives added to his body over the years.
BK Well the last twenty years was Betty Ford.
GB No. If young folks pick up on stuff like this twenty years from now, they'll do it with a certain ironic detachment that'll take all the soul out of it. God, think what they've done to Esquivel.
JS So what's this tune about, "Right String, Baby, Wrong Yo-Yo?" Why'd he go to the doctor?
BK I think it's something about Yo-Yo Ma having a problem at a recent concert.
GB I think that's "Yo mama."
BK It's like I just reviewed that Simon and The Bar Sinisters album. He really rocks and he does the "Woodpecker Blues" which is this old late '50s rockabilly song, like Woody the Woodpecker. It's a great song, and he does it in a really lively fashion, but it ends up with this ironic detachment that you talk about that loses the spirit of it. If that's all you heard, you don't understand what it's about.
GB Right. You gotta pretend you believe, at least.
SB I think "Right String, Wrong Yo-Yo" would be a good bookend to "Right Place, Wrong Time."
JS I think you're right. It's in the same neighborhood.

"Cops & Robbers"
BK A little trouble in cellblock #9 it sounds like.
GB Yeah.
(pause as Steve sets the scene)
GB It has that cartoon music feel a little bit.
BK It's kind of like a Cab Calloway.
GB Yeah, that's it.
JS This is so unhurried you know.
GB Like a stroll. That's nice. What a combination. You can hear the Cab Calloway, you can hear the New Orleans stroll and yet it has the Memphis horns and the backup singers. It's just a great combination of stuff.
BK Bottom line is this is American music.
JS Yeah.
BK Is this being played anywhere else in the world, probably not?
GB Well it probably is, but just not with that same...
BK I'm sure there's some Bangladeshi version of it.
GB ...but not with that feeling of effortlessness that's really critical to make it successful.
JS Did I mention Schoolkids Records yet?
GB I don't think you have.
JS ...responsible for bringing Steve Ferguson to our attention. They're doing a terrific job.
BK Who are these guys?
JS They're an Ann Arbor...Well, when I went to school in Ann Arbor, they were a record store, maybe they were a label at that time, but I wasn't aware of it. They were  the record store, it was the record store in town, and now they're apparently a label and they're issuing releases as fine as this.
GB And the Winston Walls we reviewed recently.
JS Winston Walls. That's correct.
GB And the source of the Urban Turban we reviewed.
JS High quality, across the board.
SB Across the board.
GB Great place.
BK Good stuff.
SB Very nice.
BK Steve Ferguson and the Midwest Creole Ensemble.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.