Clyde Ferguson, Jr. is an award-winning music educator and gospel and blues bassist. He was raised in Lenoir under the musical tutelage of his blues-playing father, Clyde “Pop” Ferguson, in Caldwell County.
I started to learn about traditional music from the blues era because that’s what my dad played. I remember once when I was about nine I got to go visit him, and he played a song that was really awesome. I remember tears running down my face because it was so awesome. It was fantastic.
In our home when I was small we had a phonograph that played old 78 records. Also we had a strong church background. There were always great musicians at the church where we attended. From that, and from those records, I just knew somehow that I was supposed to have been living back during the swing era. Even when I went on to school at Shenandoah Conservatory for Music in Winchester, Virginia, and at Mitchell College, I never really developed a love for modern music. I had a great love for that gospel sound and that strong bluesy sound that we would hear in the church. I always say that God gave me the love of music in order to reach other people, and especially children. I taught in the public school classroom for twenty-six years. Through music I was able to reach a lot of students, and I like to think I was able to help many of them express themselves through the music we were making together.
These days, when Pop and I go out playing music, we try to grab the essence of the musical tradition and relay that to the people—give them an idea of what that pure music was like.
My dad is a real character. He makes up things as he goes. He tells about the guitar that plays in his head. Once we were playing at the Carl Sandburg Festival and he looked over at me with his eyes all out of focus. He said, “Do that again.” So I repeated what I was doing on the bass, and he played the most wonderful solo I’ve ever heard. I thought, “Wow!” So when that show was over, I said, “Where’d that come from, Pop?” And he said, “From that guitar in my head!” And even now, when we’re really playing, just he and I, that guitar turns on in his head and we connect—and we do things that we’ve never done before. It happens at that moment and maybe never again.
Excerpted from the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina guidebook by Fred Fussell with Steve Kruger. Photo of Clyde Ferguson, Jr. with Clyde "Pop" Ferguson by Cedric N. Chatterley.