Feature Stories

Dallas' Mitchell Ferguson Plans To Release New Single, Tells the Story of an Old Van Named Matilda

Mitchell Ferguson's car, Matilda, had a short life.
Mitchell Ferguson's car, Matilda, had a short life. Jake Hull
Just outside of Joplin, Missouri, Mitchell Ferguson, a local singer-songwriter, and his band all sat on the side of the road. Smoke billowed out of a newly purchased 1992 Chevrolet G20 Van as the cellphones of Ferguson; drummer Michael Ferguson, his brother; and bassist Dawson Slaby began to die in the middle of the night.

Just two weeks before, four years of borrowing his parents' and his friends’ cars to go on crazy, bunk, little Texas tours came to an end. Mitchell Ferguson finally picked out a van on Craigslist. After getting it insured, inspected and registered, he gave the seemingly tour-friendly ride a name: Matilda. But some things just are not meant to be.

Shortly after the purchase, the 26-year-old van started having problems. Unsurprisingly, it needed some work. Although it was unclear just how much fixing Matilda needed to undergo, Mitchell Ferguson and his band were determined.

Three thousand dollars later, several mechanics gave the crew got the thumbs up indicating Matilda was ready to go on the road. But the elderly G20 died in transit after two three-hour sets in Dallas on the band's way back to St. Louis. This was more than a small bump in the road in the life of a traveling show.

Mitchell Ferguson says he was introduced to the lives of career musicians long before being caught up in the mess of Matilda. His parents, Keith and Jennifer, worked at First Baptist Church in Carrollton — his dad the minister of music, and his mom a pianist. Additionally, his father has a partner with whom he’s written and produced musicals that have been performed all over the world, he says.

“That was our food on the table, my dad’s job at church working as the music minister and also his income from the shows that he was writing,” he says. “My mom, she’s a pianist as well, so she was working for the church playing there, and they still do that now.”

“That was our food on the table, my dad’s job at church working as the music minister and also his income from the shows that he was writing." – Mitchell Ferguson

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Naturally, Mitchell Ferguson was involved in church choirs since he was about 4 years old. He was singing by the time he could talk, he says. After this introduction to performing, he began taking piano lessons in elementary school. This went on for four years. He was just singing and playing piano at church until he got his first guitar in sixth grade, he says. It was then that he started his five years of guitar lessons at Dallas Guitar Academy.

“It’s run by a guy named Jason Cole," he says. "He is a fantastic teacher [who] absolutely changed my life. I didn’t practice as much as I should have, but he’s just so amazing, and you know, he’s great at just introducing you and easing you into the instrument.”

Some key influences in Mitchell Ferguson's guitar playing include the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr., he says.

When he attended Creekview High School in Carrollton, he was active on the speech and debate teams and in the school’s theater department. It was not until the early days of his college career at The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University in Missouri that he began playing in his first band, The Louisiana Purchase, with his brother.

“It was my first year of college, and Michael was still living here in Dallas in high school, and he had started this band with Chance Williams and Dawson Slaby,” Mitchell Ferguson says. “They had a battle of the bands that they were doing at The Door. They were like, ‘Hey, you should come sing a song with us at this finale thing.’“

This kick-started the new lineup of TLP. With Slaby and Williams rotating on bass and lead guitar, Michael Ferguson playing drums and Mitchell Ferguson as the new frontman, the group stepped further and further away from Michael Ferguson's rap-influenced writing to the blues-rock feel of the reborn band.

“Most of TLP all the way through was very collaborative because it was just a lot of us jamming at Dawson’s house and whatever came of that, just imitating Foo Fighters and having fun,” Mitchell Ferguson says. “The more I started listening to that style of music, it just kind of invaded the way I wrote and played because I didn’t get into blues and roots, rock, country [or] any of that until I was late in high school or early into college.”

Mitchell Ferguson says TLP was the greatest introduction to playing music with a band, but he has not performed under that name in years. All of the members were divided when everyone went off to college.

The collaboration among them all was not as viable as it once was. With the two brothers attending school in St. Louis, Slaby still in Dallas and Williams at the University of Texas, Mitchell Ferguson dove into writing a ton of his own songs, he says.

Although Michael Ferguson is still the go-to when it comes to a drummer for his brother’s music, someone needed to take Slaby’s place while the two were in St. Louis. Devin Smith was that someone. Releasing an EP under the name Mitchell Ferguson and opening for the likes of local phenom Charley Crockett, the new trio had a more the successful run.

Since graduating from Webster, Mitchell Ferguson has been back in Dallas. Making his rounds through D-FW, he and Michael are back to playing with Slaby. As a regular at places like Adair's Saloon and Henry’s Majestic, Mitchell Ferguson has set his sights on a future of jamming across the country and beyond. On Saturday, he will release his new single, “Cry,” at Sundown at Granada in Dallas.

“We just recently recorded several songs at Modern Electric Sound Recorders with Jason Burt,” he says. “He produced and engineered and mixed these songs for us, and he’s just a totally brilliant guy that we’re very, very grateful to know now.”

Mitchell Ferguson says if he could describe the sound of his new single in a TV show, it would be True Detective. The song is about being upset with life and wanting to uproot oneself from undesirable situations. Additionally, he says the song touches on the importance of feeling the sad things in life and not holding them in.

“Sometimes, if you’ve gotta cry, just cry,” he says. “It’s about getting up and moving along.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn