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Profile: Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

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Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

source: mattthecat.com

Formed:

1953 (Detroit, MI)

Genres:

R&B, Doo-wop, Rock and Roll, Blues

Principal Members:

Hank Ballard (b. John Henry Kendricks, November 18, 1927, Detroit, MI; d. March 2, 2003, Los Angeles, CA): vocals (baritone)
Henry Booth (b. March 7, 1934, Montgomery, AL; d. 1966): vocals (tenor)
Charles Sutton (b. Detroit, MI): vocals (tenor)
Sonny Woods (b. Ardra Woods, March 6, 1935, Detroit, MI; d. 1984): vocals (bass)
Cal Green (b. June 22, 1935, Dayton, TX; d. July 4, 2004, Lake View Terrace, CA): guitar

Contributions to music:

  • A crucial link between R&B and Rock and Roll
  • Their bawdy "Annie" singles broke new lyrical ground on American radio
  • Popularized many R&B songs later to cross over to the mainstream by pop artists
  • One of the finest of the era's doo-wop groups, though considerably grittier and less romantic than most
  • Their 1959 hit "The Twist" inspired Chubby Checker's very similar version, which set off the early-Sixties dance craze
  • Perhaps the biggest influence on a young James Brown

Early years:

The Midnighters were initially known as the Royales, a doo-wop group formed at Detroit's Dunbar High School in 1951; when they entered a talent show at the local Paradise Theater, bandleader and talent scout Johnny Otis (later of "Willie and the Hand Jive" fame) was impressed enough to sign them to the Federal label. Their first single, "Every Beat Of My Heart," was written by Otis for another Paradise discovery, Jackie Wilson, but the Royals' version, inspired by the smooth sound of Sonny Til and the Orioles, went nowhere. To make matters worse, original member Lawson Smith was about to depart for the Army.

Success:

His replacement was Hank Ballard, who'd run away from his Alabama home to return to his birthplace, a singer who'd also played the Paradise but couldn't get signed in an era of groups. Throwing in with the Royals, he urged them in a earthier direction with an original he'd written, "Get It." Ralph Bass of Federal suggested their next hit feature the phrase "work with me," and "Work With Me Annie" was born. It would become the first R&B hit to cross over to white teens. In fact, the song was so popular it caused the band to become the Midnighters overnight so as to avoid confusion with doo-woppers the 5 Royales.

Later years:

After several "Annie" followups, the Midnighters hit next, ironically, with the ballad "Teardrops On Your Letter." But it was the flip side that really got DJ Dick Clark's attention: when he submitted "The Twist" to friend Chubby Checker to record, the result kicked off a national dance craze feeding frenzy. The hits stopped coming by the mid-Sixties, but Ballard continued working, thanks largely to fan James Brown; in the years before his death, he was known to take new versions of the Midnighters out on the road to enthusiastic audiences. Ballard died of throat cancer in 2003.

Other facts:

  • Jackie Wilson and the Four Tops' lead singer Levi Stubbs reportedly sang in a version of the pre-Ballard Royals
  • "Every Beat Of My Heart" later became a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • The Midnighters actually went on the road as the Five Royales
  • "Work With Me Annie" was originally titled "Sock It To Me, Mary"; Georgia Gibbs had a hit with a cleaned-up version named "Dance With Me Henry"
  • "Annie" was the first song to spawn several "answer" songs by other artists, as well as the Midnighters' own "Annie Had A Baby"
  • "The Twist" was based on the melody of the Drifters' "What Cha Gonna Do"

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award (1992)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "Work With Me Annie" (1954)
  • "Annie Had A Baby" (1954)
  • "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (1960)
Top 10 hits:
R&B:
  • "Get It" (1953)
  • "Sexy Ways" (1954)
  • "Teardrops On Your Letter" (1959)
  • "Finger Poppin' Time" (1959)
  • "The Twist" (1960)
  • "Nothing But Good" (1961)
  • "The Float" (1961)
  • "The Hoochi Coochi Coo" (1961)
  • "The Switch-A-Roo" (1961)
Other important recordings: "Annie's Aunt Fannie," "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More)," "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," "Open Up The Back Door," "Tore Up Over You," "Sugaree," "Never Knew," "Look At Little Sister," "Let's Go Again (Where We Went Last Night)," "The Continental Walk," "Rain Down Tears," "Cute Little Ways," "House With No Windows," "I Said I Wouldn't Beg You," "The Coffee Grind," "Keep On Dancing," "Let's Go Again," "Deep Blue Sea," "What Is This I See," "The Float," "Big Red Sunset," "Do You Know How To Twist," "Good Twistin' Tonight," "The Rising Tide," "5th Street Blues," "I Feel So Blue," "Are You Forgetting?," "What Did I Do?," "No It Ain't," "That's It," "Hello Miss Fine," "Someone Like You," "I Feel That-A-Way," "That Woman," "Until I Die," "Give It Up," "Don't Say Your Last Goodbye"
Covered by: Chubby Checker, Lou Ann Barton
Appears in the movies: "Twist" (1992)
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