REAL LIFE IS THIS WAY!
......an interview with The REAL Jay Ferguson!......
May -Dec. , 1999.
by Leigh Crutchfield and The REAL Jay Ferguson , of course!
| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |
Prologue: Early 1980's: One sunny, summer day my mother came home with a vinyl record album that she had purchased from a man sitting on the curb outside of the local Department Of Motor Vehicles in Santa Clara, California. She really liked the photo of the guy on the album jacket (what a nice looking young man!) and thought at the time that her twentysomething daughter probably would , too , so she took a chance and bought it for me for only one dollar. The album was "Real Life Ain't This Way" and the handsome gent on the cover was Jay Ferguson. I listened to this precious chance gift with much interest really getting into the music (and , yes - of course, I liked the picture , too!) and sadly noted that there was a notch cut in the upper right hand corner of the cover , which I knew meant that this album was going to be soon out of print , if it wasn't already! Very much enjoying what I had heard , I soon hurried down to my local record store and happily discovered two more albums by Jay - both going out of print with the same notches cut in them also and costing a few more dollars that I was only too willing to pay- the only copies of "Thunder Island" and "White Noise" in the small shop -and I immediately bought them! I had heard the song "Thunder Island" when it had been a hit on the "Top 40's" radio stations that I had listened to a few short years previously , but I had never really paid any attention to the artist. These three record albums became some of my most treasured favorites during the following years, along with several more of Jay's that I managed to collect from a few strange and now forgotten places. I would sometimes sit up late at night into the wee hours all alone playing them ,smoking numerous cigarettes and drinking many strong rum and cokes and mentally questioning why such great music wasn't more fully appreciated. I wondered what had happened to Jay Ferguson and wished I knew of a way that I could tell him how much his music meant to me.
Present: 1992-1999: Many years passed and occasionally I would still think about the same thing again - the smoking numerous cigarettes, drinking many strong rum and cokes and listening alone in the wee hours had long gone away , but the same questions about the man and his music remained to haunt me. In 1992, I saw a TV show that quickly became one of my favorites called "Going To Extremes" about a bunch of medical school students on a tropical island and there listed in the opening credits for "Music by.." was none other than "Jay Ferguson"! Is this the same Jay Ferguson?? So is this what he's doing now?....writing TV soundtracks?....unfortunately, the series was cancelled after a short season. A few more years go by , and I see nothing more anywhere about him and still my curiousity isn't satisfied. I casually ask a few of my musician friends if they know of him and they tell me that he was the lead singer for Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne ,also! No wonder he was such a wonderful solo singer, he'd had lots of practice doing so in a few rock groups! Again , I'd heard of Spirit, but hadn't really been exposed to any of the music. During the late '90's , I became a music writer/reviewer, working primarily with reggae bands. In 1998, I got a computer and on a hunch plugged Jay's name into the browser and came up with Johan Bengtsson's wonderful "Tent Of Miracles" website and some more info. about Jay. The truly inspired idea came to me after seeing this site to somehow find Jay Ferguson and interview him. And so began the long, earnest and ultimately rewarding search both online and off. I met many thoroughly interesting and genuinely good people along the way , and I heard nothing but glowing reports about him from those that had actually met or knew Jay. Several offered to pass along messages to him from me , and presumedly did so, but no word came back. I was starting to get very discouraged , but I'm glad I kept persistently looking on my own and finally by sheer luck and strong determination - it eventually paid off! I found Jay! Still very much alive and doing very well , he now lives happily in a beautiful area somewhere in Southern California (not San Francisco, as has been variously rumored!) with his longtime wife and several nearly grown children, and best of all - he's agreed to talk with me! Not wanting to be selfish, I made a request through Johan (THANK YOU SO MUCH , JOHAN!) and a few other sources several months ago for more questions besides my own to submit to him. The response was tremendous! - many thanks go out to all of you - and especially to Carole Soden, Madam Doktor, and also most definitely to Jay for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer them all so thouroughly and thoughtfully - even using his weekends and other odd hours to do so! This next comment of mine may seem rather strange, but I give thanks also to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes for all the blessings bestowed regarding this exotic quest of mine-I couldn't have done it without you! I'm not a really religious person, but I bought a novena candle with St. Jude's picture on the side of it on impulse while grocery shopping. I thought it might possibly be of some help in what seemed at the time to be this seemingly endless and completely frustrating journey and on exactly the same day that I purchased it - I actually later ended up locating Jay! I didn't even have to light the candle , but it was in my possession! The other miracle is that he returned my call , eight days later! So here now is what we've all been excitedly waiting so long for - all of the questions being answered in the REAL Jay Ferguson Interview! :
From Kevin Loy:
Q: What is your fondest recollection of your years with Spirit?
A: I think all of us would count our concert dates in England during our first European tour (I believe Nov. 1970) as among our fondest memories.
We were totally surprised at how many fans we had there, especially among the English bands. In London we sold out the Lyceum, headlining over Joe Cocker and the Bonzo Dog Band. That coincidentally may have been our best live show ever,and the response from the audience and press was tremendous. This tour also marked a time of harmony within the the band; a kind of holiday from the pressures and struggles we were going through back in the U.S.
From Stephane Rebeschini:
Q: Do you remember why you , Mark and Matt Andes played on "The Yellow Princess" LP by John Fahey on Vanguard?
A: We had a mutual friend, Barry Hansen, who was producing John Fahey's album and suggested we play on it. Barry was quite a character - he lived in a house with his enormous record collection. There were so many records he had made little passageways between the stacks to get from the bathroom to the kitchen, etc. He later turned his passion into a radio career and became Dr. Demento.
Q: When you were a member of Spirit , did you play on any records by other groups (even uncredited or under a pseudonym)?
A: No. However, Jo Jo Gunne did play on Keith Moon's "Both Sides Of The Moon".
Q: What is your favorite Spirit LP and song?
A: Favorite Album: "12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus". Favorite song: "Nature's Way". Second place: "Silky Sam."
From John Weydemeyer:
Q: Jay, do you ever plan on doing a solo album or a group project in the future?
A: Actually, there has been growing interest from certain record labels to do a new Jo Jo Gunne album featuring the original players. THAT would be a kick.
Q: Will those unreleased Jo Jo Gunne tracks from '92 ever be released?
A: How did you know about those tracks?? They are partly responsible for the label interest in a new Gunne LP. They would most likely be included, after a little updating and remixing.
Q: Are there any more plans that you may know of to get your solo or Jo Jo Gunne material on CD?
A: Yes, there is interest in re-releasing the old material on CD. That may end up being part of the deal to record a new Jo Jo album.
Q: Will there ever be a Spirit reunion with Mark, John and Cass with Matt Andes on guitar?
A: I seriously don't think so. Randy was too big a part of the band to be replaced. Matt is an awesome player, but he would be the first to admit that no one plays like Randy but Randy. I would like Spirit to be remembered in it's original incarnation.
From Eric Shur:
Q:Betcha no one would have the cojones to ask this question: "Jay,who WAS that fat girl on your album cover? And who in the band was dating her?"
A: Brother, you DO have the cojones! It's only natural that we would all be trying to date this obviously special woman, but alas, it was never to be.....
When it came time to shoot the cover, schedules determined that we had to do it at different times. She was actually shot in one studio, we (and the pig) were shot in another, and the images composited to create the cover. Unfortunately, I can't recall her name...only her, uh, face.
From Phil Zisook:
Q: Jay, do you do film work on a full time basis? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages of doing that versus playing in a band and touring , etc.?
A: Film and television composing are my full time work these days. I've done seventeen features and probably close to 150 television shows. The advantages are that I get to work in my own studio (14 years of touring were enough!) and work in a variety of genres. I also like the immediacy of the creative process - you don't have the time to second-guess every note. You just create and rely on your instincts as well as your craft.
What I miss is the flesh and blood aspect of playing with other players and, of course, the thrill of live shows.
Q: What are your favorite Spirit songs/ albums and why?
A: My favorite Spirit album is .."Dr. Sardonicus". As much as I respect Lou Adler as a producer, it was when we took the creative process more into our own hands that we were able to make the record we were capable of . For me the best song on that album is "Nature's Way". It's as close to a perfect song as the band ever got.
Q: Do you feel that the original band could have continued to create great music after .."Sardonicus" had they stayed together?
A: Good question. If we could all have been more mature at the time and risen above the struggles that broke us up, I think we would have gone on to do our best work. Imagine the record after .."Dr. Sardonicus".
Q: Which song do you think was Randy's best?
A: Again, "Nature's Way". Great song, great performance.
Q: Do you think Spirit was better as a studio or a live band?
A: Prior to .."Dr. Sardonicus", I would have said we were definitely a better live band. Our live shows were always unpredictable and sometimes pretty amazing..." Dr. Sardonicus" proved (at least to us) we could be powerful and unique on record as well.
Q: Are you involved in a legitimate Jo Jo Gunne reissue and do you think there should be one?
A: Yes and yes. Nothing definite yet, but a possible reissue as well as an all new album in the works!
Q: Which solo album of yours are you the most proud of, and why?
A: My first, "All Alone in the End Zone". I really wasn't trying to be commercial or to reprise any of the Spirit or Jo Jo sound. It was a chance to make my own statement and I was lucky to be surrounded with the best players I had ever been with: Joe Walsh, Joey Vitale, George Perry and Joey Murcia. Finally, Bill Szymczyk was a wonderful producer. My favorite solo song, however, is "Shakedown Cruise."
From Gary Apter:
Q: Do you have any tapes of Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne or solo that you might make available?
A: I don't own any of these tapes, so legally my hands are tied.
Q: Are you online and available via e-mail?
A: Sorry, no.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: To continue to work in film and television, which I really enjoy, and hopefully to record an album of new Jo Jo Gunne material. Farther down the line: a musical for the stage.
From Jimmie Randall:
Q: Who's got the wingnut?
A: You mean you DON'T??
From Bruce Woolley:
Q: Are you still writing songs aside from your soundtrack work?
A: Yes. I've been writing songs for a musical (a long-term project) and also writing for a possible new Jo Jo Gunne album.
Q: Do you ever perform in public anymore?
A: Not for years. Won't rule it out for the future, though.
Q: You referred in a previous interview of an opportunity to join several bands after the breakup of Jo Jo Gunne.What bands were they?
A: There were various combinations of players that were talked about in those days. The two new bands I came closest to actually joining were with Ian Hunter (from Mott the Hoople) and later with Russ Ballard (from the Zombies). Either would have been a great experience, but in both cases separate commitments eventually got in the way.
Q: Would you consider being part of an online chat with the members of the Spirit mailing list?
Q: What is the process when you're writing songs, do you work mostly from inspiration or is it a "9 to 5" job?
A:Good question. Inspiration is a luxury, but sometimes having a deadline is more effective. Even though I loudly complain about it, deadlines are one of the things I secretly like about film work. You have to get up, go to the studio, and make music. No agonizing, no waffling, no putting it off. You finish one piece and you move on to the next. Sort of the J.S. Bach thing. That said, I find that I create my best musical sketches (the inspiring part) at night, and do my best arranging and developing of those sketches (the 9 to 5 part) during the day.
From Roy Harper:
Q: I am curious about your relationship with the rest of Spirit during your period with them, your afterthoughts about Randy since his death, and why specifically you left Spirit?
A: The relationships within Spirit absolutely ran the gamut (I almost said gauntlet) between totally loving and ultimately stormy. The second album's title said it all: "THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER". Like a family, the bonds ran deep and the fights could be intense.
The different members came from such different backgrounds, both socially and musically. I think each person felt strongly he needed to promote his own musical vision within the band context. That's one of the things that made the music so special. There was a constant push/pull of ideas; sparks were always flying. It made for great music and great performances, but was ultimately exhausting.
I know one thing we all shared was respect for one another, and genuine affection, even during the deepest disagreements. Of all of us, John Locke was best at being the diplomat and peacemaker.
Unfortunately, time and success only made things worse. We had fights about our direction, about the people in management, about the record company, about the tour schedules, you name it. At one point Randy single-handedly forced the cancellation of a Japanese tour because he felt so strongly about the way we were headed. I think it was at that point that Mark and I first started thinking about the possibility of not being in the band.
Looking back after the breakup, I think everyone wishes they could have been a little more mature and patient (I know I do). Maybe we could have weathered that period and gone on to better things. But who knows? It was a tough environment - the pressure cooker of youth and success and drugs and headstrong personalities.
I've always had a complex relationship with Randy. He could be lovable and generous and open, or he could be unpredictable, stubborn and impenetrable. But when all was said and done, our friendship and respect for each other was what lasted. I think we recognized that we completed each other in some ways. He could be the unbridled genius, I could be the more organized builder. His death was especially sad, because I really think his best music was still ahead of him.
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