Fergie Frederiksen – Happiness Is The Road (2011)

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Dennis “Fergie” Frederiksen was, at one point, all over the radio. Then, just like that, he was gone.

That was him, singing backup, on Survivor’s “American Heartbeat” from the band’s smash third album Eye of the Tiger in 1982 — a No. 17 follow up to the charttopping title track. Then, a year later, the Michigan native showed up as the lead singer on Le Roux’s “Carrie’s Gone,” which became a regional hit in the band’s native Louisiana while going to No. 79 nationally. In 1984, he took over as the frontman with Toto in time for Stranger in Town, sequel to the group’s six-time Grammy-winning smash Toto IV.

But when disagreements in the studio later led to Frederiksen’s ouster from Toto, all of a sudden he could be found working in the restaurant trade — completely out of music. His return to the business would come in fits and starts. There was a project with Ricky Phillips in 1994, then Frederiksen’s long-awaited solo debut Equilibrium five years later. But Fergie never regained that mid-1980s momentum, even after famously reuniting with Toto again on stage in 2007.

Next, came news that the 60-year-old had been diagnosed with in-operable liver cancer. Frederiksen reentered the studio, collaborating with longtime Survivor leader Jim Peterik on what would become this new album’s title track, hoping to frame his journey. Ultimately, he does so on Happiness Is The Road, released in Europe on Friday by Frontiers and due on Oct. 18 in North America, with an uncommon grace and positivity.

Somehow, along the way, Fergie Frederiksen started to beat cancer. Now, he has become an advocate in raising awareness of the dangers associated with Hepatitis C, a disease he struggled with until undergoing a successful treatment in 2005.

Fergie emerged, though, not just as an involved advocate, but as a sun-filled soul. Happiness Is The Road, which features producer Dennis Ward on bass, guitars, keyboards and background vocals, couldn’t sound more quintessentially uplifting, even if its 1980s-era melodic rock textures — layer upon layers of synthesizers punctuated by fleet and flashy guitar work, completed by Fergie’s now-familiar soaring vocal interplay — don’t do much to challenge expectations.

But, really, why should they? In the end, this is the sound of Fergie Frederiksen’s era, the sound of the period when he last ruled the airwaves, and it’s hard to fault him for wanting to return to it — especially after such trying and difficult times. Back then, broadly appealing tracks like “Angel,” “The One,” “First To Cry” (recently recorded by House of Lords, too) and “The Savior” probably would have been shooting out of the tops of sold-out football stadiums.

Today, they’ll just have to do as the personal testament to a ruggedly determined survivor of those times — and a charming celebration of them, too.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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