Shakedown Cruise by Jay Ferguson

When a vocalist leaves a group, there’s always the hope of big success forthcoming, at least from the vocalist.  (But perhaps not always from the group the vocalist left behind.)  Well, when Jay Ferguson left a group to go solo, he had some modest success with one song, but his second and final top 40 hit has fallen by the wayside.  You likely remember “Thunder Island”…do you remember “Shakedown Cruise”?

Forgotten: Shakedown Cruise by Jay Ferguson

A Very Short History of Jay Ferguson

John “Jay” Ferguson got his first taste of chart success as the lead singer of the rock group Spirit in the late 1960s.  Spirit’s biggest charting hit was the top 30 “I Got a Line on You”, but perhaps the group is best known for its track “Taurus”, which, in a case that the US Supreme Court declined to rule on, was found not to have been ripped off by Jimmy Page when he wrote “Stairway to Heaven”.  Some people, however, still think it was.  YMMV.

AllMusic tells the continuing tale of Jay Ferguson:  he and Mark Andes left Spirit in 1971 to form the band Jo Jo Gunne, which, like Spirit, hit the top 40 exactly once.  “Run Run Run” hit the top 30 in 1972, and that was pretty much it for the band’s success.  When they disbanded in 1975, Mr. Ferguson went solo.

Jay Ferguson’s solo career is likely best known for the top ten hit “Thunder Island”, which appeared on his second album, which had the same name.  The follow-up to that album was Real Life Ain’t This Way, which, among other things, features Mr. Ferguson exemplifying a certain type of 70s look.

Album cover of Real Life Ain't This Way by Jay Ferguson.
(Real Life Ain’t This Way peaked at #86 on Billboard’s Top LPs and Tape chart. Album ℗1979 Asylum Records.)

The Single

The one charting single from Real Life Ain’t This Way was “Shakedown Cruise”.  There are other interpretations of the song online, but Genius includes Mr. Ferguson’s own explanation of where the song came from:

It was sort of my ‘Captain Blood meets S. Clay Wilson’ song. I was always a fan of the old Errol Flynn swashbuckling pirate movies, and S. Clay Wilson – for anyone familiar with R. Crumb comics – he did these outrageous comic strips called ‘Captain Pissgum and Pervert Pirates’ – incredible, over the top and pornographic cartoons. So, somewhere in the middle of that comes ‘Shakedown Cruise’. It’s still one of my favorites.

It should be noted that, if one looks at Amazon, “Shakedown Cruise” may be found on some yacht rock compilation.  This song is certified nyacht.*

Chart History

“Shakedown Cruise” debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100 the week ending May 5, 1979 (chart | website) at a decent starting position of #77.  Seven weeks later, it would spend the first of three weeks at its peak position of #31 (chart | website).  In all, the song spent 14 weeks on the charts, or just over three months.

Jay Ferguson After “Shakedown Cruise”

As it turned out, “Shakedown Cruise” would be Jay Ferguson’s final Hot 100 hit.  A label change and two more albums followed after, but neither was successful.  Don’t feel too bad for Mr. Ferguson, though:  in the years since, he has made a name for himself as a soundtrack composer.  IMDB lists all his credits, but the most notable name you’ll find is likely NCIS: Los Angeles; Mr. Ferguson is listed as composer for 306 out of the 323 episodes that series had.

And if you enjoy listening to his songs on the radio, you can likely find “Thunder Island” playing occasionally.  It would be nice if a station would give “Shakedown Cruise” a spin again.

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* Some people have different ideas as to what constitutes yacht rock, but I defer here to the people who defined the term.
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