Meet the Writer Behind ‘The Office’ Theme Song

Artist and musician Jay Ferguson, the writer behind The Office theme song, had a storied musical career long before he set the tone for one of America’s most beloved shows.

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Ferguson was a rock star before he was a composer. A native of Los Angeles, his early interest in music inspired him to pick up a banjo, joining forces with his brother, fiddler Tom Ferguson, to form the band The Oat Hill Stump Straddlers when they were just teens. This set the stage for his later career in various bands, including Spirit, a rock band formed by drummer Ed Cassidy, his stepson Randy California, Mark Andes, and John Locke, with Ferguson signing on last and ultimately becoming the lead vocalist.

Founded in 1967, Spirit recorded 14 studio albums up until they disbanded in 1997, following the release of their 1996 album, California Blues. Their first two albums, the 1968 self-titled debut, and the 1969 followup, The Family That Plays Together, both debuted inside the top 30 on the Billboard 200 and they had a top 25 hit with “I Got a Line on You.” Ferguson was in the band off and on from 1967 through 1985 where he wrote many of the songs on their first album with California. The band also supplied many of the instrumentals that are featured on the soundtrack of the 1969 film Model Shop, written by French filmmaker Jacques Demy.

In 1971, Ferguson set the stage for the next phase of his career when he and Andes stepped away from Spirit to form their own band, Jo Jo Gunne, where Ferguson was the sole songwriter and lead vocalist. Named after a song by Chuck Berry, their self-titled debut album was released in 1972 and featured the lead single “Run Run Run,” which became a top 10 hit in the United Kingdom. After a series of personnel changes and the release of three additional studio albums, Jo Jo Gunne disbanded in 1974.

From there, Ferguson set off on a solo career, working as a musician on various projects, including playing piano and lending background vocals on Joe Walsh’s live album, You Can’t Argue With a Sick Mind, before releasing his own solo studio albums. The title track of his 1978 sophomore album, Thunder Island, reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Following the release of his final solo album in 1982, White Noise, Ferguson turned his attention to composing music for soundtracks.

Over the past 40 years, Ferguson has written songs that have appeared in NCIS: Los Angeles, The Terminator, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child to name a few. But his biggest claim to fame as a composer is penning the theme song for The Office, the distinct blend of piano and drums now known around the world. After getting a call from his agent about submitting songs for consideration, Ferguson had crafted a few compositions to pitch to the team at NBC—but the one he almost didn’t send became the now-famous theme song. “I sat down and I wrote songs about the concept of this show, these people in this sort of dysfunctional workplace in this midwest town,” Ferguson explains of his approach on Rock Talk Radio With Will Loomis. “This was a high-profile show. They put the call out to everybody.”

Sending in a CD with three or four songs, there was one in particular that wasn’t complete yet, but he decided to include it. “Literally, it was like a sketch … and I went ‘I’m going to put it on,'” he recalls. “So I sent it in. A couple of weeks later, I get a call back and it was one of the producers of the show [who said] ‘We kinda like that little “scah” thing you did.'” Describing the song as “bare bones,” Ferguson said he kept getting calls from the producers saying they couldn’t stop listening to the unfinished ditty on which Ferguson played all the instruments. “Finally it was like they gave up and just said ‘That’s it,'” he says. “It’s just a simple thing, but it captured the spirit of the show for them … It’s a classic.”

In addition to writing the song, Ferguson also appeared on screen as the guitarist in Kevin Malone’s band, Scrantonicity. The Office ran for nine seasons on NBC, winning Outstanding Comedy Series in 2006.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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