Sabbatical Ends: Fergie Returns

By Dallas Embry

Steve Ferguson and the Humanitarians were scheduled to make their first public appearance in over a year at Uncle Pleasant's on December 23, 1989. Unfortunately, "the bug," which has been indiscriminately attacking people all winter, picked that date to make Ferguson its victim, leaving him almost voiceless and therefore unable to perform.

Determined not to disappoint his fans, Ferguson rescheduled for January 6th and on that date gave a standing-room-only crowd their money's worth and then some.

He began his first set by apologizing to the audience for his earlier cancellation, then telling them, "Tonight I'm gonna give you all I've got. Is that okay?" It was and he did. Beginning with "Okee Madokee" and his old Red Beans and Rice standard "Hot Walker Blues" and continuing through a repertoire of mostly original blues, rock, and rhythm 'n' blues, he proceeded to do exactly what he had promised.

Although Ferguson (one of the founding members of NRBQ) and his guitar were most definitely the "stars" of the evening, the Humanitarians were more than just accompaniment for him -- they were an integral part of the experience. With Pat Lentz (guitar), Robert "Monkey" Mackey (bass), and Dave Marasco (drums), Ferguson had a coterie of some of Louisville's finest musicians playing with him. (Not having heard "Monkey" sing since Another Mule days, it was great hearing him cut loose on Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business.")

From his 1987 debut solo album Fun For Fools, Ferguson and band rocked with "Outer Space Boogie" (which was part of a medley that included "You Snooze, You Lose" and "Can You Stand It?") and the gospel-shout rockabilly of "Ain't It Alright Children," which was quite different from the piano-based "Lady Madonna"-like version on NRBQ's Scraps LP. Fun For Fools songs that were missed were the one-chord wonder "Gotta Find A Woman," which Steve had planned to play but didn't get around to, and "Sweet Laurice," his tribute to former Courier-Journal music writer Laurice Niemtus, who died in a tragic accident some time back. Many of the other songs from the LP required a bigger band sound, so they'll have to wait for a future performance to get their proper hearing.

Still, there were other fine tunes to the rescue, including "Fergie's Prayer" from NRBQ's self-titled 1968 debut album and "Flat Foot Flewzy" with its unmistakable intro, from the band's 1969 follow-up venture with Carl Perkins, Boppin' the Blues, which is certainly a Ferguson signature song, if there is one. To be able to pull that song off successfully without Terry Adams' rollicking piano-playing is no easy task. With Lentz' guitar help, the battle was not such an uphill one, with Steve's "blues picking" (a cross-breeding of the styles of James Burton and Steve Cropper, among others) calling the tune.

Other standouts included "Sourpuss," a 1974 single from NRBQ's R. C. Cola and A Moon Pie L. P., and the Joe Texian "Too Many Heartaches," during which one could virtually feel one's heart break. (One person said "That guitar was so beautiful I had tears in my eyes, man.") All the songs performed were Ferguson originals except Bruce Channel's "Hey Baby" and Tommy Tucker's "High Heel Sneakers."

The only glitch in an otherwise perfect program came at the end of the first set when many folks left, thinking the band was finished, and missed a second set as equally impressive as the first.

Ferguson's performance overall was electrically vibrant and his rapport with his audience showed when he had everyone in the place on their feet, with their hands above their heads, clapping with the back-beat as he played and sang. He had promised to give all that he had and by the time he removed his perspiration-soaked body from the stage, he had fulfilled his promise to a "T." He left a roomful of fans very happy to welcome him back from his sabbatical.

(Additional Information furnished by Bill Ede)