En route to a string of gigs in the Texas Panhandle, I can't help but think about
the great blues tradition in the Lone Star State. With a history that encompasses Blind Lemon Jefferson, the fabled
recordings of Robert Johnson (made in San Antonio and Dallas), T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Johnny Winter, Stevie
Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, not to mention a seemingly endless list of innovators and legends, Texas has been—and
continues to be—a rich environment for this great form of American music.
Austin, Texas, is also well known for its contribution to the blues, and while the scene may not be as energized as it
was during the Stevie Ray Vaughan days, there is still a dedicated talent pool performing locally, and filling tour slots with
major blues artists around the world. One of the best-known bands to come from Austin is the Fabulous Thunderbirds,
who in spite of their cheesy ’80s hit “Tuff Enough,” created some of the most rockin’ Texas blues ever heard. While
frontman Kim Wilson is still touring with a group
of young lions under the T-Bird name, most people
refer back to the classic lineup of Wilson on vocals
and harp, Jimmie Vaughan on guitar, Mike Buck or
Fran Christina on drums, and the man we’ll focus
on this month, bassist Keith Ferguson.
The Houston native played an integral part in
the burgeoning Texas blues revival of the late ’60s
to early ’70s, performing with Johnny Winter, Stevie
Ray Vaughan (pre-Double Trouble), and co-founding
the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The T-Birds were
once described as “the first white blues band that
didn’t look or sound like hippies,” and their first four
albums feature Ferguson laying down thick slabs of
bottom, with unapologetic authority. Post-Thunderbirds,
Keith was a founding member of the Tail
Gators, and appeared on Carlos Santana’s Havana
Moon. He spent his remaining years in Austin, passing
away in 1997.
This month’s example is the 12-bar intro chorus
Keith played on “Tell Me Why,” a stomper from the
T-Birds’ Butt Rockin’ album [Benchmark Recordings,
1981]. Keith’s ’52 Fender Precision has a burnished growl, and his lines unobtrusively
support while stoking the flames with rhythm section mate Fran Christina.
(In response to several reader questions regarding my use of key signatures:
Although A7 is the I chord for a blues progression in A, the song is not in the
key of A major. To make the key signature reflect the tonality of the I chord, I
use the key signature of D major, as A7 is its V chord.) Because this example is
a “double stroker,” I’ve used the shuffle eighth-note indicator in the upper left
corner. This makes for less visual clutter in the measure—simply interpret the
eighth-notes with a shuffle feel.
The line itself is a straightforward triad-based part, but Ferguson starts on
the octave in bar 1, dropping to the low A in bar 2. Whether it was deliberate or
not, bars 3 and 4 are a mirror image of that phrase. In bar 5, Keith simply stamps
out the root on the IV chord, which makes this boogie-shuffle kind of funky. A
quick chromatic triplet takes us back to the I chord, followed by a classic chromatic
ascending pattern to the V chord that peaks on the octave of the V chord
in bar 9. Keith quickly drops down to the low E and builds his way back up, spicing
up the IV chord with a triplet on the F#, a motif he repeats on the I chord
in bar 11. The track struts and smolders for 2:26, with Ferguson building his
lines dynamically throughout, though never straying far from the beaten path.
If you’re a blues fan, Butt Rockin’ is a must-have CD—Jimmie Vaughan is
lean and mean, Wilson’s vocals and harp work are exemplary, and Keith Ferguson
and Fran Christina are the epitome of a top-shelf blues rhythm section.
Ed “the Bass
writes, and teaches
out of his bass base
in Austin, Texas. Visit Ed here.