Monday, May 11, 2020

ROCKPILE - Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe - "Born Fighters" - 1979

This post was originally posted here on April 18, 2017. The accompanying video has since been removed from youtube. Luckily someone else has reposted the Rockpile documentary, "Born Fighters" and I have updated this blogpost. So here it is (again)...

Rockpile was a British rock and roll group of the late 1970s and early 1980s, noted for their strong rockabilly and power pop influences, and as a foundational influence on new wave. The band consisted of Dave Edmunds (vocals, guitar), Nick Lowe (vocals, bass guitar), Billy Bremner (vocals, guitar) and Terry Williams (drums). Rockpile recorded four albums, though only one (Seconds of Pleasure) was released under the Rockpile banner. Two other albums (Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary) were released as Dave Edmunds solo albums, and one more (Labour of Lust) was released as a Nick Lowe solo album. Scattered Rockpile tracks can also be found on a few other Lowe and Edmunds solo albums. Additionally, Rockpile served as backing group on tracks recorded by Mickey Jupp in 1978 and Carlene Carter in 1980. When Robinson and Jake Riviera co-founded Stiff Records, Lowe was the first artist signed to the label, and he and Edmunds recorded new material for release under Lowe's name. Stiff promoted its ties to Edmunds. However, the relationship between Edmunds and Riviera was always rocky, and in 1976 Edmunds signed a solo contract with Led Zeppelin's Swan Song Records, rejecting Riviera and Stiff. With help from Lowe and Terry Williams, Edmunds recorded a new solo album, Get It. Lowe and Edmunds then formed a new version of Rockpile, with Williams returning on drums and Billy Bremner joining as rhythm guitar and third vocalist. Rockpile appeared as a backing band on one track of Lowe's debut solo album, released in March 1978 with different track listings and titles in the UK and the US. The UK version (Jesus of Cool) featured Rockpile on the live recording of "Heart of the City", while the US album (Pure Pop for Now People) featured the Rockpile studio track "They Called It Rock", credited as being written by Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds/Rockpile. Meanwhile, Edmunds' 1978 solo album (Tracks on Wax 4) was the first album to be completely a Rockpile album, but with Edmunds on all lead vocals. The album included the same live version of "Heart of the City," except with Edmunds' lead vocal overdubbed in place of Lowe's. Rockpile toured behind both the Lowe and Edmunds releases in 1978. The band also backed Mickey Jupp on side one of his Stiff album Juppanese, produced by Lowe. In 1979, Rockpile simultaneously recorded Edmunds' Repeat When Necessary and Lowe's Labour of Lust. Rockpile (under solo artists' names) enjoyed hits in 1979 on both sides of the Atlantic with Edmunds' "Girls Talk" (a top 20 hit in both the UK and Canada) and Lowe's "Cruel to Be Kind" (top 20 in the UK, Canada and the US). Rockpile also played in the 29 December 1979 Concerts for the People of Kampuchea with Elvis Costello & The Attractions and Wings, where they were joined onstage by Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant (co-owner of Swan Song). Two of the band's songs were included in the concert album. In 1980, Edmunds submitted the solo album "Twangin...", which was mostly a collection of outtakes from his prior solo albums, to complete his Swan Song contract, freeing Rockpile to record a true band record for Jake Riviera's new label F-Beat Records. Released in the fall of 1980, Seconds of Pleasure featured lead vocal turns by Edmunds, Lowe and Bremner, and spawned the minor hit "Teacher Teacher", sung by Lowe. Twangin... was issued six months after Seconds of Pleasure, and featured Rockpile on nine of its eleven tracks.

(from youtube upload notes)

NEW BLOG: The Eternal Rhythm of Gardening

I've started a new blog called The Eternal Rhythm of Gardening about gardening, food, plants, locations, observations. I will reproduce the first installment below. If you like it, please head on over to Wordpress at the link above and follow it.

My mother always loved her plants, and I dabbled with gardening in my twenties back during my first life. That is one good thing I can attribute to my horrible controlling ex-wife. Back in the 1970s, she got me started planting a few vegetables in our back yard. I’m sure there are other good things too, but I just can’t remember them right now. After the escape and divorce and eventual severing of all ties with the city of my birth, Dallas; I decided to plant some tomatoes and peppers in the front flowerbeds at the dilapidated duplex I lived in during my first Austin residency in the mid-1980s. Then I moved to Southern California in 1986, and it was urban apartments in Hollywood and no gardening. When I moved back to Texas in 1990, I finally had vacant space at a tiny rent house set way back from the street with a big yard in Dallas. I have planted a garden every year continuously since then. By 1995 I moved back to Austin, and by the end of 2004 my sweetie and I got away from the rent houses and into our own place to landscape and garden forever. Even at my lowest points of drug addiction, alcoholism, and depression; I have always managed to gather the desire and energy to put some transplants in and hope for the best. I learned that every year is different. Different weather, different bugs and diseases, different varieties did better and worse than last year. I learned you can’t predict the future, but there were a few things that remained constant. Yes, there were actually a few things I observed and remembered through the last 30 years. I also noticed that the traditional gardening season coincided with one of my other loves, the baseball season. Gardening also taught me how to be mindful and remain in the present. To observe every single day and not regret what happened yesterday, and not get too far ahead of myself. How to endure adversity and sit with it until it passes. How to be happy and satisfied with what I have. That happy is an unobtainable goal. But rather happy is a by-product of my going with the flow. When I have relapsed and had that somehow forgotten again misery come flooding back into my thoughts, gardening gives me concrete proof that things have before and will soon be better again. I guess it is my religion, my medicine, my drug of choice, my salvation, my inspiration, my best friend, and my favorite creative outlet. Not to get too carried away here, but along with my soulmate of the last 32 years, it is my rock and the thing that keeps me going. And I am most appreciative.
(painting – wildflowers don’t do social distancing (corona series #1) by T. Tex Edwards )

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Cramps Guide to Teenage Monster Movies

"God Monster" by Slim Gil:
The Cramps Guide to Teenage Monster Movies

Paul Rambali, NME, 25 July 1981

"Movies nowadays are all high technology and no brains, no imagination. What do you call it when you do something real good and you didn't expect it? No spontaneity... Not enough instinct. All those movies all look the same. There's no more fuzzy things!" – Lux Interior

THE CRAMPS HAVE a song called 'I Was A Teenage WereWolf'. Back in the days when teenagers and werewolves were more or less synonymous terrors that caused palpable tremors in the minds of God-fearing citizens, somebody had the bright idea of combining the two in a film called I Was A Teenage WereWolf. Mixing liberal sympathies with outright shock, it urged that one unhappy juvenile's delinquency was simply the result of an incipient case of Homo Lupus. The film is a piece of sentimental fiction but the Cramps song is autobiographical fact. Lux Interior was a teenage pariah. And his teeth were soo loooong...But they told him it was 'growing pains'. And then there was a film called The Fly, about a scientist who inadvertently transmutates into a human fly. It caused quite a scare in 1958. That was long before The Cramps wrote a song called 'Human Fly', which is about being a human fly, who cries 96 tears with his 96 eyes. 

"Some Guy had just climbed the World Trade Tower and the headline in The Post that day was: HUMAN FLY CLIMBS TOWER. I was out walking along the street at about six in the morning. It felt like Night Of The Living Dead the way all of the people were wandering around. Somebody had jumped off the roof of the building next to ours and they were scrapping him off the sidewalk. All of that made me go home and write the song..."

"People sometimes say our songs are about horror movies but none of them is. 'I Was A Teenage WereWolf' has nothing to do with the film of the same name. That song is absolutely true. I wrote a song called 'Man With The X-Ray Eyes' once after seeing Man With The X-ray Eyes on mushrooms, but we never did it." – Lux Interior*

ONE OF THE things I like about The Cramps is the imagery on which they feed. A midnight snack in the twilight zone of American culture. The Cramps pick their way through the discarded junk of another generation – the garage records and the B movies – like savages scavenging in old ruins where the gold has all been looted and all that's left are the totems. I asked the members of the Cramps to choose some of their favourite films. Most of these, it turns out, are horror films. Some are lurid teenage exposes. None of them is famous, though some are infamous. All of them are raw, heedless attempts to rattle an audience somehow. It may seem like a morbid selection, but the Cramps aren't morbid people. No more so than the millions of people who regularly go to see - and are amused as much as shocked by such films as Friday The 13th. Oddly enough, you need a sense of humour to really enjoy horror films. Or at any rate a sense of the absurd. I like to think that one day The Cramps will connect with all those millions of people. Their music isn't just the soundtrack to a horror movie. It is a horror movie. A horror movie without a budget, which is often the best kind.

IVY RORSCHACH: I like Peter Lorre, especially in M, but my favourite is Barbara Steele, because she doesn't have to do anything. She just stares. She's got a great aura, so breathtaking. She's made tons of horror films, although I think Black Sunday was the best. She's just incredible because she looks like a vampire anyway. She's got theses really weird teeth, and she always plays that kind of role. I'll watch the whole of The Pit And The Pendulum just to see her for five minutes. And it's just the way she looks, it's not make-up or anything...

KID CONGO: I like James Dean, an obvious choice. I like Vincent Price...Let's see...I like all those cheesy blondes like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Mamie Van Doren I like a lot!

NICK KNOX: I like those blonde actresses too. And I like Clint Eastwood because he's so cool. The way he handles a gun: "I got five bullets in this…Do you feel lucky?". The way he kills all the bad and the ugly. That's what I want to do, kill all the bad and the ugly.

LUX INTERIOR: I always have an impossible time picking a favourite because I don't like actors or actresses too much. I like things that get completed without any stars or things like that...

Note: Dates and production details have been given where possible, but some of these films were doomed to obscurity. The only remaining copies are probably rotting away in the store rooms of Southern drive-ins where they once got a week-long feature run before making way for a Budd Boetticher western or a re-run of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers.

Mother's Day (1980)
Directed by Charles Kaufman
Starring Nancy Hendrickson and Deborah Luce

KID: It's one of the new wave of cheap horror films that are making the rounds in America. It's sort of like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but more up-to-date. It's about this mother and her two sons, Ike and Adlai. There's these three college buddy girls who go on a fraternity hike. They're heading off into the mountains and all the townspeople are saying: "oh... You don't wanna go up there. It's not safe!" and so on, and of course they ignore them, as stupid college girls would do, and of course Ike and Adlai get hold of them and terrorise them. Ike and Adlai have the best house in the world. I would die to live in this house. It's completely covered in graffiti, inside and out. Great words like 'Bread' and 'Milk'... all this really good stuff on the walls. They eat their food out of garbage pails – dog food and rice crispies and stuff. It's too cheap for anybody to put their name to it, but I think it was made in New Jersey. Anyway, I haven't got to the good part yet. One of the girls gets killed, and then the other girls get their own back. They get Ike and put Draino down his throat and then smash his head through the TV set, and then Adlai gets an axe in the crotch. It all looks like a home movie, and the dialogue is great, so funny.

IVY: It's called Mother's Day because the two guys are both murderous assholes but they're absolutely terrified of their mother. All through the film the mother is saying: "Don't go out in the woods, boys, because Queenie's out there! "Queenie's supposed to be some sort of bogeywoman, but the two guys think there's no such things as a bogeywoman. Then after the girls have killed the family and you think it's all over, this thing called Queenie arrives, and that's the end of the film. There was a real epidemic of these horror movies just made by amateurs. None of them ever gets a feature run. They get shown in bills of three movies and it only costs two dollars to get in. A lot of them are just miserable but that was a good one.

Ship of Zombies (1972)

LUX: That's a really great one, though it would probably be pretty hard to see. It just consists of these people that are shipwrecked out in this boat for some reason; they're in this boat and they come across a mist-shrouded ship, so they get on board. Most of them go below deck and then one by one the girls come on deck in bikinis and these Zombies come out of the hold and chase them. They chase the first one for almost 15 minutes, and the whole time she's screaming at the top of her lungs and cutting herself as she runs into things. By the time they finally catch up with her she's covered in blood from head to toe from continually running into things. The Zombies are real wild too. And it’s all human being noises backwards! And one after another they get killed off. Nothing else happens. It goes on for an hour and a half. I think it was made in the early '70s. In LA they show a lot of these Mexican and Philipino movies of which maybe only ten prints were ever made. These sick LA TV stations buy them and show them. LA is much better than New York was for horror movies. New York has this standard thing of showing only the kitsch favourites. LA gets the real raw junk!

Death Race 2000 (1975)
Directed by Paul Bartel
Starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone

NICK: It's a sports movie. The Death Race is the national sport of America in 1999. It's a race from New York to the West Coast and you score points by running people over. It's a real neat movie because they race around in these souped-up cars and some of them have guns that come out and some of them have daggers and there's a cowboy who's got these two big long-horns on the bonnet that he stabs his points with. When they stab somebody or run someone over the blood is so crimson red, and it just gushes out of the wounds. If you like colour you'll like this. Stallone plays a driver called Machine Gun Joe Kelly. He should have got an Academy Award. At the start of the race he pulls up to the line and there are all these people in the stands with big white F's on their sweatshirts because Frankenstein is the top driver. Stallone pulls out a machine gun and starts shooting into the audience. That's my favourite movie. That's why I like to drive so much...

The Cool And The Crazy (1958)
Directed by William Witney
Starring Scott Marlowe, Gigi Perreau and Dick Bakalyan.

"A few weeks ago a Brooklyn school principal committed suicide because he could not suppress the rape and hoodlumism in his institution. The Cool And The Crazy is a badly written, sloppily edited, poorly directed, low-budget film that may well inspire more such tragedies." - The Hollywood Reporter.

Filmed on location in Kansas city, where Dick Bakalyan and another actor were arrested for their delinquent appearance. Bakalyan also made a film called Hot Car Girls that year, and Richard Staehling in an essay called 'The Truth About Teen Movies' calls him "one of the teen-flick greats".

IVY: It's kinda like a Reefer Madness of the '50s, where all these teenagers are whacked out on pot. All these cool and crazy '50s teenagers get high on pot and crack up their cars. There's dialogue like: "Oh, you don't know what it's like being hooked on the smoke!" The whole movie's in slang. It's ridiculous, Daddy-o!

The Devil On Wheels (1947)
(Lux carried a cassette of the sound track to this one around with him.)

LUX: Forget about all other stuff... 'Teenagers rack themselves up on the highway! It’s great! They all talk like Ed 'Kookie' Byrnes from 77 Sunset Strip. It's from 1947 and everything they say in it is rock'n'roll talk. It's all new language. Junior builds a hot rod and Dad says: Now don't race this. It's alright to build it but I don't want to catch you racing it." And the kid says: "Oh, I never would, Dad...the next thing you see is vroom! He's taking off at ninety miles an hour with his girlfriend next to him saying: "Come on, you chicken!" It's just the greatest; The kid's putting more and more carburettors on his hot rod. It goes on and on and all the time he's promising not to race. Towards the end of the film he hits a woman on the street and then he goes home and finds out his Mom was knocked down that day by a hit and run driver.

Hot Rods To Hell (1967)
Directed by John Brahm
Produced by Sam Katzman
(Legend has it that Sam Katzman coined the word 'Beatnik'. Other legends have it that he overheard one of his technicians using it and put it in a film pronto. In 1956 Katzman made four films. The titles: Rock Around The Clock, Earth vs The Flying Saucers, Rumble On The Docks, The WereWolf. What a legacy!)

KID: Hot Rods To Hell is about this gang of kids who terrorize a small town. There's this one scene where the guy's driving around in this convertible hot rod and his girlfriend's sitting on the ledge behind him, almost on his shoulders. She's got her hands in front of his face so he can't see and she's shouting: "Faster! Faster!" After that, how could you want to watch anything else?

Death In Small Doses (1957)
Starring Peter Graves and Chuck Connors
Directed by Joseph M. Newman

NICK: That's another real good one. It stars Chuck Connors who was The Rifleman. It's kinda like a documentary about truck drivers and speed. Y'know, the Bennie kind? And Chuck Connors is a beatnik truck driver who's on the road and on the go 24 hours a day. Every town he hits he just pops more pills and he's got a girl on each arm. His lings' real way out, like gonesville, Daddy-o! He ends up hallucinating and crashing his truck. It was made in 1957. I like it a lot.

Blood Feast (1963)
Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

LUX: There are all these movies that were made by this guy named Herschell Gordon Lewis who owned a chain of drive-ins in the early '60s. He made them to show at his drive-ins. Blood Feast is about this weird guy who has an Egyptian temple in his basement where he sacrifices people, and Two Thousand Maniacs! It's real great. It's about a Southern town, and the first thing you see is a bunch of people putting up a detour sign at the crossroads. It turns out the whole town is full of people who came back from the grave after the Civil War. They were massacred by the Union soldiers and they came back from the grave after a hundred years looking for revenge. They lure all these vacationers into the town and get them to join in all these quaint backwoods sports like rolling down a hill in a barrel; except the barrel's lined with knives. Eventually they just return to their graves for another hundred years. That really is a great movie, and it still gets shown from time to time.

The Creeping Terror (1964)
Directed by Art J Nelson

LUX: The monster in that one is actually a rug; a rug over a car! it sort of looks like a turtle crossed with a giraffe. The head comes down and scoops people into the body. First of all it eats an entire hootenany, 40 kids out hootenanying in the woods. Then it eats an entire record hop. The first time it strikes there's a guy and a girl laying on a blanket. The girl's wearing a bikini and the guy's running his hands all over her. They see this rug coming with a car under it and the guy takes off and leaves the girl there screaming. And the girl's got high heels on too! A bikini and high heels! There's a censored version and an uncensored version the girl takes about five minutes to get eaten. It's so sick. It's the height of fashion, that movie. All the girls wear beehives and back-zip lurex pants.

IVY: Yeah, I had a pair of pants made that were inspired by that movie! And of course it's all jive talk because it's always teenagers that get snuffed by the monster. It goes to this place where there are all these teenagers making out in their cars and flips all the cars over. I'm not sure what happens in the end. I could never really follow it...

LUX: Like all good B movies it just kinda peters out. In the end it just gets boring. Instead of building to a climax, they run out of ideas and the action just disintegrates. But you can see that one. It's still around and it'll be a classic one day when people realise... Boy, it had the greatest fashions. The monster breaks through the wall of a gymnasium to eat the record hop – all these teenagers dancing – and what of course would happen at that moment? A fight breaks out! Amazing; It's probably a more true account of America in the early '60s than American Graffiti or any of that bullshit. It's the way it really was. Total insanity. A fight'll break out any minute – it wasn't all nice people and ponytails. It was the real fashions of the late-'50s and early '60s – incredibly sexy and tribal and outrageous!

IVY: It's all pointed bras, stilleto heels, skin-tight gold lame pants with a back-zip, ankle boots, ratty, beehive hair, and everybody twisting.

LUX: All the guys wore pants that looked like they were sewn on to them, and they'd never be able to take them off. The real hard-core hoods they were then; not punks, hoods! I grew up in a place outside of Akron, Ohio, and the only people that lived there were hillbillys that worked in the rubber factories. The dances that went on there and the clothes that people wore then, in the early '60s, were just the wildest, the absolute wildest! Beyond anything else. It was like a science fiction comic book, wild and bizarre and nothing to do with Pat Boone and all that stuff. Places away from the cultural centres, like northern California or the South or the Mid-west, is where it was the most extreme. Those were the places where people weren't afraid of doing something that wasn't in vogue or the new trend or whatever. I think that'll always be the case. The most crazy stuff, the most memorable stuff, will always go on away from the culture, away from the ballet and Broadway and things like that. I don't think that's really a good breeding ground for rock'n'roll or its abominations!

Paul Rambali, 1981

(via David Holleman)

Friday, January 3, 2020

Tony Conrad unedited (in 5 parts) - posted by Richard Wicka

Tony Conrad unedited (in 5 parts) - posted by Richard Wicka

"After Tony was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005, we got together to produce a series of video interviews to be released after his death. Tony's excellent story telling skills comprise most of the video footage. Yet, every so often he drifted into pure introspection. You are missed, my friend..." --Richard Wicka

via Tosh Berman

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Beautiful Loser: Keith Ferguson: No Apologies, No Regrets by Josh Alan Friedman

The Beautiful Loser
Keith Ferguson: No Apologies, No Regrets 
by Josh Alan Friedman

This story originally appeared in the Dallas Observer dated March 28, 1996. It was reprinted in the Austin Chronicle dated May 9, 1997. It also appears in Josh Alan Friedman's anthology Tell the Truth Until They Bleed.

                                  With Harmony Bass in 1994 photo by Tino Mauricio

"I have to admit, there's a guaranteed future in dirty dishes, which there ain't in blues," Keith Ferguson concedes. "I seem to be the only one who regards himself as a professional musician. Our lead singer's a dishwasher in the back of some restaurant. If he put half the energy into booking our band that he puts into scrubbin' dishes, we'd be fartin' through silk. But he'd rather do dishes." 
Keith Ferguson, Austin's once-reigning blues bassist, and ultimate hipster, is out to pasture. His pasture is a rustic wooded estate in the hills below downtown Austin. His voice is a dead ringer for that of William Holden narrating Sunset Boulevard. Some wonder whether Ferguson's fall from grace was conspiratorial, orchestrated by the blues Nazis who run Austin. But prison wisdom dictates that you don't fuck with an old wolf. Hear Ye Whomever Keith Has Offended: He offers no apologies or regrets. 
Ferguson welcomes me to his front porch, the center of his universe. His current band is The Solid Senders. Fronted by the singing dishwasher, they rarely work. And Ferguson will only play cities south of Austin--or Amsterdam. With its sane drug laws, and with hardly any cops, crime, poverty, or AIDS, Amsterdam is a tailor-made utopia. The Solid Senders did a blissful tour there. Ferguson pines to return. 
"If I hustled up some job washing dishes in Amsterdam--hell, I'll supply the Palmolive--we'd be back in a shot." 
Ferguson, 49, was the founding bass player of both the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Tail Gators, and played with a dozen Texas virtuosos in their formative years including Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Junior Brown. "He's a cracker's cracker," Ferguson says of his old boss Brown. "Thinks that Waylon and them are commie fags." Keith Ferguson keeps a band honest. When he departed the T-Birds, that band was ready to compromise and play the pop charts. 
No bass player ever layered so much bottom. Ferguson's trademark wasn't licks, riffs, slapping, or thumb popping--just a swinging elephant trunk of bottom underneath the song. This deceptive gift earned him a lower pedigree than "musician's musician"--itself a poverty-stricken but honorable curse. Keith Ferguson is a bass player's bassist.
But now, he is grand host of this dark, sun-proofed crash pad and halfway house for down-on-their-luck friends. Sweet old hippies and beautiful losers recline on his front porch to chew the fat, bird watch, and discuss the weather. Not that he wants them here; people sort of just move right in. Many who visit this front porch--be they from the dust bowl, barrio, or music biz--regard Ferguson as Numero Uno. 
Inside, walls are covered by roadside artifacts--South-of-the-Border Sammy and the Fabulous Erections are sneaking across the border for One Night Only--club posters from the Tex-Mex frontier circuit: Los Alegres de Teran! Los Tornados del Norte! Los Castigadores! Ferguson knew them all. His words contain sudden accents of Calo--street language of the pachucos he grew up with, a sort of Mexican Yiddish. 
A few years back, the house became knee-deep in such hipster compost, burying him alive in coolness. Live-in archivist Liz Henry led a mercy mission of volunteers that bulldozed through. Ferguson's worldly possessions were thus organized into three archival categories: "Negro," "Mexican," and "Other." 
Ferguson whips out his huge vintage Gretsch bass. "It's called the John Holmes model," he explains. "It's loud." He's healthy, proud, and fit in 1996, but reduced to playing the meat-rack clubs on Sixth Street. Still, some consider this miraculous. A few years ago, cats in Austin were predicting the end of this man's career, even his death. 
Flashback: 1992
Ferguson paces his pastoral porch, hunched backward, scratching, chain smoking, downing one cup of Kool Aid after another, looking like an old Indian. His body ails, and his tattoos have worn out their camouflage. A rooster claw adorns the front door, like wolfsbane. "Gotta keep the neighbors pacified." Next door lives a bookie for cock fights; a few doors down, an unlicensed bad-debt collector. A Mexican Day of the Dead skeleton stares through his window, with a sign: "La Plaza--Closed--Call Again." 
The Ferguson estate is verboten, like Castle Dracula, as few musicians in Austin will have anything to do with him. I make this road stop after my gig in town. A festive trio of German blues fans have also made a pilgrimage, but no music plays in this household. Ferguson's basses are all in the hockshop. Horst, Otto, and Gretchen are star-struck before Texas blues royalty, as Ferguson signs a few Fab Thunderbirds albums. The left-handed '52 Fender Precision bass that Europeans remember him by is long gone. He's a normal 180 pounds on the Chrysalis Records covers he signs, 130 now. 
Ferguson soberly inspects the festering tattooed arm of a young Chicano nodding out on the couch. "Gotta clean out that abscess," he advises, shaking the fellow. "You can die." 
Old hombres, in tank-top undershirts, are always present. They slink in and out, from another zone. Retired bullfighters, Ferguson tells the tourists. The old men study a black phone. They sit and wait. And watch. Then the phone rings once. Ferguson disappears with them in a supernatural eye-blink. No one says goodbye, ever. 
Musicians avoid the Ferguson ranch for fear of having their cars commandeered for a barrio run. During one visit, it is my job to drive Ferguson to some urgent destination. Though banished from the Antone's blues community, Ferguson is highly received in the Mexican ghetto like some kind of shaman. He was raised in the Sexto, or Sixth Ward, a barrio of Houston--the odd Anglo in a Mexican gang back in San Jacinto High, class of '64. Our ride, through dusty roads, conjures up childhood. 
Summers were spent with his grandmother in San Antonio, totally gaucho. "It was great in the '50s, pre-Beatles, before everybody had bands. There were only about eight bands in the whole area: Doug Sahm and the Pharaohs, Sammy Jay and the Tiffanaires, Eddie Luna. You had Mexicans, blacks, and whites in the same band, which was unheard of." 
Electric guitars were rare and exotic sights until the mid-'60s. "I remember hearing Dino, Desi, and Billy do 'Scratch My Back' on Shindig. Good, too. I was one of two left-handed bass players in all of Houston when I started in 1966--at the age of 20." 
Few musicians start so late. In high school, Ferguson had been tight with the best mariachis in town--heavy-duty lounge acts. A member of the Compians, Houston's leading Hispanic music-entertainment family, taught him to play. Ferguson turned professional mere days after first picking up a bass. He worked the Suburban Lounge, the Polka Dot, Guys & Dolls--Houston blue-collar joints frequented by characters from the Overton Gang and the Laura Coppe Gang. 
"They would rob places," he says. "They dressed like Mexicans, listened to black music, and hated both of 'em." 
"Where was your father?" I ask as Keith directs me off the main road through dirt alleys. 
"My father was a bum," he shrugs. "I hated him with a passion. He didn't live with us. I never saw him growing up. But he would be called whenever I was deemed unmanageable--hangin' out with someone with a natural tan. My mother would panic: 'You've got to talk to him, John!' 
"Once when I was 15, I was supposed to get a haircut but didn't. When he arrived, I asked him to get the hell out. He pulled me out of a chair by my hair. So I cut him with a metal rat-tail comb, the one with the end bent into a hook. Then I tried to get to my room for something better--my big Italian, spiked, carbon-steel switchblade. He managed to knock me out before I reached my room. My mother was shaking me, blubbering all over me when I awoke. 
"It was a nasty scene. I'd cut him in the throat, but unfortunately missed the carotid artery. I was a little off." 
Keith escaped from his bedroom window that day to gang quarters over an ice house, a place where Mando, Mario, Ladislado, Alfonso, and Parrot could crash, drink, smoke, and inhale paint. 
"The side of my face was bent out of shape when I showed up. They decided to kill him. I had to talk fast. He was my father. I said, 'He didn't really come to discipline me. Don't kill somebody for that,' 'cause they would have been caught in a second. My father was a white guy. They wouldn't have stood a chance. 
"They drafted the guys with a gang history out of my school into the Marines. The other option was jail. They were perfect cannon fodder, 'cause it was the ideal chance for them to become Americans if they fought for their country. But they came back with one leg and were still Mexicans. Most of 'em got killed in the war. Idiots." 
Keith was destined for Mexico, his spiritual homeland, not Canada, to evade the draft during Vietnam. A week before his draft-board physical, he tore the cartilage in his knee during a fight in Laredo. He got his deferment. 
It wasn't until Keith's mid-20s that he found out who his father was: John William Ferguson, concert pianist with the Chicago Symphony. Keith never even knew his father was a musician. 
"You ass-wipe," he told the maestro during their next encounter. "I've been beat, ripped off a thousand times playin' clubs. There's so much you could have taught me." 
After the Thunderbirds tore up the Houston Juneteenth Festival, being the only white band there, they received a four-page spread in the Houston Post. From then on, Keith's father began showing up at Thunderbirds gigs. 
"He would point me out to his friends: 'My son, the rock star,'" Keith recalls. "He picked up girls at our shows. Johnny Winter and Z.Z. Top sent their limos for him to attend concerts. After I left the T-Birds, I never heard from him again." John Ferguson died a few years ago. 
Keith directs my car through the barrio. Somewhere in these hills beneath Austin remain the last of the old pachucos, time-honored Mexican families who dealt heroin to Texas Hill Country junkies for decades in relative peace, until the era of crack arrived. The old-timers were overwhelmed, their quaint Norman Rockwell-era heroin days over. Colombians moved in with machine guns. 
Ferguson describes the current transitional wars, directing me through a Mexican shantytown. We finally reach a tin shack. Ferguson has been summoned to visit an old friend's dying boy. At least that's what I'm told as I wait outside in a spanking-new white Honda Accord. 
Sure enough, 15 minutes later, Ferguson emerges. A worried madre and padre follow, gratefully embracing him for paying his respects. This is Texas, not Mexico. I ask why the boy wasn't in a hospital. 
"They prefer their own medicina," he says. 
Back in Time
"This is about the only thing my dad gave me as a kid that I saved." Back on the front porch, Keith shows me a cherished, yellowed 1945 paperback by madcap cartoonist VIP. "This and a few old records. 
"People would kid me about my large collection of blues records. That's all I listened to--I was fanatic--that and Mexican stuff. Like in sixth grade, people would bring 45s to parties, but they never wanted me to bring my Otis Rush or John Lee Hooker records." 
Johnny Winter moved from Beaumont to Houston when Keith was in high school. "Since blues was all Johnny liked, these local musicians thought it would be hysterical if we got together: 'Let's put these two freaks, these two mutants together.' Johnny flipped out. He never saw that many 78s in his life. He had records, too, but I had more." 
Keith Ferguson began backing Winter at small lesbian bars like Club L'mour. Ferguson was dazzled by Winter's virtuosity--it was "alarming," he says now--and often had to tell himself not to stop and stare at his playing during the middle of a song. 
"We used to call him The Stork," Ferguson says. "Nobody messed with him. One night he knocked out an off-duty cop for callin' him a girl. I saw Johnny Winter fight many times, he was real strong and mean. He'd go until you quit breathing and couldn't hurt him anymore." 
Ferguson made Austin his home in 1972, after his stint with Winter had ended. He moved because the aggressive Houston Police made him uncomfortable--and he wanted into The Storm, Jimmie Vaughan's old band. After a brief stint, he joined up instead with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall. 
"Nobody wanted to hear us," Ferguson recalls. "Nobody." In 1975, Kim Wilson left Minnesota to play with Jimmie, and Ferguson rejoined. "We couldn't get arrested either, but we were doin' a helluva lot better than me and Stevie and Doyle did, locally. 
"It was the 'Cosmic Cowboy, Willie-Waylon-and-the-Boys' outlaw town then, but we were the outlaws. People wondered how we survived: 'Well, they never work.' We were so hard-core [blues], nobody knew what to do with us. But Antone's came along, sort of saved us. At least we could get some food. They served lots of po' boy sandwiches. 
"Muddy Waters heard us at Antone's. We fried him. We were told we sounded like his best band from the '50s, with Jimmy Rogers. We weren't trying to. It was innate. He went back North ravin' about us, and Jimmie started gettin' calls. So we got in our little van from Austin to Boston, nowhere in between. We started openin' for [Kansas City jump-blues revivalists] Roomful of Blues. Then it got to where they were openin' for us. People seemed astonished by us." 
The Fabulous Thunderbirds were the first white blues group that didn't look and play like hippies. The T-Birds took it back 20 years. Jimmie Vaughan exorcised all the rock-guitar innovations--as if Beck, Hendrix, Clapton, Winter, and Bloomfield never existed--and threw it back to a long-abandoned spare '50s Chicago groove, more authentic than early Stones. Countless guitarists took heed. Kim Wilson applied no fake rasp to his voice, no black affectations, no phonetic imitations of slurred words. He sang it straight. 
The Fabulous Thunderbirds spearheaded a reanimation that stabilized the course of blues, spawning back-to-basics bands that proliferate to this day. Blues cognoscenti even began to emulate Jimmie Vaughan's slicked-back hair and open-collar, 1950s rayon shirts, newly designed and imported from India by Trash & Vaudeville in the East Village. Ferguson's transparent camisas tripled in price at Austin clothing stores. "That's just the way we dressed in high school," Ferguson says. "The fashion of pachucos and thugs who've long since died--or gone double-knit." 
"Pretty soon everyone up in Boston wanted to be us," Ferguson recalls. "We still couldn't get arrested here in Austin, but we went from floors to motels in Boston. Everyone in the band but me wanted to move to Boston. They followed the record company line: 'You guys are fine, but all you have to do is change.' They think blues is a stone to step on to get somewhere else. 
"You'll notice each one of our records got more expensive to make--and more diluted, as far as I'm concerned. I thought we should have held out for an art subsidy, 'cause there wasn't anybody else out there doin' it except Roomful of Blues. But we were more primitive, playing like skeletons." 
Tuff-chick/hick blues shouter Lou Ann Barton was in the T-Birds for a spell. She even married Ferguson in Rhode Island, though their union lasted only a short while. 
"She told people she and I could be happy in a pile of shit," Ferguson says. "She kept a good house for a white girl her age. Since I was always gone, and she was fixin' to be, marriage would give us some sort of stability. But it worked just the opposite, blew us apart." 
It's whispered that the T-Birds were the only white blues band that intimidated the Stones, for whom they opened twice at the Dallas Cotton Bowl and twice at the Houston Astrodome during the 1983 tour. Pussy flowed, perhaps more abundantly than for any mere blues group ever. "I'm the only one in the band who actually talked with girls, too." 
Ferguson played bass on the essential first four Thunderbirds albums, as well as the Havana Moon collaboration with Santana. He was fired in the mid-'80s, around the period when the Thunderbirds switched to CBS Records, and began scoring on Top 40. Ferguson leveled a lawsuit at the T-Birds claiming owed money, refused to settle, and was trounced in court. To this day there is acrimony and scorched earth. 
Jimmie Vaughan and Kim Wilson would not discuss Ferguson for this article. Clifford Antone says nothing for the record, other than swearing, "Jimmie Vaughan and Kim Wilson never did anything to hurt him. You can't guess at this. It's too deep. Don't even try." 
Perhaps he was too bluesy, too primitive, too tattooed--The Illustrated Man, The Man With The Golden Arm--or couldn't cross borders. Maybe he got so hip, he just hipped himself right off the planet. Yet there were knock-down, drag-out shit-kicking fistfights between Keith and Kim. And these were distinguished, sharply dressed ambassadors of the blues. 
"They wanted somebody else," shrugs Ferguson. "That's what [Jimmie Vaughan] told me. Just wanted to do somethin' new. So I went lookin' for other work. I found it. Anyway, I quit drinkin' liquor when I left the T-Birds, and lost 50 pounds," he claims, as if that fact made the departure a good health move. But it was 50 pounds he needed. 
Break for ITT Tech commercial. A long-haired dude stands in a recording studio and preaches his testimonial: "I'm not a musician, but I work in rock and roll." 
"No shit?" mutters Keith Ferguson. "I'm a musician, and I don't." 
Another Day in Paradise
The legendary out-of-work bass player arises another day to click on Real Stories of the Highway Patrol. Commissioner Maury Hannigan, our host, represents The Man--every man empowered to break Keith Ferguson's balls. This fatherly, mature voice of law enforcement embodies everything that's ever kept Ferguson down--a sprinkle of absent and abusive father, perhaps a dash of 1960s draft board, a few shakes of burr-headed gym coach; the customs officers who make Ferguson miss planes; the Austin cops who ticket local musicians unloading amps on Sixth Street; narcs who've interrogated and beaten him, who couldn't give a shit how many landmark albums he played bass on. They all form a composite of this brown-uniformed, hair-dyed, show-biz cop. 
"Look, they're on a roll," observes Ferguson, as state troopers hunt down some truckdriver's roach. The next segment has New York's Finest surrounding a maniac, about to toss the Net--a humane method to capture PCP freaks. Ferguson sits transfixed as the maniac flails, rendered helpless. 
"That's nothin'," comes one of Ferguson's roadside cronies. "They got a blanket called the Wrap for smelly winos, so's not to befoul the back of the squad car." 
Commissioner Hannigan is back on the screen with contempt for everything Keith Ferguson stands for--the 17 individual lizard tattoos snaking up and down his right arm, his glistening "We don't need no steenking badges" gold tooth, his born-cynical sneer. Such cops were put on earth to make life miserable for Ferguson, a once studly rock star who now resembles a withering Aztec Indian, a poster boy of ethnic suspicion. 
Avoiding the Highway Patrol is one reason Ferguson doesn't drive. You want the legendary Ferguson on your gig, you gotta come fetch him. "I was drivin' alone in 1970, and this big voice came outta nowhere and said, 'When you get to where your goin', you need to quit, or you're gonna die.'" 
"Don't cop shows give you nightmares?" I wonder.
"No. We get stopped, pulled over, and humiliated for real." Ferguson was jailed en route to a gig with the Excellos several blues bands ago. He had moved a roadblock on Sixth Street to avoid a construction detour in front of the club. 
"Cops were staked out there, waiting to fight crime. They fucked with me the whole ride to the station about how I look. Textbook Batman and Robin pigology: Some little booger half my age, heavily armed, baiting me while I'm handcuffed, tells his partner, 'Would you mind takin' this down to the station?' Then he tells me, 'I don't know why you're pissed off. You're makin' $700 a night.' He thought it was a riot I only had 16 cents." 
I ask him if he has picked up any tips from Hannigan.
"Yeah," he responds. "Move, leave the country." 
"Do you hate the French?" inquires Ms. Legere.
"Only their gendarmes," answers Mr. Ferguson. 
On another day's visit, I drop by the porch with New York rock diva Phoebe Legere. She straps on her "squeezey-gut" accordion, about to launch into "La Vie En Rose." Ferguson lies on the hammock. Sweet Liz Henry, who organized his house, is slumbering on the couch. Others lie across the porch in various zones of consciousness. 
Il ne parle tous bas
Je vois la vie en rose
Ferguson opens one eye. Then the next.
"Oh, I like your smile," Phoebe says.
"Cost me 200 bucks," Ferguson answers. 
At the very last note of the waltz, absolutely on cue, the transformer near the top of a tree that intersects the roof begins to explode. Showers of sparks rain down on the porch. Hippies scurry from all points into the front door. 
Liz and Keith offer permanent residence to Ms. Legere. Some other fellow eyes the squeezey-gut, perhaps wondering how much it might fetch downtown at Rockinghorse Pawn. 
Ethnic musicians have a tendency to serenade Keith Ferguson, if only to watch his spectacular, gold-toothed smile. When the Tail Gators toured with Los Lobos, there was the unforgettable image of Los Lobos circled 'round Ferguson's hotel mattress one evening to awaken him for the stage. Each had their conjunto instruments--the bajo sexto, the guitarron--like mariachis harmonizing in Ferguson's beloved Spanish. 
It has been a few years since Ferguson sojourned to the guitar-making town of Paracho, in the pine-forest mountains of Michoacn. 
"I never had any trouble with Mexican customs. But America's convinced everyone's bringin' back tons of dope. Don't ever say you have a plane to catch. Believe me. You might as well just arrest yourself," says Ferguson, offering one more reason he now shuns touring. "When I came back on Christmas through Houston, I brought a custom-built bass. They took me in the little room in handcuffs, just hopin' I had a plane to catch, which I did, then went through all my stuff and got smart with me. They were dyin' to incarcerate someone on Christmas Eve, but they couldn't find anything." 
These days Ferguson prefers watching the Mexican soap opera Calienas De Magura (Chains of Bitterness), starring Daniella Castro, five days a week. It's set in San Miguel de Allende, his favorite town. 
Hawks & Doves
Ferguson formed the Tail Gators with Don Leady in 1984. The next five years would be his favorite stretch in a band. He co-wrote "Mumbo Jumbo," the title track to the group's best album. He says now he loved every minute of being in that band: making more money than he ever had in his career, and being able to trust his bandmates when it came time to split the take. 
"You could trust everybody, [and] you got your money--a lot of it," he says now. "Don was always writin' new songs. He'd play it for us once, then we'd cut it. That's the way we did records. We worked our asses off, the physical labor of playing all night onstage. I'd be happily replete--drained--each night. Then 700 miles to the next gig. We never had a roadie. But after a while Don fixed it to where I carried a bass, Mud Cat [Smith] carried a snare and symbols, Don carried a guitar, and the clubs would furnish everything else. We'd fly to Boston, rent a car, and drive to Maine. I didn't have to pay any other creatures." 
Yet, Ferguson says, he receives no royalties, "not enough to get cigarettes," from his acclaimed albums. "I got a big check the other day--three dollars and 22 cents--from BMI. Then I got a letter from [Nashville publisher] Bug Music sayin' I owed them money. It's surprising how niggardly everyone connected with the music business becomes over money. People tell you you're important, but apparently not important enough to give you money you've earned." 
And then, Ferguson feels the weight of banishment from the entire Antone's blues community. Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's old guitarist, once asked Ferguson to back him on a record that was supposed to be released by Clifford Antone's blues label. Ferguson insists Antone won't release the record because Keith is on it. 
"[Clifford] just hates me," Ferguson says. "He told somebody once he can't meet a girl anywhere that doesn't like me, and it pisses him off. He redid that book, Picture of the Blues, just to get me off the cover. Me and Kim and Jimmie and Muddy Waters. They redid the cover just to get me off of it. They couldn't get me out of it, just off of it." 
"Keith is a real musicologist," Clifford Antone says. "What made us friends was his love for the most lowdown music that existed." But Antone denies that the Sumlin record remains unreleased because of Ferguson, he denies omitting Ferguson's mug from the book cover, and will discuss nothing on record about their bitter relationship. 
So all Ferguson's got now is this woodsy refuge surrounding his old front porch. His reclusive mother has her own home on the grounds, as did his grandmother, who recently passed on in her mid-90s. No matter how much his profession shuns him, Ferguson remains patriotic about the land. He loves the hawks flying overhead, the snakes that fetch rats, the ecosystem. 
"I kept hearing someone screaming, 'Fuck you, fuck you,' deep inside my walls," Ferguson says. "I thought I was having a nervous breakdown the first few weeks." Ferguson released several gecko lizards under the house for insect control. "I'd be shaving, and suddenly from within the wall something would shriek, 'Fuck you, fuck you!' I'd whip around and cut myself...It was the geckos! 
"They emit this uncanny shriek that comes out as 'fuck you' in English. They're indigenous to Laos and Cambodia. Freaked out our boys in 'Nam who thought they were Cong, cursing from the trees--'Fuck you, fuck you!' But they eat roaches, rats, mice, and do an amazingly efficient job. Don't leave over anything, no blood or tails. They breed like Catholics, grow up to 20 inches over the years." 
"Aren't they also a delicacy in Southeast Asia?" asks a porch hippie.
"Delicacy?" comes Ferguson. "Doesn't that word usually mean something on a stick that shouldn't be there? Something's balls, or brains?" 
"They call him Chago."
Ferguson sits on his porch, beatific over bajo sexto player Santiago Almeida, or "Chago," heard playing on a scratchy Narciso Martinez conjunto record from the 1930s. It's simple folk music, but Ferguson rides some low wave underneath, inaudible to most human ears. "Listen to that tone," he says. 
He leads me into his bedroom to show his new bajo sexto. Though he's hesitant to fess up, it's a Keith Ferguson model. Built on his design, he named it the Rodando. "This is the cheesiest one of the bunch that were made. Keith Hofner owns the company. A Mexican luthier now makes 'em with truss rods and contours. No two are alike."
Bajo sextos please Ferguson immensely. But they are transient, like visitors to the house, or old girlfriends. For years, Austin players have spotted his bass guitars sadly hanging in hockshops. 
"I always got 'em out myself," Ferguson says. "Or else I left 'em. I don't know where people get the idea you gotta play the same bass forever. One guy bought my '52 Fender Precision, took really good care of it. I borrowed it for that Solid Senders tour to Holland, then gave it back. I brought it to watch people's reactions. It freaked 'em, because they remembered the bass, but they never seen me lookin' like I do now." 
Keith Ferguson does the only sensible thing when an old tattoo fades: He gets a new one over it. A feathered serpent Aztec god adorns his left elbow-to-wrist. The 17 lizards, resembling Escher prints, run up his right arm. 
"I got most of 'em so I'd remember where I'd gone," he explains. "I used to play so many different cities, everyone was so screwed up and tired, they wouldn't know where we were. But I remember gettin' each tattoo, where I was at the time, 'cause that's the thing that lasts, innit? You look down at your arm and think Spokane or Atlanta or Toronto or Seattle or Austin..."
Keith Ferguson passed away on April 29, 1997.
Josh Alan Friedman is author of Tales of Times Square, When Sex Was Dirty Black Cracker: An Autobiographical Novel.