Regina Ferguson
Austin Nelson

Regina Ferguson Cultivates Rich Topanga Canyon Style [Interview]


Regina Ferguson learned to play guitar because of a boy. "When I was in sixth grade, I told a boy that I liked him and that I played guitar, so I had to teach myself," she explains with a laugh. And thank goodness she did. 

Across four singles, samples of her forthcoming debut LP, Fortune, the singer-songwriter cultivates a sound that harkens to Laurel Canyon, dipped in the folk-rock of the '60s and '70s out of Topanga Canyon. From "Through the Pines" to her newest release, "Fortune," her work so far hints at a musician coming into their own and flying free.

Originally from rural Pennsylvania, Ferguson is one of 11 children. "We were all very musical, but I'm the only one who has gone on to pursue it," she says. In her youth, she grew up in theatre, church, and sports, and by the time she was 14, she'd written her first songs. One of those was a love song dedicated to her sister and her military husband. "That song remains dear to me. I can't say it was anything spectacular, but songwriting is something that the more you do, the better you get."

Ferguson was like any 14-year-old from a rural community: she grew up on country radio greats like Shania and The Chicks. She often took to singing "Landslide," a Fleetwood Mac original, and longing to become part of their world. Once she moved to Charleston, South Carolina, Ferguson's tastes shifted to include folk-rock, bluegrass, and the music of Appalachia, as well as artists like Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson.


While forging her own corner in the Charleston music scene, which gave birth to such acts as Shovels & Rope, Ferguson was itching for something different. "I was at a crossroads after being in Charleston for a long time and wanting to get out of singing covers. I did write music there, and I did have an original band, but I wasn't really inspired," she says. "I wasn't writing music that I felt could be timeless."

Sunny SoCal, as opposed to Nashville, enchanted her, and she packed up her life and headed west. "Most of my friends were touring and sleeping in their vans, and I was thinking to myself, 'Okay, how can I avoid touring for three years and sleeping in a van?' Obviously, everybody puts in the legwork," she continues, "but it's a lot harder when you're working in an industry with little connection." 

In due time, she began meeting other like-minded musicians and assembling a band. Stars aligned, and Ferguson found herself living the life she dreamed of. "I knew that moving here, it would be a little tough to meet people. But I felt like I would meet the right people," she says. "And pretty quickly within a few months of living here and just playing a few little local things, I met people who are doing things and making music. It's a small-knit community, and the musicians here are talented."


Settling in Topanga Canyon -- known for its hotbed of creative talent, from Linda Ronstadt to Neil Young - she was more than well-versed in the community's vast musical heritage. Quite recently, she played a Topanga Canyon tribute show, performing covers of Gram Parsons and Young, and put out a version of Young's "Out on the Weekend" on her YouTube channel.

"Neil obviously wrote a few of his records in Topanga Canyon, and there was the Laurel Canyon scene that was definitely thriving for musicians. The people who pioneered this -- what today we call Americana -- [were making] what was then folk-rock-country."

When you hear Ferguson sweetly singing "Through the Pines," you get the sense that you're witnessing a quiet greatness seeping through the guitar's thick chords. Written on her first trip to Lake Tahoe, she was completely awe-struck by its sterling beauty and began putting pen to paper. "I grew up driving on I-95, and I didn't grow up with lakes," she says. A huge valley of pines stretched out before her, and "this wind came through the valleys, and it sounded like a train." One lyric, in particular, swept over her: "They say it gets easier with time / To leave a place like this behind."

Such simple, homegrown lyricism characterizes much of her work, always nestled in a bedrock of rollicking folk-rock sensibilities and smooth lead vocals. With "Two Reasons," Ferguson mines heartache from a previous relationship, as she ponders, "How do you know how deep a heartache if you don't give in?"



This question presents the song's direct premise of "not understanding why things happen the way that they do - but having trust that things are divine timing and things are working out as they're supposed to. It's something that you might not see while it's happening," she says. Despite all the pain, it was worth it in the end.

Another new cut, "Canyon Town" demonstrates a similar knack for brawny, emotionally-packed storytelling. On the road again, Ferguson spent time in Montana when her fiancee came out to join her. One afternoon, they headed to Yellowstone National Park, and she was once again bowled over by the beauty surrounding her. "We were driving in the car, and we came around this bend. Stretched out in front of me was this huge canyon with a river running through it to a little town at the bottom. It was such a nice moment," she says. "It made me feel really grateful to have my partner there with me."


In the accompanying video, directed by frequent collaborator Mara Whitehead, two dancers Ryan Lee and Ryan Green take center stage, mostly "because my other music videos had a lot of me in them," she laughs. "We had a lot of fun storyboarding and finding the dancers." The visual, shot in Mojave National Preserve, as well as Malibu and Topanga Canyon, embodies a "really raw vibe" to pair with the song's natural feel.

Fortune promises to follow a similar vein. Produced by Matt Linesch in his Infinitespin studio in Sherman Oaks, the album was recorded all on analog, giving it a rustic veneer. 10 songs, all of which she wrote herself, were split across five days in the studio. With an impressive roster of players -- Aaron Embry (keys), Ben Peeler (pedal steel, steel guitars), Sam Bobby (guitar, dobro), Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes (drums), Brett Simon (bass) and Fernando Perdamo (lead guitar) -- the songs magically came to life. 

"Recording live was just my way of keeping the soul of the songs," she says. "This album was a mission. It was something I worked on for a long time. The songs are all really personal to me."



Fortune drops sometime later this year.


Here are Regina Ferguson's upcoming shows:

5/21 -- Grand Ole Echo (The Echo) -- Echo Park, CA


5/27 -- Topanga Days Festival 2023 (Main Stage) -- Topanga, CA

8/5 -- Wildlands Festival -- Big Sky, Montana


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