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Though we’ve had some stellar introductions to artists in rock’s first four years, with some Number One hits and all-time classics scattered among them, it’s doubtful that any were quite as brash in announcing to the world their intent as this one. *

When all is said and done, Robert “H-Bomb” Ferguson may only play a minor role in rock’s story, but it’s entirely possible that nobody in its long history embraced the attitude of the music as wholeheartedly as he did.


* = Ferguson released two singles on Derby earlier in 1951 that we skipped over as they were on the stylistic border of rock, though we may go back and include them retroactively in the future.

Do You Feel The Same?
When people talk about musical influence there’s rarely a consensus on what that entails.

Too often you look to those who sound exactly like somebody else, which is far too narrow and limiting a definition to suffice. Furthermore, it’s rare that an artist who slavishly recreates another’s entire persona is going to ever make a name for themselves artistically.

If you doubt this, ask H-Bomb Ferguson who modeled himself so closely on Wynonie Harris that should Harris have ever wanted to ease into retirement (a laughable scenario, but bear with me…) then he could’ve easily handed over his bookings to Ferguson and it’d be hard to notice the difference.

Both men shouted with lusty enthusiasm, bellowing lyrics that boasted of their own prowess in all aspects of life while disregarding any naysayers who felt that such unbridled braggadocio was crass, uncouth or off-putting.

In 1948 or ‘49 Ferguson might’ve been a star with this kind of approach (or he might’ve been assassinated by Harris, or King Records’ owner Syd Nathan for cutting in on their action) but by the tail end of 1951 it’s quite possible that Wynonie Harris welcomed an unapologetic imitator, for it was a public reminder of the sway that he’d once held over a generation of rock fans who were in the process of moving on in life while being replaced by their younger siblings who had little need for a lecherous roustabout from days gone by.

But while the timing might not have been ideal for Ferguson to take advantage of his obvious similarities to Harris, it wasn’t necessarily the worst thing to do simply because Harris himself had been more inconsistent over the last year, both artistically and commercially, and so there was now an increasingly open slot in the rock lineup for somebody as uncompromising as Harris had been.

To his credit Ferguson wastes no time in presenting his résumé with the torrid Rock, H-Bomb Rock, an egotistical, hard-charging, unapologetic declaration of his credentials.

Exactly the kind of thing Wynonie Harris would’ve approved of.


Rock In The Morning, Rock In The Night
Make no mistake about it, this song was crafted to hit all of the important markers for a rock song of its day. Maybe it’s a little too calculating for some ears as a result, but when they do it with such precision, confidence and panache, it’s kind of hard to complain too much that you’re being manipulated.

It starts with a rolling piano boogie, not pushed too far into the forefront to let the instruments draw attention away from the star, but as a mood setter it works great, pulling you in at full gallop and letting the momentum it creates lead into everything that follows.

What follows is a spirited back and forth between the band chanting Rock, H-Bomb Rock (as if he needed the encouragement!), while Ferguson answers them in what was surely written out beforehand but which comes across more as the ad-libbed exclamations of somebody with an overabundance of confidence and a complete lack of discretion… a dangerous, but potentially exhilarating, combination in the right hands.

Naturally this kind of song doesn’t have much depth to it in terms of story, that is if you can locate a story in between Ferguson’s full-throated roars. Ostensibly it’s an advertisement for his own legend, but even the lines themselves take a back seat to the fervor with which they’re delivered… the aural equivalent of a blowtorch being fueled with pure grain alcohol.

Though it’s a well-constructed record – if not quite measured enough to be a well-constructed song – that features sax man Charlie Singleton who impressed us a few years back but is only now about to get further opportunities to build on that promising start, blowing up a storm during the break to match H-Bomb’s vigorous performance, there’s not much more to it than just creating a commotion.

But as musical commotions go this is pretty damn good, as everyone is on the same page throughout the song, blasting away with a demented gleam in their eyes. But what impresses – in large part because it’s so surprising – is how each participant is taking their turn without overstepping their bounds, making sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts with how single-minded they are in achieving their goals of blowing the doors off the studio.

It’s a hurricane of a song, a whirlwind of focused energy, landing all of their power punches with accuracy while dispensing with jabs, fancy footwork and defense altogether. Led by Ferguson’s cocky charm and indestructible lungs they batter you senseless from pillar to post but you welcome the workout just the same because it’s not every day a record gets your heart pumping as vigorously as this.


Tell Me When To Stop
Originality counts for a lot in rock ‘n’ roll and there’s nothing about this record, or this artist, that could be called original.

He’s as close to a facsimile of another act as we’ve ever seen. Even Little Willie Littlefield being steered into Amos Milburn territory early in his career retained enough unique characteristics to set himself apart until he could get his legs under him and forge his own path.

H-Bomb Ferguson on the other hand is one step above a tribute artist playing county fairs or Elvis impersonators haunting the Vegas strip in their rhinestone jump-suits. After hearing this you almost wouldn’t be surprised to find that he had slipped into the dry cleaners after closing and picked up Harris’s suit to wear.

Yet as copycats go, Ferguson is the top cat of them all.

As Rock, H-Bomb Rock shows, his enthusiasm knows no bounds, his band is never just going through the motions and while his hollered vocals may be derivative, his skill in delivering that kind of performance convincingly is nearly as effective as the source itself.

Most important of all though is the fact his intentions are undeniably genuine.

That’s what’s so often missing from an imitation… that sense of all-consuming love and respect for the originator’s style and a sincere feeling that by embodying their persona so completely when they step to the microphone they are paying their idol the ultimate tribute.

Maybe it meant less and less the further we get from the 1940’s heyday of rock’s first mega-star, but for those who miss the days of this kind of hellbent vocal style you could at least take comfort in the fact that if you can no longer get the kind of Wynonie Harris record you crave each time out, H-Bomb Ferguson will make sure he gives you the next best thing… or die trying.


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