Success is an elusive carrot. The idea of what it means to be successful varies greatly. Some believe it is monetary riches. Others think it has to do with character and survival. I’m always intrigued with people who only achieve a certain level of success but do it over a long career.
My current hero is Jay Ferguson. Ferguson was the lead singer for one of my favorite records as a young adult. I came to the “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” during college. It’s tracks intrigued me greatly. The rich harmonies and catchy hooks made it easy to listen to over and over again. I have determined that the first side of the album is one of the best album sides in the history of recorded music.
When I like something that much, I go digging. I research the band and their influences. Spirit was a jazzy rock band which populated the 1960s and 70s. They used many different instruments to create this feeling with their music. If you don’t know them, they had a hit with a song called “I Got A Line On You,” which is one of my favorite motivational songs of all time.
The lead guitarist was an accomplished musician named Randy California. (I don’t even know if that’s his real name.) He established Spirit with his father-in-law which I found a fascinating partnership.
Along comes a very young Jay Ferguson, a California (state) native, who is the last to join the band and becomes the lead vocalist and one of the principal writers. They do some stuff that isn’t great, but it is good. Then in 1971, they release their masterpiece, Dr. Sardonicus. None of the tracks made it on Casey Kasem’s show. I had never heard any of their songs before my college roommate Tom Spitzer turned me onto them in the early 1980s.
Later, like 20 years later, I realize that my first encounter with Jay Ferguson was a 1978 radio hit called “Thunder Island.” I remember listening to it and making fun of it in high school. The song was very pop, along the lines of “Pina Colada” and Stephen Bishop. It was a weird time musically because the pop charts were so divided between disco and rock. As a young midwestern teen, I was supposed to hate disco or anything to poppy. I had to like Led Zeppelin and Yes.
But “Thunder Island” had a great hook and years later, I learned to appreciate it, although it still is a little too pop for my tastes. It ended up being one of the Top 100 pop songs of 1978.
Shove me up to 2007 and I discover that Ferguson is still in the business. He didn’t die of a drug overdose as many did during his era. He stayed with music and morphed into a soundtrack composer for film and television. I discovered this when I tried to find out who wrote my favorite theme song on TV’s The Office. I was sure they pulled it from an existing song, but Ferguson wrote it specifically for the show.
Then I found out he wrote and performed with a group called Jo Jo Gunne who had a minor hit with “Run, Run, Run” which I listened to a sample and remember hearing in the 1970s.
So here, this one man, did all these things that I admire. He never achieved this stardom, but kept plugging along releasing quality work. He is sort of an insider favorite among the showbiz folk. This is a degree of success and lifetime achievement. He has kept transforming with the times and his age to be relevant. He hasn’t contributed a great philosophical treatise, but he has found a wider audience for his work and has become respected. That, to me, is success.