Robert “H-Bomb” Ferguson, a bluesman and pianist who urged listeners to “rock baby rock” at the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era, died Nov. 26 in Cincinnati of emphysema and cardiopulmonary disease. He was 77.
Ferguson got his Cold War-era nickname from his booming voice.
“If it wasn’t for folks like him, blues wouldn’t be what it is today. He was doing it first,” said Lance Boyd, guitarist for Ferguson’s group, the Medicine Men.
Ferguson sang and played piano in a flamboyant style, wearing colorful wigs; he was said to own dozens.
“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.”
His early works were featured in the recent reissue “H-Bomb Ferguson: Big City Blues, 1951-54.”
It includes the hit “Good Lovin”‘ and “Rock H-Bomb Rock,” both from 1952. “Rock H-Bomb Rock” also was included last year in the elaborate box set called “Atomic Platters: Cold War Music From the Golden Age of Homeland Security.” According to the Web site of Conelrad, the record label, the lyrics go: “I said rock, rock and rock, rock baby rock. … Tell me, do you feel that rockin’ bomb? Oh yeah, let’s rock.”
It wasn’t until 1955 that rock ‘n’ roll became a mainstream sensation, when Bill Haley and the Comets’ version of “Rock Around the Clock” became a hit.
Cincinnati had observed H-Bomb Ferguson Day on Oct. 17, and a documentary directed by John Parker, “Blues Legend: The Life and Times of H-Bomb Ferguson,” debuted that day.
Ferguson had quit music in the 1970s but resumed performing in the mid-1980s.
“He wanted to be remembered as a performer who gave it his all every time,” said his wife, Christine Ferguson. “His voice was just so magnetic – a very deep voice with a mix of gravel in it.”
A native of Charleston, S.C., the 11th of 12 children, Ferguson said his interest in the blues dated back to his childhood.
His father, a Baptist pastor, paid for piano lessons “and wanted me to do religious stuff,” he told the Post in 1988. “But after church was over, while the people was all standing outside talking, me and my friends would run back inside and I’d play the blues on the piano.”
Survivors include his wife and four children.