About The Artist
Ernest Charlton Ferguson was a country mandolin picker best known for his work with the Bailes Brothers, Johnnie and Jack, and Grandpa Jones. His most noted work probably came from helping the Bailes Brothers create their distinctive sound. In later years he joined them in many of their reunion concerts, and managed to outlive all four of the Brothers, perishing at age 96.
Ferguson came from Bon Aqua in Hickman County, TN. He started playing guitar and then switched to mandolin. He later lived in North Nashville When the Anglin Brothers were on WSIX they would walk by his house on the way to the station and he got acquainted with them. Later in 1940, he got to know Johnnie Wright and played on WSIX with them. On December 26, 1940, the group (now including Jack Anglin) took a radio job at WBIG Greensboro, NC where they — Johnnie, Jack, Ernest, Paul Warren, and Emory Martin — survived a difficult month. By this time they were known as the Tennessee Hillbillies.
They went to WCHS Charleston, WV where conditions improved somewhat. Band members eventually received $18.00 weekly. They worked a couple of months at WHIS Bluefield early in 1942, and then went back to WCHS. By the time Ernest was drafted in April, the band had moved to WNOX. However, he failed the physical and went back to WNOX. Then gas rationing took a toll on their show dates and Ernest saw his pay reduced, then was laid off at the end of November. Returning to Charleston he found a year of steady work in a defense plant.
Back at WNOX, early in 1944 with Johnnie Wright and Eddie Hill in charge of the Band (Jack Anglin was in the service). He remained with them until mid-September when he went to WSM to play mandolin with the Bailes Brothers. They worked a couple of weeks on morning shows and then they gained Opry status. As Ernest later recalled to WSM's Eddie Stubbs, "I did a take-off on "Dust on the Bible," the first song they did on the Opry. When they did their first session on Columbia in 1945, Ernest played on them. Working steadily, then they recorded on King in November 1946.
When the Bailes Brothers shifted their base to KWKH Shreveport, Ferguson remained in Nashville as he was doing well running a booking agency. He did another Columbia session with them early in 1947. When Johnnie and Jack came to WSM, he worked with them part-time on radio and on their King recordings (as the King Sacred Quartet), but not on the road. Later, new taxes, crippled Ernest's booking work, he belatedly rejoined the Bailes Brothers at KWKH. Arriving in May 1948, he played bass; Clyde Baum was given his notice, at which time, he joined Johnnie and Jack who had also came to Shreveport.
Ernest had nearly two successful years with the Bailes Brothers playing mandolin and developing a comic character "Abner Abernacky." As the Bailes cohesiveness began to fragment in March of 1950,
Ernest sought employment elsewhere, finding it in the D. C. area with Grandpa Jones. He did a session with Jones at King that April producing eight songs. He left Jones to play with a group called the Blue Mountain Boys that were quite active in the area, although they did little or no recording.
He also learned the drywall trade which eventually replaced music as his main occupation. He eventually even sold his mandolin. He moved back to Tennessee in 1968, and eventually renewed his friendship with the Bailes Brothers. As the Brothers in various combinations began to record again, Ernest was often with them. Although, he never sang on their old records, he could actually sing the parts of each of them if needed. Among other spots, they played at the Vandalia Fest in Charleston in 1979, the Knoxville World's Fair with, and made a trip to the Netherlands. Ironically, as the Brothers could not often get along with each other, Ernest Ferguson got along well with all of them. The only recordings he ever made in his own name were an album for Old Homestead. Sadly the master was damaged and it never came out (neither were the liner notes that I (Ivan Tribe) put together for him).
With the passage of time, all four of the Brothers died, but Ernest outlived them all and was always ready to provide information and reminisce about those times. When their records were reissued he was there to explain everything. He often talked with WSM deejay Eddie Stubbs telling him "If it wasn't for us old-timers who used to go out and play for a dollar a night and travel on two lane roads, there wouldn't be any Music City, USA today." This was fitting farewell for one who died at 96.
Credits & Sources
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