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After first looking at one of rock’s most unrestrained vocalists on the rousing “autobiographical” song that adorned the B-side of his first single with Atlas Records yesterday, we turn to the side that the label actually felt had the better odds of connecting with audiences.

Normally you’d assume that this meant they chose something decidedly more modest, greatly toned down, even something that could be considered low-key, and while this may technically qualify as meeting those criteria by comparison to the other half of this single, it’s only by a matter of degrees since H-Bomb Ferguson doesn’t really know the meaning of those words and lets loose once again.


Taught Me What It’s All About
Record companies – as we keep saying – are never really interested in the music they put out.

Oh sure, the major companies of this era will make sure the music fits their refined image, but while that decision may be rooted in a sense of cultural superiority, it’s also self-serving because they feel that to lower their standards will dilute the reputation of their label which will cost them respect and consequently sales in the long run.

The independent companies took a different tact, focusing on building their reputation with an entirely different audience by meeting the demand that the majors were unlikely to serve, be it country music, blues, gospel, more avant garde jazz or rock ‘n’ roll.

But each of those entities had far less interest in what they were putting out within those parameters than they’d like for you to believe. Whatever sold, they liked; whatever didn’t wasn’t worth the effort.

The exception that might prove the rule however could be newly formed Atlas Records who needed to quickly establish who they were and what constituency they were after in rather unambiguous fashion, which is why H-Bomb Ferguson was a potential goldmine for them.

Over the past four years Wynonie Harris had been one of rock’s most reliable stars on the charts, scoring eleven hits during that time on the national charts with the twelfth – and final one – right around the corner on a record (Lovin’ Machine) that had just been released.

Ferguson was as close to a Harris clone as you could find and so it was in Atlas’s best interest to take advantage of that… to actually encourage him to channel his idol the best he could on every side they laid down, hoping the similarities would draw interest and pull in sales and spins. So on I Love My Baby we get the full arsenal of tricks designed to practically get you to do a double take and go back to the jukebox and re-check the artist credit to be sure this wasn’t Wynonie Harris.

The problem was, that while that may have seemed like a faster route to scoring a hit for the company, it made for a slow uphill climb for Ferguson when it came to establishing his own identity as an artist.


I Want My Lovin’ Back
As stated, this song is slightly subdued compared to the far more raucous Rock, H-Bomb Rock, which was full-speed ahead from the moment the needle dropped, whereas this side at least has two distinct gears to it.

But even if it never hits maximum speed, there’s no lack of firepower in H-Bomb Ferguson’s vocals on I Love My Baby where he gives us that familiar smoldering mid-tempo tone Wynonie Harris used so effectively over the years, the one perched halfway between demure and menacing.

We see the Harris connection best during those moments, starting with the opening salvo where he loudly answers the rapid-fire notes coming from piano and guitar before they all settle into a more moderate groove and Ferguson’s voice shifts into (presumably) a more natural delivery for him.

Of course that delivery isn’t quite as appealing aesthetically as the Harris-derived one and so it’s not long before he’s ramping things up again, trying to fool your ears, if not your mind, into thinking this is somebody else. He does too, at least for a few seconds every time he lets out one of those patented throaty roars.

The question we keep having during this however is if we’d rather he stuck to the Harris imitation all down the line, because we’re more receptive to Wynonie’s style since we know it so well, or if we’d prefer Ferguson tried to explore the contours of his own vocal chords for a change, despite those being the weaker moments on this record.

It doesn’t help that during those stretches where he’s easing back on the Wynonie vibe he’s not giving himself very meaningful lyrics to sing, mostly just delivering variations of the title line, substituting “want”, “need” and other verbs for the word “love”.

None of it is necessarily bad, but it’s hardly very enlightening when it comes to revealing character. Furthermore you can almost picture him in your mind’s eye waiting impatiently for the chance to come leaping out of the speakers at you again and as such everything else we’re hearing is just to give us a different pace before the next lusty refrain.

Charlie Singleton’s band is working well within this rather limited structure… when Ferguson is singing at least… providing a churning groove that doesn’t dig too deep but also manages not to soft-peddle the desire H-Bomb is supposed to be conveying.

Yet when Singleton gets his solo things do get bogged down a bit as after a strong start where his tone is rough and right in the pocket, he and the baritone begin trading off and the latter’s efforts, though only a few notes, seem forced and artificial. When Ferguson comes back, rather than take things to a higher level the band eases off the gas altogether and the engineer gives us one of the first examples of the extended fade on record – a novelty for sure but one that doesn’t give us the kind of conclusion we were expecting.


Don’t Love Nobody But Me?
On one hand you have to give Ferguson, Singleton and Atlas Records a little credit for trying to modify their approach just enough to make this sound different from the heart-attack inducing flip side.

On the other hand all of these changes either are given short-shrift in the arrangement or are just not as compelling when taken individually.

The result is I Love My Baby sounds more like what you’d expect a Wynonie Harris imitator to be… partly committed and partly confused.

That’s probably unfair since his vacillating approaches within the song was surely intentional, but what can’t really be questioned is the fact that if given two options between a record that goes all-in on the Harris similarities or one which attempts to soft-peddle it just a little, we’ll take the side that leaves no doubt as to the debt they owe the notorious Mr. Blues.

What that means for Ferguson however – and for Atlas had he remained with them longer than he did – is that his chance to establish a name for himself, and more importantly, an image for himself, is quickly disappearing.

For good or for ill, H-Bomb Ferguson was now going to be seen as a doppelganger in a market with a gradually declining interest in the real thing.


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