Long-time Neshoba County resident Bob Ferguson (1927-2001) was a key shaper of the “Nashville Sound” of the 1960s and ‘70s, as the producer of hundreds of major recordings and writer of such classic country songs as “Wings of a Dove” and “Carroll County Accident.” Also a naturalist, filmmaker, and anthropologist, his documentation and advocacy of Southeastern Native American culture, particularly for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, were historic contributions.
Born in the Missouri Ozarks town of Willow Springs on December 30, 1927, Robert Bruce Ferguson’s interest in writing, the outdoor life, and country music were all demonstrated when he was in high school, when he worked as a typesetter for the local newspaper, as a fire tower lookout for the U.S. Forest Service, and took up the guitar. Bob served as a radioman in the U.S. Army during World War II, testing equipment in Alaska’s arctic cold. After the war, Ferguson attended Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, graduating with a major in radio and television production in 1954, while working as an announcer at a local radio station, and forming and playing steel guitar and piano on The KWCS Ramblers, their on-air country band. Called up as a reserve U.S. Marine during the Korean War, he served as a drill instructor and producer of training films at San Diego. The film work led him to Nashville, as producer of “The World Outdoors,” a film series for the Tennessee Game & Fish Commission, 1956-1961.
His Music Row country music career began at the same time, first as manger of such country artists as Ferlin Husky and Ray Price, and as an independent music publisher, then as a senior record producer at RCA Victor Records, under Chet Atkins. From 1963 to 1978, Ferguson played a major role in producing and developing the modernizing Nashville Sound, as the key producer of records by Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, and over fifty other recording artists. As a songwriter, he composed two all-time country music standards, “Wings of a Dove,” a major hit for Ferlin Husky in 1960, and “Carroll Country Accident,” a No. 1 song and Country Music Association Song of the Year in 1969, as recorded by Porter Wagoner.
He conceived “Carroll County” while passing through counties by that name in Tennessee and Mississippi on his way here to stage an all-star country music show for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; it was a trip he’d make repeatedly before relocating here with his wife Martha and their two sons and two daughters in 1978 to become the tribal historian and video producer. He had earned a Master’s degree in Anthropology at Vanderbilt University while working at RCA and led archeological digs at the early Mound Bottom Indian encampment near Nashville. His book, co-authored with Jesse Burt, Indians of the Southeast: Then and Now, his stand as editor of Chata Anumpa (The Choctaw Times) from 1968-’72, and his numerous lectures and video productions documenting Mississippi Choctaw and Southeastern Indian life were lasting contributions to the culture. His song “Choctaw Saturday Night” would be a perennial local favorite.
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