Deep Cuts

Deep Cuts: The Best of Jay Ferguson

z MI0002798282 My favorite part of my Tales From the Crypt gig was meeting musicians. I sat on a mixing stage with Ry Cooder while he thumbed through the paper, looking for deals on vintage guitars. I sat quietly while Al Kooper — the man who played organ for Bob Dylan — finished up some tracks.

But none of the Tales composers made a bigger impression on me than Jay Ferguson because he was so goddammed nice to me.

Besides, Ferguson figured heavily into my own personal soundtrack. I owned a copy of Spirit’s 1969 album Clear, probably a hand me down from my aunt, and his late ’70s hits were not only very cool but favored by evil nemesis, Chuck the Magnificent.

What’s so cool about Jay — other than that mane of hair and awesome ‘stache — is that he’s managed to put together a lifetime of music as a profession. That’s an impressive feat for a working musician. We tend to think in terms of superstars, but most people have their 15 minutes and move along. Ferguson has managed to find a home for his work for nearly five decades.

So here we go, a celebration of a life making music for a living:

“Mechanical World,” Spirit. Here’s where it all begins — the first single from the self-titled debut album. Ferguson had sole writer credit on seven of the album’s 11 tracks and joint credit on another two, including “Mechanical World.”  He was only 20 years old.

“I Got A Line On You,” Spirit. This single from the band’s sophomore album was written by band mate Randy California, but it remains Spirit’s best known cut. Blackfoot knocked out a pretty sweet cover on 1979’s Strikes, too.

“Cold Wind,” Spirit. As a little guy looking for rock gods to worship, Ed Cassidy’s shiny dome on the cover of Clear was a turn off. The album itself was a challenge, too: no easily accessible “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” in sight. But when you’re a kid with no money you play the cards you were dealt, and goddammit I was going to like Clear for no other reason than I owned it.

“Mr. Skin,” Spirit. The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus didn’t do much business when it was released in 1970, but over time the album has become a classic. A cover of this cut was released two years later by Mom’s Apple Pie, makers of one of the greatest controversial album covers ever.

“Run Run Run,” Jo Jo Gunne. In 1971 Ferguson left Spirit and formed Jo Jo Gunne, where he served both as lead singer and primary songwriter. “Run Run Run” was the first single from their 1972 debut.

“Thunder Island,” Jay Ferguson. Jo Jo Gunne only lasted a couple of years. Ferguson rode out at the ’70s as a solo artist, and had the highest charting single of his career with 1978’s “Thunder Island.” It’s a cool story song — I still spin it a few times per year.

“Shakedown Cruise,” Jay Ferguson. Real Life Ain’t This Way was 1979’s follow-up to Thunder Island. “Shakedown Cruise” hit the top forty and was a favorite in my junior high school thanks to the suggestive lyrics.

“Theme From ‘The Office,'” Jay Ferguson. Yep. He’s that guy.

Normally I ask you for your favorite topical cuts in this space, but I’m pretty sure I went too deep with Jay Ferguson for that kind of thing. If you have some favorite Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne, or solo cuts that you’d like to share make no mistake — I’m listening.

2 replies »

  1. Jay’s a great song writer, and very much under rated like all of the original Spirit members. His early work on the Spirit albums is very impressive. I thought Jay and Randy made a good song writing team but I was also very impressed with John Locke’s piano work particularly on Mechanical World – very moody, deep and creative. Such an underrated band. I wonder if they just suffered from bad management – they could have played at Woodstock but their then manager killed the deal.


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