All those singer-songwriters with their flared jeans and Martin guitars and Steinway pianos and pot baggies and bruised hearts and major-label deals and L.A. condos and trenchant observations and impressive moustaches and anonymous-but-tight backing bands, all mouldering around under that big collective spacey dome we think of as the 1970s — aren’t they super-marvelous!
Yes, the Seventies were halcyon days for rock n’ roll troubadours, be they sensitive and thoughtful (Jax Browne, John Denver, Stephen Bishop) or working-class and combative (Billy Joel) or flaky around the edges (Dean Friedman) or heavy around the edges (Joe Walsh) or country around the edges (Glenn Frey and Don Henley) or marginally sociopathic (Warren Zevon) or … well, you get the idea.
Thanks to YouTube, I’m building up an interest in one of the lesser-known members of the grand fraternity.
Jay Ferguson couldn’t be called obscure. His CV includes the Top Ten solo hit “Thunder Island” and the Foreigner-esque Top Forty hit “Shakedown Cruise,” as well as membership in Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, two bands well-remembered by crate-diggers and seekers of high-quality sounds just off the beaten path. (Spirit’s 1970 LP Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus comes highly recommended in these quarters.)
Ferguson never landed a solo album in the U.S. Top 50, though. And he left his solo pop career behind after only a half-dozen years or so to go into TV and movie composing.
Over the long run, then, he stands as a secondary member of the Los Angeles songwriter mafia … another guy in the cutout bins with a lush mustache and a partially unbuttoned shirt.
Which is unfortunate, because he seems to have had enough talent to paper his sunroom with gold records.
Ferguson — who recorded with Walsh’s producer, Bill Szymczyk, and sometimes with Walsh himself — turned in a portrait of sun-kissed hedonism to match any of his feather-haired rivals on “Cinnamon City,” from his first solo album, 1976’s All Alone in the End Zone.
Over a slice of mid-tempo, piano-driven boogie funk, Ferguson paints pictures of beautiful scenery, affluence (“Gucci suits” and “German cars”), and, this being the Seventies, plenty of restorative drugs (“sexy darlin’, never see you yawnin'” … yes, cocaine does have a way of picking one up, doesn’t it?)
Check it out, and see if it doesn’t deserve to have been beaten to death on classic-rock radio for the past 40 years, just like the work of so many of Ferguson’s contemporaries.