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The inevitable rise and fall of artists and record labels is one of the ongoing themes of this project, sort of a sideshow to the main object lesson of discerning how those rises and falls contributed to the evolution of the rock ‘n’ roll genre as whole.

While H-Bomb Ferguson had never risen up quite high enough to have a precipitious fall, the same can’t be said for the label he’s on, as once upon a time Savoy Records was near the top of the heap when it came to companies specializing in rock.

Since then we’ve watched Herman Lubinsky sow the seeds of his label’s own destruction thanks to his personal shortcomings as a human being… his miserly tendencies, his attempts to blackmail his producers which drove the most talented of them away, and most crucially his failure to take advantage of the company’s high profile to recruit and keep promising artists to bolster his roster as time went on.

They’re not quite finished as a viable outlet for rock, but even when they occasionally have a good idea, such as bringing together two of their remaining acts for a duet, they somehow manage to ensure it falls short.


Won’t Come Back Home
Duets occupy a strange place in music history. Those who were regular tandems have a clear advantage as their work was always geared towards capitalizing on their respective individual strengths while also focused on blending their talents seamlessly.

By contrast those who were thrown together by record companies to try and come up with a hit based on the novelty of pairing two solo stars together, or in trying to use a bigger name to bolster the reputation of a less recognizable one, were just hoping there’d be some palpable chemistry on a song that may or may not be worth the effort.

In the case of H-Bomb Ferguson and Varetta Dillard however, there seems to be another goal which is just to double-down on each of their prospects, the thinking surely being that if Tortured Love drew even a little interest it would benefit both artists the next time out as solo acts, not to mention give Savoy another outlet for a follow-up record which paired them together again.

Or should we instead say “paired them together again and actually LET THEM sing with each other” since Varetta Dillard, despite having her name prominently included in the label credits, is more or less a muted observer to whatever H-Bomb Ferguson is up to.

What’s he up to, you ask?

Well, it turns out he’s simply giving us a variation of one of his past releases.


I’m Going Crazy… Again!
At the start of 1952 there were not many more prolific recording acts than Robert “H-Bomb” Ferguson who appeared on a multitude of labels at the same time before settling in at Savoy. He had some minor regional hits however but even so he was rightly seen as a second tier imitator of Wynonie Harris, whose prominence as a rock star, even arguably the most crucial early rock star, was fading fast.

It didn’t help that he had even less nuance and stylistic variety as Harris, who himself was never known for being particularly versatile, and yet because that kind of brash persona was no longer as common Ferguson remained skilled enough at what he did to be a welcome sight on the release roles all the same.

Unfortunately though when this came out astute listeners would get a nagging feeling they’d heard it before. In January Savoy issued Slowly Going Crazy by Ferguson which contains the same lurching melody, the same basic topic and in many cases the same lyrics as he sings here.

Of course that record had been a small hit in New York precisely because did most everything significantly better than Tortured Love, which sounds a couple years out of date with the way they use the horns during the verses.

Things improve during the solo, which is a little more up to date stylistically as well as being more rousing in general, but while the horns definitely form the most prominent musical attributes of this record, the focus still is on the story and Ferguson’s delivery which presents the same exact situation… a girl driving H-Bomb crazy by her inattentiveness… as what we’ve heard before.

The melodic rise and fall is the same and while in both songs Ferguson’s lyrical focus sort of sputters out, the problem here is that we’re being promised something in that regard that he never delivers, namely giving Varetta Dillard a role in the story.

Instead she’s merely the object of his attention, calling her out by name multiple times and saying how her rejection of him is the source of his problems.

Actually that’s not entirely true, the real problem is that Dillard gets just two spoken lines, the first being a sassy “Is that what I’m doin’ to you, daddy?”, which gives us hope that she’s going to jump in and refute his claims with a sharp tongue and biting wit. Even if she didn’t sing at all, a record featuring spoken asides can work just as well, as we’ll find out down the road with Big Maybelle and Rose Marie McCoy. But after that lone interjection by Varetta here, she bows out until the very end when she dismisses him with a carefree farewell, unconcerned about his plight.

We’ll give them this much… it’s interesting if nothing else. But another word for that is strange… or unusual… or in this case “hardly marketable”.

It’s less a duet than a case of false advertising and considering there’s nothing new about the song itself, and what’s there is not even as good as its source material, it’s safe to say this was at best a failed experiment and at worst a cheap exploitative misfire.


All Of My Love Is Gone
Sometimes it’s easy to see what people were thinking when it came to putting together a record like this, but in this case it’s all but impossible.

Was this idea H-Bomb Ferguson’s doing where he’d written it with all of the mentions of Dillard in the lyrics – if so then we have to assume he had a major crush on her in real life. Or was he coaxed into doing this by Savoy and more or less ad-libbed the incessant cries for her specifically?

If Savoy DID think Tortured Love was a strong bet for commercial interest, then what were they basing that belief on? It can’t be the song itself, regurgitated as it is, especially when the arrangement is further behind the curve than its ten month old predecessor, and while moderately successful was still not the best of his sides aesthetically back then.

That must mean they think Dillard’s mere name on the label is a drawing card seeing as how she was enjoying her first hit this past summer with Easy Easy Baby and therefore hoping that her mere presence on this record would help to revive Ferguson’s diminishing fortunes.

But in presenting this the way they do they were bound to upset those very fans they hoped to lure in who’d be none too pleased that Dillard makes what can barely be called a cameo appearance here and is otherwise irrelevant to the entire record.

However, when her first brief appearance also qualifies as the single best moment on said record, maybe she earns that credit after all.

Even so, one spoken line, while enough to bring a smirk to your face, is hardly enough to redeem it and not nearly enough to recommend it for anything other than its curiosity factor.


(Visit the Artist pages of H-Bomb Ferguson as well as Varetta Dillard for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)