I was born James Warner Ferguson in Jefferson City, Missouri on December 10, 1950, the third child of James Austin and Fern Webb Ferguson. My father had been a high-school music teacher for much of the previous two decades, but by the time I was born, he had gone into church music. Before my second birthday, my family moved to South Carolina, where Dad took a music position in a large metropolitan church. I began singing in the childrens' choir when I was four years old. (Since Dad was in charge of the music program, I didn't miss many rehearsals.) When I got a little older, my parents started me on piano lessons with the church organist, but even though I continued the piano lessons into my teens, I was always more interested in singing.
In my junior year of high school, I began studying voice with a teacher at the University of South Carolina. Then, during my senior year, I bought a string bass. The impetus for that purchase was the score of a youth musical being performed at church. It called for a bass in the rhythm section, and though Dad had never wanted me in popular music because of the stereotyped performer's lifestyle, he let me play for the youth choir. I continued my voice study at Carolina, and after I graduated from high school, I entered the School of Music with a major in voice. It wasn't until after my freshman year that I started my first formal bass lessons.