Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Run Run Run To Thunder Island

By the time Jay Ferguson hit the charts as a solo artist in 1977 he was already somewhat of a rock music journeyman. He had been a founding member of L.A. rock group Spirit in the late 60s. Spirit enjoyed their biggest hit with ‘I Got A Line On You’ in 1969 (US#25), but were largely known for their eclectic album output, encompassing a wide spectrum of styles. Several minor hits followed over the next couple of years, but in 1971 lead singer/keyboardist Jay Ferguson left with band-mate Mark Andes (bass) to form Jo Jo Gunne. Jo Jo Gunne took their name from a 1958 Chuck Berry hit and went on to have several hits of their own, including 1972’s ‘Run Run Run’ (US#27/UK#6/OZ#30). Jo Jo Gunne recorded four albums all up from their self-titled debut in 1972 through to 1974’s ‘So…Where’s The Show?’, experiencing several personnel changes along the way.

By the end of 1974 Jo Jo Gunne had broken up, Mark Andes going on to play with 70s soft rock outfit Firefall, then with Heart in the 1980s. Jay Ferguson opted to embark on a solo career and late in 1976 released his debut album ‘All Alone In The End Zone’, leaving behind somewhat the harder rock edges of his previous band’s work. Instead, Ferguson tapped in to the popular ’California soft-rock’ of that era (think Doobie Brothers, Eagles) and in fact Ferguson recruited Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh to play on a number of tracks. The first album didn’t yield any hit singles but the 1977 follow up ‘Thunder Island’ proved a breakthrough. The title track and first single could have been a signature song for the whole ‘West-Coast’ sound, full of slick production and vocal overdubs, and had a real ‘summer’ sound. It reached #9 on the U.S. charts in early ’78 and was a staple on FM playlists. I don’t recall hearing the song here in Australia at the time, but my days of listening to the radio for hours on end hadn’t quite started back then.

I discovered the song ‘Thunder Island’ via a compilation CD back in the mid 90s called ‘Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day - Vol.21’, part of a collection released on the Rhino label. The album enjoyed moderate sales in the U.S. (#72) on the back of the singles popularity.
1979’s follow up album ‘Real Life Ain’t This Way’ didn’t build on
the mild storm of ‘Thunder Island’ but did yield a top 40 hit in ‘Shakedown Cruise’ (US#31). Ferguson recorded two more solo albums on the Capitol label, 1980’s ‘Terms & Conditions’ and 1982’s ‘White Noise’, but neither sold well or realised any hits. Jay Ferguson then decided on a sea change and concentrated his song writing and arranging talents in the field of soundtracks for television and film, and the 90s also saw a brief reunion of Jo Jo Gunne (1992). His most recent achievement came in composing the score for the U.S. version of the highly popular television comedy ‘The Office’ which earned Ferguson a Film & TV Music Award in 2007.

If you want to learn more about the life and career of Jay Ferguson have a read of this excellent interview with him from 1999.

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