He was born on Saint Helena Island off the coast of South Carolina. His mother is of the Gullah people and John grew up with the old ways all around him. He began playing professional at the age of five, playing church music and often out-seating musicians ten times his age! He was a featured entertainer on the Low Country Sing on Charleston TV, and appearing with his three sisters (The Ferguson Sisters---a gospel trio). He was also featured on stage every morning at school where the principal found that live music kept the students civilized before the start of class.