Graham Ferguson: Anthrax Contest Winner No One Night Stand
When Graham Ferguson was writing the songs for his “This World Insane” CD, he never once thought it would land him on stage with thrash metal pioneers Anthrax - but it did. On Friday, January 13th at Chicago’s House of Blues, the Davenport, Iowa native was trading sweat and guitar licks with the band as he ripped through a cover of the Kiss classic, “Parasite.” It was a songwriting contest they had billed as the "Anthrax Killer Demo Contest," and it was Ferguson’s song “This World Insane” that secured his place on stage. Along with the onstage thrill, the contest winner was also rewarded with a new guitar and an endorsement from the folks at Washburn. Anyone who knows Graham Ferguson though, would know that he lives and breathes his music. He also writes it, plays it (ALL of it), produces it, engineers it - hell, he might even bake cookies with it. So, to find him achieving something of this magnitude does not sound unlikely. I recently had an opportunity to talk with Ferguson about his music, his experience of being on stage with Anthrax, and where he might find himself in the not too distant future.
First of all, what was it like to be on a stage with Anthrax, one of the first metal bands of their kind?
“Playing with Anthrax was amazing. I've listened to them for as long as I've played music, so it was a real honor to get a little pat on the head from them. It was like doing an inning with your favorite baseball team or something.”
Well, you have one helluva swing, my friend. I understand you have a small studio in your home where you write and record all of your material. I also understand that you not only write all of it; you play every instrument, you sing every song, and you also take on the producing and engineering duties. These are extensive responsibilities that you’ve burdened yourself with. Why not just play the instrument you’re most comfortable with, and find other fellow musicians and producers to do the rest?
“I could never afford to pay anyone to do it for me! I've always written my own stuff. I want to use my guitar in every way I can think of, and writing songs is one of them. I originally wanted to be a drummer, but I couldn't afford a set, and my family was really against it. I taught myself some, but ended up with a guitar as a compromise. I stayed interested in drums, studied them on my own, and later played in a few bands. My interest in singing and bass came from Iron Maiden and Dream Theater, and from the fact that I didn't have to buy a larynx. Interest in producing my own stuff came from the digital home studio revolution of the 90's, and ‘A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica’” (referring to the in-studio documentary film that shows the band recording their now legendary, self-titled “black album.”). “Doing it all myself came out of necessity really. I can never get anyone to stay in a band for more than a few weeks before their girlfriends talk them out of it.”
What instrument are you most comfortable playing?
“Guitar; particularly the Ibanez RG. I also really like Les Pauls, but I can't afford Gibsons. I buy Epiphones and gut them.”
Your talents are too numerous to mention in just one small article such as this. Your skill playing drums comes shining through in your music, as does your guitar prowess and singing talent. Tell me, what kind of formal training have you had, if any?
“Five years of guitar lessons with Mark Zaputil*, high school choir and theory, six months of drum lessons, and a few piano and trumpet lessons. After I left high school I went to Music Tech in Minneapolis and graduated after a year and a half as a guitar major. I also had drums, keys, and vocals for non-majors. When I was there, they asked me to be an assistant teacher for the Rock Technique class I was in, but some of my classmates didn't care for that, so I didn't. I did guitar lessons with Tim Bellman* over a summer break in there somewhere too.”
*(Editor Note: Mark (ZAP) Zaputil has been the President and sole proprietor of ZAP, LTD. since 1990, and Tim Bellman are both accomplished instructors out of the Davenport, Iowa area)
You bill yourself as “The Cadaver Dogs” on your CD’s, which might lead one to believe that there are other band members involved. What made you choose a band name like The Cadaver Dogs over something a little more independent sounding, like The Graham Ferguson Project or something of that nature?
“The Cadaver Dogs came from the hope that I would have a full band, and not really be the Graham Ferguson solo project. I was working with specific musicians at the time, and we did play that way for a while. I've always liked cool metal names better than regular human names. I certainly don't want the responsibility of having a band named after me! However, it's looking more and more like it's just going to happen that way, so I've actually decided to drop The Cadaver Dogs and just go by Graham Ferguson. I think this is a good time to announce the switch since I have everyone's attention from the Anthrax adventure. Sometimes decisions like these just make themselves, and you just have to go with it."
Has there been interest from any record labels yet?
Not yet, although Sanctuary sent me a very kind letter of rejection. "We really like your demo, but we're not signing any new bands because no one buys CDs anymore," he said, paraphrasing the letter. “It made me laugh, but it was very considerate of them. I was surprised, no one else wrote back at all."
Did you get a chance to drop off one of your CD's to anybody in the Anthrax camp?
“I chickened out at the time, didn't want to ruin the moment. Later Scott Ian e-mailed me and said I could mail him some, which I did.”
What would you say if he got back to you, after listening to your music, and wanted to record one of your songs?
“It would be an honor, as long as I get some kind of credit (and money) for it.”
Let's play some word association, shall we?
What springs to mind when I say:
Success? "Success is doing something you love to do, and doing the best you can at it."
Fame? "Side effect"
Grammys? "Milli Vanilli" Yeah, none of us can forget that, but we're all trying!
Heavy Metal? "Bruce Dickinson"
Anthrax? "One of the greatest ever, and totally underrated"
Britney Spears? "Who cares?"
Singer? "James LaBrie"
Bassist? "Craig Weiman. We used to play together, then he went to Boston to study at Berklee, and is now a professional musician in that area. The best bass player I've ever heard, period." (Editor Note: You can visit Craig Weiman's website online at: www.craigweiman.com)
Drummer? "Lars Ulrich," Ferguson says with no hesitation. "He was the main reason I decided to get into music. I wanted to be a drummer like Lars Ulrich."
Guitarist? "Me," he says with a small, uneasy laugh. It is obvious at this point that this humble, soft spoken rocker is confident but not cocky.
Work? "My favorite thing in the world"