His extroverted antics and multi-colored fright wig might invite the instant dismissal of Cincinnati-based singer
as some sort of comic lightweight. In reality, he's one of the last survivors of the jump blues era whose once-slavish
imitations have mellowed into a highly distinctive vocal delivery of his own.
's dad, a reverend, paid for piano lessons for his son, demanding he stick to sacred melodies on the 88s. Fat chance -- by age 19, Bobby
was on the road with Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers
. When they hit New York, Ferguson
branched off on his own. Comedian Nipsey Russell
, then emcee at Harlem's Baby Grand Club, got the singer a gig at the nightspot. Back then, Ferguson
was billed as "the Cobra Kid."
Singles for Derby, Atlas, and Prestige preceded a 1951-1952 hookup with Savoy Records that produced some of Ferguson
's best waxings. Most of them were obvious Harris
knockoffs, but eminently swinging ones with top-flight backing (blasting saxists Purvis Henson
and Count Hastings
were aboard the dates). Drummer Jack "The Bear" Parker
, who played on the Savoy dates, allegedly bestowed the singer with his explosive monicker. Other accounts credit Savoy producer Lee Magid
with coining H-Bomb
's handle; either way, his dynamite vocals fulfilled the billing. Ferguson
eventually made Cincinnati his home, recording for Finch, Big Bang, ARC, and the far more prestigious Federal in 1960. H-Bomb
terminated his touring schedule in the early '70s. When he returned from premature retirement, his unique wig-wearing shtick (inspired by Rick James
' coiffure) was in full bloom. Backed by his fine young band, the Medicine Men, Ferguson
waxed his long-overdue debut album, Wiggin' Out
, for Chicago's Earwig logo in 1993. It showed him to be as wild as ever (witness the gloriously sleazy "Meatloaf"), a talented pianist to boot, and more his own man than ever before. H-Bomb
became a regular on the blues and R&B festival circuit, keeping Cincinnati as his home base until his death there on November 26, 2006.