XM Radio Interview by Bill Wax Vol. 3
BILL WAX: That’s Leavin’ You Tomorrow, from “H-Bomb” Ferguson’s Earwig disc, Wiggin’ Out. “H-Bomb” Ferguson, a fabulous singer. And I’m going to have Michael Frank here tell us all about him. We also heard Double Trouble from John Primer.
Now let’s get back to “H-Bomb” Ferguson. Now B.B. King, I’ve gotten a chance to do these shows with B.B. King, and B.B. King talks about “H-Bomb” Ferguson being a wonderful vocalist. And I have to say, pretty much unappreciated.
MICHAEL FRANK: Yes.
BILL WAX: And almost forgotten these days. I mean, honestly, I’m not trying to demean his work. But let’s be honest, he’s almost forgotten these days. Yet you worked with him, and how did that come about, and what were your feelings about “H-Bomb”?
MICHAEL FRANK: Oh, I just loved “H-Bomb” as a person and as a musician. It came about because his wife, Christina, who was his manager, wanted to get him on the Chicago Blues Festival. And she found out–she, I guess read blues magazines, and saw my ads, and knew about my label a little bit, and so she contacted me. She also somehow found out that I was on the Blues Festival Committee, which was an advisory committee.
So she contacted me and I didn’t have any “H-Bomb” records, and I really didn’t know much about him except I knew he was a shouter from the 50s from reading my blues books. So I was fascinated with the idea of finding out more about “H-Bomb,” and I wanted to hear him sing. And so I presented him to the Committee.
I looked up what I could find out about him, and this is before we had the internet to do a lot of digging. His wife sent me a bunch of material on him, his old recordings. And I love blues shouters, and his story. So the Committee went for it and we booked him on the Blues Festival in Chicago.
And as a result of that, he, and I, and his wife got together and we said, let’s make a record. But before that, I really knew very little about him. It’s just that I was fascinated about his story, he was a young kid who went from Charleston, South Carolina to New York in the early 50s, and was a Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown imitator, pretty much. And the “H-Bomb” name came from one of the producers who–he was a wirey little guy with a big voice, and that’s how he became known as “H-Bomb.”
And I got to know him as a result of that blues festival, and I brought him to Chicago in April of ’93, I think it was. And we did a session. I think maybe I had one rehearsal with him so I could hear the band. Figure out the tunes. And went in and I think we did two days.
He had a really good band, he was another one of those guys who knew how to lead a band, you know, had same issues as everybody else with people in the band. His drummer, Malachi, was one of those guys–he’s since died, but he was a great singer and does one song on the record as a vocalist–who had his own personal problems that “H-Bomb” was constantly struggling with. But he loved Malachi’s singing and playing, so he kept him in the band as much as he could.
But “H-Bomb” was very funny, he liked to speak in risque sort of double entendre, and not so double entendre, song titles. Like “Baby don’t let my meatloaf,” was one of his tunes, you know? Stuff like that. When I booked him a few times, like one time at Northwestern University downtown Chicago, and with “H-Bomb” you didn’t know what his stage patter was going to be. He had these songs that would talk about sex, and without being too explicit, suggestive and funny. But the rap that he would do leading up to the song, you didn’t know what he was going to say!
But he was so funny that people dug him, you know? But sitting there, what’s he going to say next!
BILL WAX: [laughs] So that’s “H-Bomb,” and thankfully you recorded it because there were not a lot of later day “H-Bomb” Ferguson recordings.
MICHAEL FRANK: No, they’re not.
BILL WAX: And so thankfully that’s out there and available to anyone that needs it. I should mention, all these discs we’re talking about are still available.
MICHAEL FRANK: Oh yeah.
BILL WAX: And you can order them right off Earwig’s website, and that’s pretty simple. It’s just Earwigmusic.com. So I want to get that out there and remind people that if one of Michael’s stories or whatever, or one of the tunes we play really strikes a chord, you might want to go ahead and pick that up.
So we heard the “H-Bomb” and now I’m going to bring you to another artist. And again, you mentioned him earlier. It’s kind of funny, as you met these guys and worked with them in one setting or saw them in the clubs, eventually you did get around to catching up with them.
The other thing is, these were really the much more obscure artists in Chicago, these were not the big stars, these weren’t the Otis Rushes, these weren’t the Buddy Guys and Junior Wells that most people had heard of, or Muddy Waters or whatever at that point. I mean, some of those guys were also looking for recordings at that point.
But you didn’t really record them, you were looking to sort of cherry pick, I guess, the next level. I don’t mean that they were any worse or any better, but just weren’t as well known.
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And this is another one that sort of represents that, and that’s Aron Burton with a disc, Past, Present, & Future. So you had worked with Aron, I guess, on some other things. But now you have him step out and lead his own session.
MICHAEL FRANK: Well, Aron is another one of those guys that was on this whole West Side scene on West Madison Avenue, and he had also been in the North Side’s early days of the Kingston Mines as a bass player with his band, the Burton Brothers Band.
So he is somebody that, because I went to so many blues clubs so many nights, I would run into. Because I went out, when I first got there, 3-4, sometimes 7 nights a week to hear blues, and I’d run into all these guys and get to know them. And Aron was one of those guys.
And after working with him on Honeyboy’s album in ’89, then he and I got a little friendlier, and I started paying more attention to him. And he wanted to make a record. I liked him, and I knew that he always had a good band, he was another guy who really knew how to have a consistently high level of live performance. And I liked his voice.
So again, it was just we were friends and I was just like, making records and I wanted to make a really good record with him to let people hear him. And I liked hearing him, too. But I didn’t think about how many records I was going to sell. I knew that if he were working more, that would help. And I still do some work with Aron, and do some booking with Aron.
Part of what has resulted over all these years, it just happens that some of the artists that I recorded didn’t have an agent, and still don’t. And if they were going to work some decent gigs, then maybe I was going to have to be the one who would get some of those.
BILL WAX: And it would behoove you, too. And I’m not saying–it was great that you’ve been doing all that. But the more they work, the better chance it was that someone would hear something they liked and buy the record.
MICHAEL FRANK: That is true, very true.
BILL WAX: And you had the records. I mean, I’m not saying that’s the be all and end all, and I know it wasn’t. So it was a symbiotic kind of relationship, it helped each other a lot.
MICHAEL FRANK: Oh, yeah, definitely. Yeah, sure.
BILL WAX: What do you want to play off Aron Burton’s record?
MICHAEL FRANK: You know, Trouble is a really nice tune, and so is Past, Present, & Future.
BILL WAX: Let’s play the title cut, then. Let’s do that. So this is going to be Past, Present, & Future by Aron Burton on Earwig. And my guest, of course, is the man that’s responsible, the president of Earwig Records, Michael Frank.
Transcribed by Willitte Herman, WH Transcription