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SAVOY 848; MAY 1952



A few years back when the ranks of rock artists was a lot thinner than it is today, there’d be times when one month’s releases might be a little lacking… maybe there were too many instrumentals or a handful of mild ballads to wade through… and you’d be anxiously waiting for a fire breathing artist to come along and give the airwaves a jolt.

Nobody was more reliable in that regard than Wynonie Harris, for while not all of his records were incendiary masterpieces, chances are his vocal approach alone will at least singe your eyebrows and remind people of rock’s ability to stir a crowd.

By 1952 there were more than enough artists on the scene to ensure that dry spells of ribald rockers were no longer an issue, which makes the re-appearance of Harris’s most adept student, H-Bomb Ferguson, a little less vital, especially when he was now essentially re-writing Harris’s hits from years gone by and hoping either no one would notice… or perhaps more trouble was he was hoping that everyone would recognize it and he’d get the same response with it that his idol once had all those years ago.


Is All My Brothers Here?
The thing we have to remember when listening to music is that all artists were once fans themselves and dreamed – as kids do – of replicating their heroes and basking in their glory as if it were them on stage instead.

Usually though as those kids grow up and start performing themselves they develop their own style and utilize their own creative strengths rather than merely borrowing somebody else’s.

Sure there will always be vestiges of another artist’s influences in people’s work, be it as songwriters, singers or in general presentation… but H-Bomb Ferguson didn’t just use Wynonie Harris as a template for one of those areas, but rather he adopting Harris’s techniques in all three ways, something which reaches its apex on Preachin’ The Blues.

Well, I suppose someone will point out that he didn’t write this song himself, but it clearly was written with either Ferguson or Harris – or both – in mind because melodically this is essentially Bloodshot Eyes, a great song that Harris actually covered but had one of his last hits with, while thematically this is more or less a revised Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well, the first #1 hit of Harris’s career back in 1945 when he was still singing for Lucky Millinder.

The combined effect of those two sources, along with Ferguson’s ever-present throaty roar that was designed to imitate Wynonie to the letter, gives this an eerie feeling of déjà vu while at the same all but ensures that it won’t become a hit in its own right because there’s very little original about it.


He Says He’s Livin’ Right
Because the song doesn’t sound fresh in the usual ways – melody, rhythm, even instrumentation or vocal cadences – what’s going to carry this record or cause it to sink under the weight of its baggage is the effectiveness of the lyrics and Ferguson’s delight in revealing the “new” story.

With the latter we rarely have to worry, as H-Bomb usually approached singing with the fervor of a man who spent three years in solitary confinement suddenly being let outside and escorted directly into a brothel.

For the first part of Preachin’ The Blues he lives up to that reputation, shouting up a storm on the intro and then settling into that familiar rhythmic chanting that Harris had made famous.

It still wouldn’t be anything but a glorified tribute band performance though if not for a better than expected storyline with some juicy lyrics that keep you invested in the record even if we know the plot twists are going to be right out of the Harris playbook.

Ferguson’s role here is as the preacher – albeit one who sounds as if he’s been sampling too much of the sacramental wine himself before the service – and during his sermon he’s laying into the men of the church for their sinful behavior, much of which he probably joined them in doing it should be said.

The best lines though come when he turns his attention to the women and berates them for their own violation of commandments. His mock disgust over their actions comprise his best moments as he’s bound to get you grinning at his audacity in how he presents it all.

By the sounds of it his congregation are a bunch of degenerates who come to church hiding their liquor bottles on them to take nips when no one is looking. Unfortunately they run out of good ideas halfway through and merely repeat the same charges – and lines – after the sax break which is at least a rip-roaring effort by Purvis Henderson.

None of this contains anything new of course, but also nothing that isn’t at least mildly enjoyable to sit through unless you’re the one being berated for your own extracurricular activities.


You Ain’t No Saints Yourself
While the imitative nature of the song is obviously going to detract from the overall impression this leaves, the other reason why this can’t quite live up to its prototypes is the fact that the selling point of the song as written is how they lead up to profanity (if you want to call “Hell” a swear word) before substituting a pause, a drum kick and an alternate word – “Well” – but do so in a way that doesn’t relish the naughty nature of the idea itself.

This too was lifted directly from Harris, but whereas he sold it with relish, Ferguson and the band sort of go through the motions with it on Preachin’ The Blues, which mirrors the lagging enthusiasm as the song goes on, surely coming to realize that everyone knows what’s coming and thus won’t be titilated by actually hearing it.

The same can be said of the record itself, yet another example of the public being fully aware of what Ferguson is doing to the point where there’s no longer any surprise in hearing him do it.


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