Hugh Ferguson Interview
Hugh Ferguson is a prolific fusion guitar player from Los Angeles, California. In 1982 Hugh started his first rendition of the MR Wizard band and was featured in Guitar Player Magazine. Soon after he started to get requests for lessons from students at the Berklee College of Music. Having no formal training, it was a challenge to teach his method of playing. In 1984 his new MR Wizard band got some local notoriety by being warm up act for Allan Holdsworth, Til’ Tuesday and several other well-known acts.
1986 brought a career move out to Los Angeles where he landed his gig with Graham Nash. Hugh did a U.S. tour as guitarist and vocalist for Graham and he loved the challenge of having to sing David Crosbys cool vocal melodies.
A.D.D features brand new compositions from Hugh as he gears up for some live gigs in California and elsewhere. The new record features Roger Carter on drums and Briam Wright on bass and Austrian guitar sensation, Alex Machacek makes a surprise appearance as well.
AL: Could you talk a little bit about your musical self?
HF: I have been playing music since I was about 6 years old. I started on the drums and took some lessons in grade school from the nuns at my catholic school. I have two older brothers who both play guitar so at 11 I switched to the guitar. I started on acoustic guitar and I was into James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel. Later I got into the electric and was very influenced by Duane Allman, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana. In the 70s the Fusion wave hit with John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham and Tony Williams. That’s when I got into the fusion jazz-rock music. I am self-taught and have very little music knowledge, I used to sit in front of the record player for hours every day and I was able to learn stuff by ear. Since then I have developed scale patterns and I am still on the musical learning curve.
AL: Explain me you process of writing and composing? Is it on the guitar or do you use piano?
HF: For the current trio I have been doing most of the writing on the guitar. I will usually come up with some chord melody and then I will start programming some drums and then add some bass and see where it goes. Once I have the basic idea done then I will lay down a click track and have my guys put down real drums and bass. Sometimes I start with a beat and then come up with a bass line then create guitar parts last.
AL: Could you talk about your new record A-D-D?
HF: A-D-D is my new CD with Roger Carter on drums and Brian Wright on bass. We got together last summer and hit it off really well musically. Roger and Brian are great players. The CD has 13 tunes, some are clean chord melodies and others are more rock edgy. I try to mix it up so it doesn’t get boring. I also had my friend Alex Machacek play a solo on Total distraction. He is a very gifted player and fun to hang out with. The way we recorded was a little different as Brian and I recorded rough tracks at my place to a click track then took them to the rehearsal studio to do drum tracks. Then we re-recorded our tracks after the real drums were laid down.
AL: What is your take on pentatonic scales?
HF: I used to think of pentatonic scales as the basic blues scales. Then I found some cool pentatonic 5-note scales on the Internet. One of them was the Hirajoshi scale that I used as part of the song “Crime Scene. There are quite a few 5-note scales that are really cool.
AL: What and how do you practice nowadays?
HF: I have been on a huge learning curve this last year or so and I have been practicing quite a bit. I do a lot of repetitious finger exercises to build strength and to create new fingerings and arpeggios across the neck. I am also still working on being able to play anywhere in any key. I developed my own software that puts notes on the guitar neck, and then I can break them up into patterns and store it to a database.
I have also been working on phrasing and adding space to solos. I also spend time playing by intuition and not thinking too much. This is usually when the best stuff comes out. But I feel that I still have a long ways to go in mastering my instrument.
AL: In soloing, you seem to prefer to stay on the top four strings, and do a lot of moving up and down the neck? Your thoughts on it?
HF: Actually, I have been working on playing all of the neck. I wear my guitar kind of high so I can keep my wrist straighter. This is a problem when playing up high with the lower cut-away on the guitar getting in the way. So about a year ago I cut off the bottom cut-away on several of my guitars. This did get a few strange looks at home depot where I used a hand saw to do it. Then I recently bought a Steinberger and a Carvin guitar and I don’t have that problem anymore. I do like to slide up and down the to incorporate several patterns and I also like playing up high where several patterns can be reached at the same time.
AL: How did you go about finding things on guitar and building up the language that makes up your playing?
HF: I guess you would call it the school of hard knocks. When I first started playing I had that 3 fingered rock style. Then when I was about 17 I saw Allan Holdsworth playing with Tony Williams and I realized that I was playing the guitar all wrong, I wanted to quit. So for a couple of years I had to un-learn how I played and work on the 4 fingered style. It was awful for quite a while as I couldn’t play the old way or the new way and I sounded dreadful. Then I started to draw pictures of the guitar neck and soon discovered what scales were. I remember in my early 20s taping my scales to the walls of my room and walking around in circles and playing them. Now I use my software and I download jazz piano midi files and practice my ear training. So the practicing and writing goes on and I hope to get better.
AL: What’s next for Hugh Ferguson?
HF: I am currently writing some new stuff for the trio and I also have two vocal projects I’m working on. One is an adult contemporary CD that will be more in the style of a Sting / Don Henley CD. And I am also working on some music for a Powerful Rock / Hip-Hop / Led Zeppelin / Eminem……….????????????? But all this stuff takes time and my main focus is on the fusion jazz stuff. I am also working on getting the band out and playing. One of these days, I want to do some music with my brother Pete who is a great guitarist, bass player and writer.
AL: What do you tell to the great-unknown guitarists who aspire to play like you?
HF: I guess the first thing would be to keep learning one step at a time and be persistent. All things take time and follow your heart and don’t let other people or players get you down on your dreams. Also to be a good player you have to be a good listener. So keep your ears open and listen to a lot of different types of music and absorb as much as you can.