In the past I have covered such eclectic acts as Miner, Jimmer and Wendy Colonna to name a few. While these are fine examples of indie acts making their way in the music world today, I’d like to devote today’s blog to someone who left his mark on the music world of the past: H-Bomb Ferguson, a jump-blues singer, piano and tenor saxophonist out of Cincinnati, OH.
Cincinnati is a place I can’t seem to get out of my blood and most who grow up there would agree. It’s a smaller Midwestern city with a lot of history that has produced artists ranging from Rosemary Clooney to Nick Lachey. The city is kind of an underdog in many respects, a beautiful river town that will never get the same recognition as say Chicago but is home to a world class opera, ballet, professional baseball and football teams, nationally accredited museums and a music scene with venues as eclectic as the Blue Wisp and Music Hall.
Born in Charleston, SC in 1929 H-Bomb’s father was a preacher who paid for his son’s piano lessons with the understanding that he would stick to church music. That early piano education gave way to non-sanctioned blues sessions with friends after church and gradually led H-Bomb to become one of the earliest creators of rock and roll. He began recording in the early 50s and tunes like “Good Lovin’” and “Rock H-Bomb Rock” predate even the earliest of what is considered to be the founding of rock and roll- Bill Haley and the Comet’s “Rock Around the Clock” in 1955. H-Bomb effectively retired from touring in the 70s but made various comebacks and, by the time I was introduced to him, he was regularly playing in music festivals and venues around Cincinnati.
H-Bomb made Cincinnati his home and in many ways, it was the perfect city for him to shine. In cities like New York or Philadelphia he might have gotten lost as just another relic from the 50s “do wop” scene, not even credited with being a vanguard of rock. Instead, he devoted his time to a city that rewarded him with a day in his honor and a documentary about his life and times as one of the earliest performers of rock and roll. H-Bomb, with hair as audacious as his name, is still by far one of the best live performers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
He could make a room come alive; a tiny little man with giant colorful wigs and shouting vocals could command the attention of crowded bars and inattentive restaurant patrons. His quirky style wasn’t just borrowed from the likes of Rick James or Little Richard as some kind of gimmick. He had a reason behind his showmanship, “I want the audience to go crazy and enjoy themselves,” he told The Washington Post in 1988. “Heck, if they don’t, I will anyway.”
Unfortunately, with his death in 2006 his recordings are limited to “H-Bomb Ferguson: Big City Blues, 1951-54” and “Wiggin’ Out.” “Wiggin’ Out” is worth checking out. Backed by The Medicine Men, it features 15 tracks of pure, bluesy fun- the majority written by H-Bomb. Nimble piano and sax solos weave through raucous full ensemble accompaniments. The entire album sounds like a party. Listening to it makes me feel like a small child again, sitting with my father in a bar, way too late for a school night, listening to H-Bomb play piano and shout into the mic. I went crazy for it and the memory of his talent and his exceedingly exuberant style is still the yardstick by which I measure all live performers. If they don’t make me as excited as H-Bomb, they may still be good. They’re just not explosively good.