Though he never scored a hit despite recording for a number of high profile labels and was admittedly – and proudly – a Wynonie Harris clone, the colorful and irrepressible H-Bomb Ferguson managed to outlast almost all of his contemporaries and become something of a cult figure by the dawn of the next century… a last link to the days when rock ‘n’ roll was as unhinged as the artists who made it.

Robert Ferguson was the seventh of twelve children born to a part-time minister who was supportive of his son’s musical education… provided it was focused on the church. Like many kids who are wiser than their elders, Bob wasn’t falling for the promotional hype of heaven and life everlasting when there was a chance that a more enjoyable life might be wasted away if you stuck to religion here on earth and so he played the blues every chance he got, raising the ire of his old man in the process and causing young Bob to leave home in 1946 at the age of 17.

Naturally it was music he gravitated towards and after smaller gigs in his home state of South Carolina he hooked up with bandleader Joe Liggins, probably in an opening act sort of role that would have him singing one or two songs before the band played their hits. He didn’t stay long but it got him to New York where he sang far down on the bill – or unbilled – at The Baby Grand club in Harlem.

Along the way he began working with drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker who reportedly dubbed him “H-Bomb”, an apt name for somebody who sang as it his throat was stuffed with TNT. The two of them got a session for Derby Records in early 1951 and released two sides under his given name that were hardly harbingers of what was to come.

After months without a recording contract suddenly in the fall and early winter of 1951 he had more recording contracts than lawyers deem advisable, signing with Atlas Records where he debuted his full-throated Wynonie Harris imitation, as well as Prestige Records and Savoy with whom he got a regional hit in early 1952.

With such a vibrant style, derivative though it was, these labels did their best to promote him into stardom but Harris’s brand of no-holds barred shouting was fading from prominence and while Ferguson was entirely credible in the role it didn’t gain him any points for originality.

His years with Savoy were the most prolific, but aside from his first release none of his singles stirred any action, though he was able to use them to work in larger package tours which took up much of the next few years of his career as a few one-off recording sessions – including one with major label Decca – went nowhere.

By the late 1950’s he’d settled in Ohio, recording for a few smaller labels located there and playing extended gigs at local clubs which finally led to his signing in 1960 with the preeminent company in the state (and the longtime home of his idol, Harris), King Records, though the records came out on their Federal subsidiary.

The sides went nowhere as his brand of rock was long out of date, though they may have at least enabled him to continue to get local work for a few more years. But by 1963 the interest in him even around his home region had dried up and he quit music to drive a garbage truck.

He remained out of the spotlight for twenty years, a long-forgotten casualty of the transitory nature of music in general, before embarking on an unlikely comeback, playing piano – which he’d largely eschewed on his records during his heyday – and crafting a wilder image that ensured he was instantly identifiable for the colorful wigs he now wore as part of his on-stage persona.

In 1993 he finally got a proper studio album with Wiggin’ Out and guested on a live album by George Throrogood which was recorded in Cincinnati. For the next decade he was a regular at festivals and despite the ravages of emphysema which required oxygen on stage, he played gigs until just a few weeks before his death in November 2006.

Though never a star and hardly original as a musician, he was an original character of the first degree and as a result managed to carve out a lengthy and slightly improbable career that won’t soon be forgotten.
H-BOMB FERGUSON DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Atlas 1001; December, 1951)
A roaring hurricane of a song with Ferguson’s bellowing vocals and the band’s controlled din combining to practically overwhelm you with infectious enthusiasm… it’s bawdy but never obscene, simple but not crude and a demented but undeniably joyful experience. (8)

(Atlas 1001; December, 1951)
Still channeling Wynonie Harris during the best parts of this while downshifting to his normal voice during the weaker moments where not much is going on lyrically, the band aids his cause for much of it but misses an opportunity down the stretch to send this out with a bang. (5)

(Prestige 918; January, 1952)
Though Ferguson holds his own here, there’s nothing altogether special about the song itself or the performance, but the backing track featuring great rhythmic overlap by drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker and the anonymous pianist is pretty addicting. (5)

(Prestige 918; January, 1952)
The total appropriation of Wynonie Harris’s vocal tone and delivery is bad enough, but when the song itself is nothing special – slow with some clunky lyrics and no real instrumental flair – then you might as well just stick with Harris’s latest single instead and save 79 cents. (3)

(Savoy 830; January, 1952)
A fun record that never lets up for a minute as Ferguson tears through what is essentially a Wynonie Harris tribute, albeit with slightly less crude lyrics, as H-Bomb tries to seduce a girl while maintaining a furious pace fueled by a really strong turn by the band. (7)

(Savoy 830; January, 1952)
At first listen this might come across a little better than it will the more closely you pay attention, as the song’s contents are thin despite H-Bomb’s efforts to convince you otherwise, while the band plays well enough but never tries to do anything creative in the process. (5)

(Savoy 836; February, 1952)
A timely and topical song about the government’s attempted crackdown on illegal gambling told from the perspective of an enthusiast of the self-destructive pastime has a decent beat to go with the story which is a slice of life history lesson in retrospect. (6)

(Savoy 836, February, 1952)
A decent topic winds up becoming a confusing mess as Ferguson never spells the plot out clearly enough and then seems to contradict the basic premise he started with while the band doesn’t stand out much leaving H-Bomb’s vocal exhortations to try and pick up the slack. (3)

(Atlas 1005; March, 1952)
The song is lyrically poor and unimaginative, the vocal performance is typically over-the-top and derivative, but the band led by Charlie Singleton is so good that it almost negates its weaknesses and at least keeps you listening to the crudity found everywhere else. (5)

(Atlas 1005; March, 1952)
Though the pace is slowed to match Ferguson’s dejected outlook, his delivery remains far too loud and abrasive which doesn’t match the story, while the lyrics are subpar and the band adds little more than basic colors behind him. (3)

(Savoy 848; May, 1952)
Going further than usual in his adoration of Wynonie Harris, this song steals its theme from one Harris hit, and its structure from another, without adding anything new to make it stand out beyond a few decent lines and a nice sax solo. (5)

(Savoy 848; May, 1952)
Yet another blatant Harris re-write, this time of Lovin’ Machine which doesn’t come anywhere close to delivering the requisite musical, lyrical or vocal performance required to overlook the imitative qualities, not to mention it’s sloppy to boot. (3)

(Savoy 865; September, 1952)
A barely re-worked update of his past minor hit “Slowly Going Crazy” with a weaker and more out of date horn arrangement and the added “attraction” of a credited, but barely used, Varetta Dillard as the object of his affection… a better idea than execution. (4)