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In the world of collectibles, it's always the unique that's the most valuable. Doug Ferguson was a collector. He would drive thousands of miles for the right keyboard. His collection of vintage synthesizers, and his ability to play them, was one-of-a-kind. So it was fitting that his prize Mellotron was used as the altar at his funeral last Wednesday in Fort Worth. Music was Doug Ferguson's life, and that's how he will be remembered.
On February 23, Ferguson died in Fort Worth at the age of 31 after a brief and brutal illness that began as a serious pancreatic infection. A key member of the highly creative local groups Ohm and Yeti, Ferguson departed quickly, but left behind a unique and wondrous body of work.
"There never will be another Doug, that's for sure," says Matt Castille, who worked with Ferguson in the Vas Deferens Organization, a formerly Dallas-based group that has gained a widespread cult following for assimilating obscure forms of experimental music into a willfully bizarre brew. "He would get in his car and drive to the end of the world if he knew he could play on a great record."
Between his work with Ohm, Yeti and VDO, Ferguson certainly did that, unearthing and revitalizing combinations of sound that had lain dormant since the '70s, when Europe's progressive rock movement was at its peak. Ferguson's work with Ohm, which he co-founded in 1995, helped spark the emergence of the local space-rock scene. He turned on many fellow musicians and fans to such forgotten artists as Krautrockers Amon Düül and Faust and France's Magma, whose epic Wagnerian stylings were such a major influence on Ferguson that their music capped off his memorial service.
"Doug had a big hand in spreading the gospel of cosmic music," says Wanz Dover, Melodica Festival svengali and collaborator with Ferguson on the one-off Tone Float project released in 1998. "He was one of the key figures right at the beginning of the whole Denton space-rock thing. Influential, although criminally overlooked."
He was often overlooked in his own back yard, yet his reputation and his music found their way across the globe. "Doug was really connected," Dover says. "Even though Yeti and Ohm were putting out records here, he was personally in touch with pretty much every single prog or underground psyche rock label out there, and they all knew who he was."
Starting early, Ferguson played music since he was 8, and in the late '80s he began acquiring analog synthesizers and using them to make his own original tapes. He called the tapes Doug on Moog in homage to the classic Switched On series of Moog synthesizer recordings.
It wasn't until 1995 that he found a like-minded musical soul in S. Forest Ward, and the two of them went on to form Frankie Teardrop, a name Ferguson would later resurrect as a moniker for his solo records. Soon drummer Nathan Brown and clarinet player Chris Forrest joined, and the group became Ohm. They confounded and intrigued local listeners by often physically surrounding their audience with sublime improvisation, unorthodox musical shadings and Ward's visually stunning homemade percussion kits.
"I never saw anything quite as amazing as those old Ohm shows," Dover says. "It was a real, pure, spiritual form of improvisation and expression. It seemed to go over a lot of people's heads, but the people who got it pretty much all started bands."
Ferguson enlisted Castille and Eric Lumbleau of the Vas Deferens Organization to produce the first Ohm record, and that began a fruitful series of collaborations that resulted in some of the most wonderfully peculiar music to ever come out of North Texas (see discography).
"He didn't care what anyone else thought, because he knew that he was doing something that he liked, and he hoped it would turn the lightbulb on for somebody that was listening to it," says Yeti drummer Jon Teague, a friend of Ferguson's for 20 years. "And I know that it did, just judging by the fact that at his memorial service, every direction that I looked in were different musicians. It was just full of people who were affected by his music."
"Yeti was like the sound of lava moving across Jupiter," says Philip Croley, co-owner of Two Ohm Hop, the label that released Yeti's only album, Things to Come... and planned on releasing its never-recorded second record. Every bit as rigid and disciplined as Ohm was airy and freeform, Yeti was Ferguson's primary focus the last couple of years.
A recent triad of shows with San Francisco's Sleepytime Gorilla Museum found them at a high point. His mates flanking him with a barrage of heavy riffage, the afroed Ferguson was the mad scientist holding the ship afloat, holding court from his musical throne surrounded by a dazzling array of musical contraptions.
"His keyboard collection was unbelievable," Castille says. "He was always driving to Wisconsin to buy a Mellotron or something."