The Magic Highway


An Interview with Tony Ferguson

Tony FergusonTONY Ferguson has come a long way in the past decades and until recently was a high profile manager at one of the biggest record labels in the world.
   After Christie split in 1974, Tony worked for label Stiff Records in the late 70s, whose artists included Elvis Costello and Lene Lovich, which brought him to the USA permanently heading up the NY office.
    That led to work with Bruce Springsteen’s organisation, and subsequently meeting producer Jimmy Iovine, who invited Tony to work with him in California. Jimmy later started Interscope Records, and Tony was one of his first hires.
   Tony became vice president of A&R (Artists and Repertoire) at Interscope, the music division of the Universal Music Group (UMG). It included Geffen Records and A&M Records, which it merged with after UMG's acquisition of Polygram Records in 1998.
   During his years at Interscope, Tony was responsible for such artists as No Doubt, Bush, Snoop Dogg, Brian Setzer, Eminem, Smashmouth, Ron Sexsmith, Enrique Iglesias and many others. Current artists in the stable include Pussycat Dolls, Lady GaGa, Black Eyed Peas, Mary J Bligh, Maroon 5, Gwen Stefani, Nellie Furtado, Justin Timberlake, The Police and U2!
Tony grew up in London and started playing in semi-professional bands as a guitar player when a teenager. When he was about 16, he left school and went with professional bands from London on tour around Europe.
  He hooked up with the band Unit 4+2 and had a hit with the song Concrete and Clay. One of the other members of Unit 4+2 was Lem Lubin, who joined Christie for a while. Ironically, Tony joined Christie after Lem left.

  He was at the time part of Capability Brown, and joined Christie on a South American tour.

Q: How did you end up in the US?

Tony Ferguson on stage in 1974

A: I was in a number of bands in the '70s, including Christie, and then pretty much quit the business as far as performing right about 1974, when the oil crisis hit Europe. It hit America, but it hit Europe really hard.
Gigs closed down because all those places were oil heated. Christie were among many bands affected.
But we had PA systems, and a friend of mine who I was in a band with at the time and I decided that we would rent this stuff out.
All of a sudden I became a production engineer on the road. In the end, I ended up just by default becoming a sound engineer, and then ended up being a tour manager/sound engineer.
  Later, I decided that I had had enough of England. The music business was getting really stale over there, and America was just like this wealth of possibilities.
It's a huge country, and a band can tour for the rest of their lives. In England, you do two weeks of shows and you cover the whole country.
Coming over with my previous bands, I always loved America. So I decided to move over here permanently. I set up in New York in the early 80s when I was 36 or 37.

Q: How did you end up at Interscope Records?

A: Jimmy Iovine had been hired as a consultant to refurbish A&M Studios in order make it a world-class studio again.
About the winter of 1985, I actually flew out there and hung out with Jimmy and met all of these people out here. I noticed that a lot of the creative talent that was in New York in the late 70s and in the early 80s had migrated west.
There was this whole migration going on, so it seemed like the right thing to do. I never went back. I stayed out here, and I moved my family out.
  Then Jimmy met up with American media mogul and entrepreneur Ted Field. (Ted’s company was responsible for movies like Outrageous Fortune, Three Men and a Baby, Amityville Horror, Mr Holland’s Opus, and a host of others.)
Jimmy said, "I'm forming this label with Ted. Do you want to come along?"
I said, "Sure. What am I going to do?" It was that loose. Everything was that loose. When I look back on it, fate played an amazing role. I just fell into things. I'm making it sound a little easier than what it was, but it was literally like that.
Jimmy said, "Well, what you want to do?" I said, "I don't know. Artists and Repertoire (A&R) sounds fine." And that's what I ended up doing.
   The label got successful fairly quick. All these bands were passing through our hands because everyone was excited about Jimmy heading up a new label with Ted Field.

   Ted's holding company was called Interscope, but nobody wanted to call the label Interscope. Everybody thought it sounded like an aerospace company. But we never thought of another name, so it stuck.

Q: How did Interscope become involved with some of the premiere and most successful artists in rap?

A: At that time, rap was not selling huge amounts of records. It would sell a few thousand. Run-DMC was probably the biggest selling act at the time.
  Jimmy had this vision of doing black rap and making it accessible. And he did.
  He got Dr. Dre who then introduced Snoop Dogg to him. All of a sudden we were known as a heavy rock and rap label.
  In the meantime, I signed this young little Orange County band back in 1991 called No Doubt.
At the time, Pearl Jam and Nirvana were breaking, and nobody wanted to hear an eight-piece horn section with a blond girl from Orange County doing ska-retro-disco-metal-funk.
But the kids did. I would go to the shows in Orange County and up here, and they were selling out.
   I grew up with ska—being with Stiff Records who had a big friendliness with Two Tone Records and had Madness on the label—so I loved ska. But I was in the wrong place with the right band.

Tony left Interscope in 2010 to move to Portland Oregon, where he now lives, and helped form Pacific Northwest Entertainment Group, designed to develop young new artists.