Picture of the Blues

Some people don't like having their pictures taken because of the superstition that the camera steals the soul. Keith Ferguson was the opposite. Not that he liked the limelight; far from it. But when that camera was pointed at him, he'd fix it with his heavy-lidded stare, boring past glass, plastic, and metal to forever imprint his image on all who viewed it.

And it worked. Ferguson was always the most colorful bandmember by design; Storm and Nightcrawlers fans will remember his rock & roll shag haircut, bell-sleeved shirts, flashy scarves, and armful of bracelets. Even before the photo shoot for the first Fabulous Thunderbirds album in 1979, however, Ferguson cut his hair and greased it back, sporting the more polished look of Chicago soul that morphed into studied Chicano barrio style. He's wearing the same see-through rayon shirt that showed his pre-trend tattoos on T-Birds albums number two through four. Ferguson's soul was lime-green and his heart was chile pepper-red.

The day after Keith Ferguson died on April 29, I was with his friends, Leeann Atherton and Emma Little, at his mother's house when Margaret Ferguson brought out photographs. I'd known him his second quarter-century, but now here was Keith as a young man and even younger, down to the little boy on the photo friends once purloined in order to make those postcards for his 40th birthday (p.54). Margaret's fragile fingertips brushed across a black-and-white photo in which a handsome, adolescent Keith was attempting a sullen, rebellious look. There were others: a grown-up Keith in more recent years modeling a vest Margaret brought him from China; a baby Keith, all blond hair and liquid brown eyes. She paused over that one. It occurred to me that Margaret Ferguson would be burying her only son the day before Mother's Day and that's exactly the way she should remember him.

The Austin Chronicle chose to run two stories on Keith Ferguson not just because he was one of the pre-eminent bassists on Texas' stellar pantheon, but because both stories together illustrate the dichotomy of one man. Josh Alan Friedman wrote his story for the Dallas Observer last March, and it's as unflinching a journalist's portrait of Ferguson now as then. The accompanying story, by noted local writer Dan Forte, no small musical talent himself, simmers with anger at the utter waste of Ferguson's life.

It's not disrespectful to write the truth about the dead, it's disrespectful to ignore the truth about the dead. The truth about Keith Ferguson was always twofold: He was a bitter, self-pitying junkie and he was a brilliant bassist. He had a cynical, brittle exterior that cloaked the liquid heart of a true romantic. And he died because he didn't care about living anymore. -- Margaret Moser

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