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There have always been been musical doppelgängers in rock ‘n’ roll, some blatantly intentional and others just sharing similar natural voices, but topping them all may have been Robert “H-Bomb” Ferguson whose vocal similarities to Wynonie Harris was uncanny at times.

Whether this was a wise career move remained to be seen, especially as Harris’s star began to dim from the luminous glow he emitted a few years back. But if nothing else fans of that distinct approach could take heart in the fact that if Harris’s material began to dip, or he was saddled with unsupportive bands or arrangements, from now on there’d at least be a viable alternative to get you through the next few months before Wynonie got to try again.

Unfortunately though if Ferguson chose the wrong template for his attempts to mimic his idol then we’re just have another mediocre record to criticize while waiting for one or both of them to deliver the kind of hold-on-for-dear-life records you’ve come to rely on.


When I First Saw You I Knew You Were Meant For Me
When it comes to assessing vocal abilities on a technical level, Wynonie Harris usually falls a little short. He had a strong voice for sure, a bellowing delivery and a good – though sometimes erratic – sense of rhythm, but aside from the sheer power of his vocal chords, his greatest strength was found in the rakish charm he conveyed when he sang.

The naughtier the subject, the more he seemed to enjoy singing it, and the more most of his fans liked hearing it.

But while he could still be good on more mundane topics, slower tempos and songs lacking ostentatious lyrics, his ability to tip the scales and win you over on these kinds of records was inconsistent at best.

The reason for this was his delivery tended to be rather one-dimensional and monotonous, especially the more of him you heard. He rarely changed his approach, preferring the predictable rise and fall technique where his voice swells for no reason before deflating again as the line comes to a close. At one point that approach must’ve gotten a good response on stage, where his sudden increasing volume played with an enthusiastic audience’s unsober state of mind, but on record without the social – or liquid – stimulants of a crowd in communal thrall to a performer, it comes across as rather stale.

But because Harris did this so often on records it was something that H-Bomb Ferguson was bound to pick up on as he does on My Love, an already unexceptional composition made all the more routine by his eerily accurate Harris impersonation.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when it’s this close to the main source it’s usually called artistic plagiarism.

Life Just Ain’t What It Seems
On the flip side Ferguson was bolstered by a good arrangement featuring a mesmerizing rhythm created by his pal Jack “The Bear” Parker – who gave him his H-Bomb nickname – and the pianist working in lockstep, but on this side there’s not much opportunity for them to add anything of note.

The song starts off with Pinky Williams’ alto sax slowly emitting notes like smoke from a cigarette after which we get the same two instruments, drums and piano, that shone on the other side but here they’re stuck with a plodding pace that does them no favors. Though the piano definitely tries to spice things up behind H-Bomb it remains merely window dressing for the creeping pace Ferguson sets with his vocals.

Of course it doesn’t help that My Love is a Harris pastiche not just in vocal delivery, but also lyrically, as he lifts lines we recognize from past singles, some of which were admittedly of the free-floating verse variety, but which are identifiable as coming from Wynonie’s repertoire. One of them has had a few words twisted into something else to make sense – “tell her all about your future and about your used to be” – but while it modestly succeeds on that level it doesn’t fit into the rhyme scheme because of how it just got airlifted in from someplace else.

Because of all this it’s not so much an H-Bomb Ferguson cut at all, but practically a Wynonie Harris record incognito.

We can credit Ferguson for doing a good job invoking the spirit of Harris, but even if it was Wynonie himself we’d have the same problems with this as a performance. There’s not much plot, the slow pace drags out what’s there beyond tolerance and without any sizzling instrumental bite – the best moments coming from the sax responses to each line, but lacking a solo to alleviate the pressure on Ferguson to carry the record – it becomes an exercise in endurance rather than excitement.

If You Ever Get This Feeling
Maybe you can’t altogether blame Prestige Records, whose experience in rock ‘n’ roll was nonexistent, for choosing this from among the seven remaining sides that H-Bomb Ferguson reputedly cut for them in December to issue as half of his one and only single for the label.

After all, though they were primarily a jazz label they had to know of Wynonie Harris’s success over the past few years and when you had someone who was a dead ringer for him vocally it couldn’t hurt to try and lure in some unsuspecting customers thinking they were getting Harris – or a reasonable facsimile – in the bargain.

But if any of them had taken a step back they’d see the folly in this. Prestige wasn’t Harris’s label, Ferguson wasn’t Harris’s name and so the resemblance would largely go unnoticed by the masses simply because who in that fan base was actively looking for such connections on this label by this artist?

As for H-Bomb himself, while a natural similarity to another singer is fine, there’s nothing to be gained if you simply offer up slavish imitations of someone else. Years down the road Mick Jagger may have harbored fantasies to sound like Don Covay, but for the most part he tempered that by developing his own quirks that gradually made the Covay-lifts recede into the background.

But here on My Love Ferguson might just as well being singing the title line TO Wynonie Harris, professing his undying devotion to the defining rock star of the late 1940’s.

But those kind of love letters, while a nice tribute, are still something best kept private between them… or if you are going to air them in public it’s probably best to do so with a much better song than this one.


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