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The only inevitability in life is change. What we take for granted as a permanent institution is, in reality, only a temporary phenomenon.

In rock ‘n’ roll this is particularly true, as the constant turnover in the prime fan base ensures that there is a quick expiration date for stars which hadn’t existed before in pop music, jazz, country, gospel or blues.

With that comes a constantly evolving stylistic approach which means those types of rock records which had seemed reliably popular just yesterday will soon be considered hopelessly passé.

Knowing this, if you were investing in the futures market for up-and-coming rock singers in 1952, you’d have to pass on buying up shares of H-Bomb Ferguson who was intrinsically tied to the past, no matter how entertaining he might seem at a glance.


Get On My Good Time
Where to start with this one…

Do we do our now-standard reminder of how H-Bomb Ferguson’s remarkable – and intentional – similarity to Wynonie Harris’s vocal style which initially drew him notice was starting to be a hindrance to his own ongoing attempts to establish himself as a unique entity unto himself… especially as Harris’s brand of rock was fading fast as the Nineteen Fifties wore on?

Or do we focus on how Savoy Records compounded this Harris-like impersonation by failing to update the sound around such deliveries enough to give songs like Give It Up a more welcome reception in late 1952 as they might’ve with a different horn chart, maybe a guitar solo and more complex rhythmic patterns behind the bellowed vocals?

Maybe we could just let those two paragraphs on those shortcomings speak for themselves and instead wonder how Ferguson seemed to have a good topical idea here and yet apparently couldn’t decide which of the two Harris-inspired subjects (sex or boozing) was more appropriate and so he hints at one while delving into the other.

The results of that compromise may in fact be fairly good, but by making the wrong choice it certainly appears that he missed out on a chance to be really good for once.


Why Don’t You Change Your Mind?
It might help to contemplate how Robert “H-Bomb” Ferguson wrote this song.

Did he start with a basic melody – very basic actually, swiping “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In” for the intro – and just start riffing some lines and go from there? Or was he casting about for a subject and decided on this one and after scribbling down a few lyrics derived the title from what he’d started to come up with and left it at that?

Or did he start off with the title itself and then build a story around it?

If it was the latter then I think he failed, though if it were either of the other two then it’s hard to say he did anything wrong other than be slightly misleading.

The premise is that this girl is a souse… an elbow-bending, whiskey-swilling, fall-down drunk and he, none other than that model of virtue H-Bomb Ferguson himself, is going to cure her of this affliction!

Aside from being unintentionally comical that Ferguson is portraying an upright citizen concerned with somebody else’s well-being, it’s not a bad concept. The problem though is when you take into account his own reputation and the subsequent expectations of an audience seeing the title Give It Up staring them in the face, it’s inevitable those listeners are expecting something with a bit more debauchery to it than this tale.

If anything that impression is strengthened by the opening which has H-Bomb decrying her behavior leading you to assume that it’s not booze that he finds objectionable, but rather it makes us think it HAS to be the fact she’s sleeping around with other guys instead.

Think about it… in the realm of early rock ‘n’ roll at least half of the male solo stars were presented at one time or another as borderline alcoholics, and Harris made a career on that which Ferguson was now trying to capitalize on with his de facto tributes to him on record. Yet here he’s somehow trying to say that this girl’s drinking turns him off? In the context of the style he’s immersed hip-deep in, that makes little sense.

Furthermore the complaints themselves are lacking the power they’d have if the subject was sex instead, because then Ferguson wouldn’t have to be putting down the very activities he and much of the audience usually celebrated, but instead could be going out of his mind that the girl he likes was spreading her legs for every guy in town. You could even tie it into drinking to excess if you wanted, but the potential for humor, not to mention for more explosive lyrical payoffs, would dramatically increase.

Even with that mistake in judgment as a writer, H-Bomb Ferguson the singer is on solid ground here, rolling along with confidence, riding the rhythm with determination even as the arrangement could’ve been made a little tougher by ramping up the ferocity of the horn-lines, not to mention adding some much needed snarl and bite with a few nasty guitar licks.

It’s all pretty generic maybe, but records like this aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel in the first place and in spite of a slightly less powerful engine – both thematically and musically – Ferguson’s obvious comfort with this style is its biggest selling point. As long as you don’t pay too much attention to what he’s saying, it still sounds like a good time was had by all, even if he’s the one in the story ultimately trying to put a damper on our fun.


Be On Your Merry Way
Here’s the dilemma being faced with something as subjectively unimportant as grading a record like this, but which still forms the coda to all of these reviews.

Some would argue that the sound of the record pouring out of the speakers is the only thing that matters. This record does in fact sound really good. Not quite cutting edge enough musically for late 1952 to hit the bright green numbers by any means, but certainly it’s one of the better sounding sides by H-Bomb Ferguson and one we’d want to play for those who are discovering him for the first time.

Yet that can’t be all that goes into reviewing records in an historical context. We’re examining a lot of different things at once here, from how rock ‘n’ roll as a whole was progressing (which this record with its throwback sound falls short on) to how each record is advancing the career of the artist in question.

We’re also trying to discern whether or not a record was all it COULD be and whether an easily avoidable flaw should be completely overlooked in our assessment, or if we should acknowledge that they shortchanged the record and cost the listener a more enjoyable experience while also costing themselves a potential hit.

It’s not a simple science by any means, but Give It Up in particular presents an unusually difficult decision because we want to credit Ferguson the singer for a good job here yet suitably punish Ferguson the songwriter who undercut its effectiveness. Since we don’t give half-grades that means we have to choose between one that is slightly too high and one that might be just a smidge too low.

But when in doubt refer to the Scoring System which tells us based on what we’ve just written that this doesn’t quite have enough to push into the low end of the green numbers.

It’s still a good record, better than average for sure and one we’re recommending. When it comes to Ferguson’s early catalog it also happens to be something he’s only bettered twice before, but in his quest for greater glory he’s got no one but himself for falling short of reaching new heights which were certainly within his reach on this.

The lesson then is clear… stick with sex as a topic and you’ll always be better off.


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