The Austin Chronicle

Music Gift Guide: Books

Legendary Austin bassist gets his due – from Germany!

Reviewed by Kevin Curtin, December 5, 2014, Music

Keith Ferguson Texas Blues Bass

by Detlef Schmidt
Centerstream Publications, 320pp., $39.99

Minus great characters, books are hardly worth the ink, paper, and glue. Keith Ferguson remains among Austin music's most compelling figures: a tattooed Pachuco intellectual in gypsy threads who made upside-down Fender basses scream. When he died in 1997 of liver failure, he left behind an overdriven, low-end attack in the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Tailgators, and an indelible impression on electric blues. "He always had his watch set 15 minutes earlier because it's bar time for last call," late Krackerjack singer Bruce Bowland told German author Detlef Schmidt. "He taught me a lot about life philosophy." Multitudinous sit-downs with Ferguson's family, friends, and fellow musicians build a thorough oral history in Texas blues, matched by a photo essay of his skin illos, bass mugshots, and a painting of Keith by Ronnie Wood. The overstuffed scrapbook tracks Ferguson's childhood in Houston, travels in Europe alongside Johnny Winter that galvanized his inner rock star, and life in Austin. Many of the interviews are painfully edited or not at all, trailing off pointlessly or repeating information. The best accounts are Ferguson's own. Via an undated postcard, he sends greetings from Finland: "It's colder than a whore's heart here. Everyone speaks rapid Martian and drinks a lot .... There are lots of beautiful girls here but they all smell like goats." The women in his life also deliver. Ex-wife Lou Ann Barton laments that he loved heroin more than her, Connie Hancock recalls his in-studio amplifier squabbles with producer Nick Lowe, and his 94-year-old mom Margaret provides childhood drawings, baby pictures, and motherly regrets: "He would have been a good teacher."

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