CFS Home

Listen to Pop Ferguson
Big Boss Man music notes
Black Cat Bone music notes
Same Ole Thing music notes

Nov 12: Blues "Up Close and Personal" by Clyde "Pop" Ferguson

Our November 12th Gathering features "blues up close and personal" by 83-year-old bluesman Clyde "Pop" Ferguson. Join us for this second-Friday concert at 7:30 PM in the beautiful Great Aunt Stella Center listening room, located at 926 Elizabeth Avenue in the edge of downtown Charlotte. Clyde Ferguson, Jr. will join "Pop" on bass guitar.

Charlotte Folk Society Gatherings are open to the public, family-friendly, and free. Donations are appreciated. Doors open at 7 PM. Handicapped access is available at the ground level entrance. Refreshments, a song circle, and slow and fast jams follow the hour-long concert. The Charlotte Appalachian Dulcimer Club invites visitors to join their meeting as well; loaner instruments are available for the evening. Free surface parking is available adjacent to the S tella Center. The arm of the nearby parking deck goes up for the weekend at 7 PM. Pick up a ticket on the way into the parking deck; you will not have to pay on the way out if you leave after 8 PM.

Clyde "Pop" Ferguson is one of the last practitioners of traditional blues in the North Carolina foothills. The son of a guitar-playing Holiness preacher, Clyde was steeped in the music of the African-American community of North Wilkesboro. He got his start playing for revivals with a family group that included two sisters on drums and piano and his brother on trumpet. Clyde fell in love with the blues, which upset his father. While playing with his family group at a revival, Clyde started playing a riff from Step It Up and Go during a performance of When the Saints Go Marching In and his father threw him out of the tent. "To this day, I have no idea how he knew," Clyde recalls. "Those chords just didn't sound right to him."

Clyde continued to learn blues in secret, practicing behind a woodshed and listening to radio shows and other blues musicians in the community. Around 1941, when Clyde was thirteen, his father moved the family to Lenoir, where Clyde met local guitar legend Max Moore, a blues musician who had a disfigured face. "A lot of women were sort of scared of him -- how he looked -- but that man could play some guitar," Clyde remembers. "I didn't care how he looked; he taught me some chords." Around this time, Clyde started playing in local quartets and on the streets.

After a few years in the Army, where Clyde played the blues in the special services, he returned home. "It's my home, but I wasn't there," Clyde says. "I was traveling around mostly, playing." His travels took Clyde to juke joints, fish fries, and street corners across the country, especially in the Northeast. He played from the coalfields of West Virginia to Baltimore and Detroit, often sharing the stage with blues legend Papa John Creach. During the 1970s, while back in Western North Carolina, Clyde was introduced t o Etta Baker, whom he admired for playing "that good old blues." He performed with Baker throughout the Southeast.

In his early years, Clyde played chiefly in the local Piedmont blues style, using his thumb and finger, and sometimes playing in open Vestapol tuning (DADF#AD). During his travels, he adopted more popular and urban blues techniques and tunes into his repertoire. Clyde started using a flat pick, though he also continues to incorporate the two-finger style he learned as a boy. He can move between playing songs like Albert King's Born Under a Bad Sign on electric guitar and picking Carolina blues standards like Step It Up and Go or How Long on his acoustic guitar, or "hollow box," as he calls it. He understands the evolution of the blues and can demonstrate the ways that people played when he was first learning. He has also developed his own style of traditional blues gospel that he performs in churches throughout the region.

Today, "Pop" lives in Lenoir and performs with the Blues Revue trio, as well as with Clyde, Jr. as a duo. He also plays bass in the Laytown Mennonite Brethren Church in Laytown, where he grew up. "Most of our blues is from 1920 to 1950," Clyde, Jr., says. "We work on a couple pieces that range back beyond 1900, back to 1850. For Pop, that's what he grew up with and, for Pop, we try to keep it pure with all the old blues that we can." Though Clyde has left his life on the road behind, he still loves to play. " . . . I've never bragged on myself because God gave me the talent to play," he says. "But I never learn too much that I don't try to learn some more."

"Pop" was recently honored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Recordings of his musical performances, along with many of his stories, were selected for inclusion in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. His music and stories will be featured alongside the stories of other African-American history makers such as President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Questions? Call 704-563-7080.

Charlotte Folk Society Gatherings are made possible, in part, with funding from the Arts & Science Council and the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Cultural Resources, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.