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Blues Up Close and Personal

Tom Dula gravesite

Wilkes County native Clyde “Pop” Ferguson has been playing his unique blend of rural Appalachian and Piedmont blues for seven decades.

“We just play the blues,” says Clyde Ferguson Jr., Pop’s son and bassist for the band. “We play that music because it’s our heritage. It’s an art form that needs to be kept alive. We’ve gotten to the point where most young African Americans don’t even know that music at all.”

While the band plays some original tunes, it sticks to blues from the 1920s to the 1950s, pointedly avoiding songs composed after 1965.

“The blues that’s happening today is not the same blues that was happening back in those years we like to hold on to,” Ferguson Jr. says. “Like blues players of old, Pop plays and sings some of the tunes as he remembers them and learned them early on. He’s still living in that oral tradition: you may sing a song tonight, and if I hear it and like it, then I’ll sing it tomorrow night but I’ll sing it my way, or my version.” He says that playing with his father is always an adventure.

“Some days he’ll play in a very solemn and heartfelt way, and the next day he’ll have more of a comedy edge when he sings. I’ll ask him where he gets that from, and he’ll say, ‘Man, that guitar in my head said do this.’ So as his backup guy, I’m just hanging on saying, ‘where’s he going now?’”

The annual Pop Ferguson Blues Festival bills itself as having one mission: to promote, preserve and advance the culture and tradition of blues music as an art form in America. It’s a mission that grew out of Ferguson Jr.’s experience of seeing a lack of interest in the music among African American youth compared with whites. Still, he does see a few young African Americans picking up on the blues and playing it. “I’m finding some of the college-age kids, once they’re introduced to it, go ‘wow, that’s pretty good stuff,’ especially if we do some of the old gospel,” he says. “That’s heritage.”

Whether they’re playing revivals in churches, gospel concerts, at restaurants or as guests of the Charlotte Folk Society, Ferguson Jr. says it’s about getting people interested in the history of blues music and the people who made it.

“I love telling that story, so that people will understand where we came from,” Ferguson Jr. admits. “I remember growing up as a child hearing and listening to those guys, and I just identify with the music. I enjoy promoting my dad, but bigger than that I promote blues music as an art form in America. That’s really what I’m about.”

For more information on the Pop Ferguson Blues Festival, visit http://popfergusonblues.vpweb.com/

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The North Carolina Arts Council is a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, a state agency.
Susan Kluttz, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor

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