CheckÂ him out now, the funk soul brother
IfÂ a sour mashÂ of Alabama 3, Johnny Cash, Son of Dave, hip-hop, dubÂ and fried green tomatoesÂ was used for a whole new ass-kicking brew,Â theÂ label would readÂ Dave Ferguson’s Lucky No.7Â Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
InÂ ourÂ interview with The Mountain Of Love,Â reference was made toÂ aÂ New BluesÂ music pioneered by R.L. Burnside andÂ Little Axe in the 1980â˛s and 90â˛s. Here sequencing, sampling, dubÂ andÂ heavy dance beatsÂ were bulldozing theÂ conventions of the blues.
Yet amidst the radicalism, two unalienablesÂ remained. The pathos ofÂ the slide guitar and anguish of the blues harp. Dave Ferguson is the latest settlerÂ in this new blues HeimatÂ and an important exponent ofÂ the latter. What he does, he does extremely well. He also tackles itÂ single-handedly.Â We dropped into Cape TownÂ to check outÂ the Lonesome Whistle Blower of New Blues.
Going down slow
YouÂ canÂ findÂ the official take on Dave Ferguson’s workÂ at his own website and at his sponsor’s siteÂ Seydel Sohne.Â But this little piggy, The Good Doctor,Â went to market and he was brokeringÂ theÂ inside story.
Cue Sunday lunchtime at La Vie bar in Cape Town, Murray Hunter (Harp Surgery’s now graduated Apprentice), an intimate table and two bottles of Peroni..
Tell us about Dave Fergusonâs connection with Son Of Dave
Dave Ferguson (DF)Â has been playing since he was about 17. He has travelled the world. He lived in London for about 10 years and he took an extended road trip to the United States where he learned his trade. While he was in London, he was playing as a regular front man in standard 4 and 5 piece blues bands, but he knew Son Of Dave (Benjamin Darvill/SoD). He was a friend of SoDâs who was already doing the beat boxing thing.Â I think DF set up a few mics for him â thatâs how they knew each other.
So did they meet in the UK or America?
In the UK. DF was travelling the States for a while and then settled in London for about 10 years. During that time he met SoD and picked up some of SoDâs tricks before returning to South Africa (SA)Â a couple of years ago, when he started using the same stuff.
People say one of two things. Either DF learned what he does at the feet of SoD â this is not strictly true because he only started doing it once he was on his home turf, or he stole what SoD didÂ â which is also not true (although I must admit I might have intimated that once myself).
Everywhere Iâve seen him interviewed, DF attributes the origins of his scheme to Benjamin DarvillÂ right up front; it’s even on his own web site. He says I picked this up off SoD. But heâs expanded on it a great deal because, frankly, heâs technically a more gifted harmonica player. SoD succeeds in what he does through building on the swing and swagger, whereas DF has a masterful command of the instrument – something SoD’s soundÂ either doesnât have or doesn’t particularly need.
You mentioned that Dave is a full time musician here in SA
He is a graphic designer by training and was working as a sound engineer in London. But once he got back to SA he found it easier to get gigs than a new job, so naturally he went where the work was. And I got a strong sense that his one man thing, by way of the looping pedals and beat boxing, means there is nobody he needs to split the revenue with, but also he can play in all kind of venues where you could never fit a 4 or 5 piece band. He plays these little, intimate places that afford him a whole level of freedom he never had when he was with a band.
How did you first meet Dave?
When I was living in Cape Town as a student around 2005-06, I was interested in taking up the harmonica, had given it a few toots but didnât really know what the landscape was. I went to a Johnny Cash tribute evening and Dave was in one of the bands that played. In fact he was actually playing when I walked in. I saw this guy in cowboy boots, probably in a cowboy hat, singing into one of those old microphones, and I thought, âOh my God, this is so kitsch, so cheesy, like some Beverly Hillbilly!â.
But then I listened for a few seconds and what he was playing knocked me dead. His sound just grabbed me and I thought to myself âThis is something impressiveâ.
Heâs a fantastic player, he really is. Iâve heard him in other permutations, not just this one-man beat boxing stuff, when he was playing in an eight piece bluegrass band and he slots in as a sideman just so eloquently and so tastefully. He is the real deal.
I must admit that when I found out that his sound came from another person, and I started listening to SoD, I rather uncharitably thought of DF asÂ an imitation. It took a few years when I went away to London myself, listened to SoD, developed my own understanding of the instrument and my own ear, and then came back to SA before I realised DF not only plays like Son Of Dave, but also like a son of a bitch!
Iâve seen a clip on YouTube where he drops in the head from Folsom Prison Blues or something similar..
Exactly. It probably was Folsom Prison Blues. He blends all kind of influences into his songs. I think he was playing Low Rider, which he probably picked up off SoD â he does a great version of Low Rider.
So does Dave comprise theÂ entire live harmonica scene in Cape Town?
Certainly heâs the only professional level player that I know of here. I know a few more people who are at my level, you know, the kind of intermediates and I know loads of people who try hard, but to my knowledge DF is the only professional player and he is a world ranking man. I mean Lee Sankey, who doesnât give praise lightly, has said to me that Daveâs a top notch player.
Lee talks about folks who not only play well but are also somehow naturally gifted..
Well you can hear it with DF. He really does some wild stuff for someone who is essentially playing over a one chord vamp all the time. He doesnât really do changes because he canât on his loop pedal. But he plays some wild stuff and itâs fun â thatâs the main thing. Itâs technically proficient, but itâs really fun, hip music.
DF lays down the rhythm first by beatboxing into a loop pedal. He than lays down the bass line by carefully playing harmonica through an octave pedal. Then heâs good to go. Vocalising through his Astatic harp mic, adding shakers to the loop and manipulating the sounds through adjustments to his pedal board. Vamps and phrases from his harp are augmented by his technical ability as a player, including proficiency in overblows and overdraws.
And even without an old tube amp, he still nails that killer tone. This is executed in part by excellent tongue blocking technique,Â but also byÂ the overdriven valves which are substituted by a Harp Attack pedal.
When the beat starts popping you’re the first on the floor
The Doc and Murray turned their attention to the fabulousÂ grooves eminating from DF’s corner of the bar. Cape chicks and beach dudes lapped up the vibes. DF granted oneÂ birthday party’s special requestÂ and performedÂ White Girl.Â The song is gently mesmerising. You could be forgiven for thinking it was written by Shaggy, or perhaps Clint Eastwood & General Saint. But it’s all self-penned classic.Â DaveÂ continued weaving his way through Funk Soul Brother, Low Rider, Howlin’ For My Darlin’ and more.
Trance-blues, & Country-dub andÂ advancement of the harmonica
DF has perfected the alchemyÂ of beat-box andÂ looped harmonica and categorised the result trance-blues and country-dub. Which is just about right. It’s cool, it puts a smile on your face, it roots you to the spot and it resonates below the belt.
As important however, are the references Dave makes to the advancement of the harmonica.Â This is Harpboxing (the fusion of harp and beatbox).
With SoD very much at the forefront of its development, DF hasÂ jump startedÂ the Harpbox narrative and rolledÂ itÂ over the next State Line.
And he’s based itÂ on oneÂ self-evident truth -Â Â the underlying proficiency he has attained on the harmonica, free from electronic enhancement. Dave Ferguson is a master ofÂ tone,Â rhythm, technique and phrasing. He’sÂ gotÂ the whole works. He also understandsÂ stagecraft and has adopted a big old stage personaÂ that speaks volumes before he’s even raised a decibel.
Dave is set to hit Italy this summer. You’ve heard of Spaghetti Westerns? Well prepare yourself forÂ the Harpslinger with No Name.