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One of the truths of human existence is how the familiar becomes “normal” to those who experience it, while the unfamiliar seems perpetually strange.

People growing up in urban areas are so used to the hustle and bustle, the crowds, tall buildings and noise that they don’t bat an eye at any of it, but for those who spent their time in the suburbs or out in the country it’s easy to see why the city can be such a daunting place to enter, full of sights and sounds that put them on edge.

H-Bomb Ferguson was from South Carolina and so his upbringing was devoid of those things, but since becoming a musician he’d spent much of his time in cities either recording or performing and so he had experienced both environments.

Since the rock audience fell somewhat equally into those two categories a song on the subject would connect with those who lived in those environs while at the same reinforcing the stereotypes held by those who stayed far away from any place that big, giving both constituencies reason to feel as though he was speaking directly to them.


Come To The City
Good ideas are only as good as the execution when it comes to delivering those ideas.

In real life that means no matter what “get rich” scheme you came up with in drunken brainstorm you actually need practical experience to construct a solid business model, to gauge expenses and estimate productivity before you even get started selling deep fried cereal or aquatic cars to the masses.

In music this same requirement means that just having an intriguing premise to sing about isn’t enough, you need to make that story clear to listeners with memorable lines that advance the plot while focusing on interesting characters to get an audience to identify with their plight.

Oh yeah, good music doesn’t hurt either, FWIW.

It’s fairly evident that most of these things are what Big City Blues was lacking. The concept itself is strong while H-Bomb Ferguson makes for a fairly genial host but it goes off the rails by never bothering to figure out what its entire point is.

An invitation? A warning? Or just an ambiguous outline with contradictions galore trying to grab your attention with some flamboyantly sung lines that add up to very little.


If You Was Ever On The Scene
The basic set-up seems to be that Ferguson is friends with a girl from back home who he’s inviting to the city to get a job there. Then again it might be something else entirely. The problem is Ferguson never makes any of this very clear.

But assuming that’s the basic concept, what might be intended as good career advice soon doubles back on itself as Ferguson tells her – and us – that her friends from back home won’t like her going and then adds she’ll be shipped back there if she hangs out on the corner.

For a second you think maybe he’s talking about prostitution – was that her job back in the sticks? – but then you realize that he’s actually putting down her small town friends who don’t actually do much but hang out on the corners themselves and he’s trying to get her away from that.

Okay, fine, he’s still got her best interests at heart it would seem.

But then in what has to be one of the more inexplicable turnabouts on record, Ferguson informs her that her two-faced friends will steal from her while smiling in her face.

Are these the same friends from back home? Are they new acquaintances she’ll make in the city? Now he gets increasingly agitated the more he goes on about these “dirty thieves”, delivering some of the best lines on Big City Blues but in the process making the entire plot dissolve into a confusing mess.

We get no resolution because there was never a plot to begin with outside of a vague “small town girl in the big city” theme. The slow pace and AAB structure means there’s not nearly enough room to expound on any of the scenes and without a firm destination in mind you’re left guessing as to whether this is meant to serve as an inducement or a condemnation.

Musically the only interesting aspect is the nature of the horn section which has a vaguely New Orleans feel to them, which is frankly pretty strange considering Ferguson wasn’t from that region, nor were the musicians or the record label.

It doesn’t sound bad in passing, they play it okay in other words, but the song just kind of lurches along, no doubt trying to avoid the corner that H-Bomb and this wayward girl are loitering on while causing us to avoid getting too close to them – or this record – in the process.


They Will Rob You Every Time
With recording sessions typically taking place only a few times a year back in the early 1950’s and consisting of an average of four songs per session, there’s plenty of time to work up good material… or at least as good as an artist’s specific skill set will allow.

H-Bomb Ferguson had plenty of decent ideas along the way but was the kind of performer who always seemed more interested in drawing attention to himself for how he delivered a song rather than for what he was actually singing.

Those limitations will naturally limit his appeal as happens with Big City Blues, a song which contains just enough smoldering vocal fire to catch your ear but when you start paying closer attention there’s nothing being said to keep you interested.

It’d be one thing if the overall performance was so captivating that it wouldn’t matter if he were speaking in tongues, but this remains a fairly predictable sounding record with little to win you over.

About the only real potential benefit he has in being so abstract and confusing in the story he’s trying to put across is that a few obsessive compulsive listeners with a handful of nickels to waste might play it on the jukebox a half dozen times trying to decipher its meaning before giving up and investing the rest of their spare change in a deep frier to revolutionize breakfast or inflatable tubes to drive your DeSoto across deep puddles after a rain.

Eventually, without a better game plan in place themselves, Ferguson and his female friend will be standing on the corner in the big city themselves, both of them out of work and at risk for getting their own pockets picked.


(Visit the Artist page of H-Bomb Ferguson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)