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Hank Ballard & The Midnighters Dancin' And Twistin' (CD)

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(2000/ACE) 24 tracks King/Federal 1955-69 with 12 page booklet including Hank Ballard and... more

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters: Dancin' And Twistin' (CD)

(2000/ACE) 24 tracks King/Federal 1955-69 with 12 page booklet including Hank Ballard and Midnighters solo recordings

The pioneering dance records of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, featuring their original version of 'The Twist'.

This is the first time that Hank Ballard's dance classics, recorded for Federal and King between 1955 and 1969, have been gathered together in one collection.

Some projects do not come to fruition overnight and this compilation is a case in point. The idea germinated way back in 1992, when Paul Harris and I took the opportunity to interview Hank about his dance records before his successful appearance at the Blues Estafette in Utrecht, Holland. Eight years on, and I think the wait has been worthwhile. The music sounds great and the stories hold up well. 

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters were at the forefront of the dance crazes that proliferated at the turn of the 1960s. The bedrock of the genre was The Twist, written by Hank himself, although Chubby Checker's cover version snatched eternal glory. Hank's original cut of The Twist is included here, along with his other big hits Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go, The Continental Walk and Finger Poppin' Time (the 45 version, not the one with the oft-reissued 40-second edit). 

But there is much more, starting with four releases in the name of the Midnighters from 1955 to 1957 including Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More). After The Twist hit paydirt, Hank enjoyed a golden streak with no less than 10 other dance hits between 1960 and 1962. Inevitably, there was a cooling off period as the dance craze abated and the soul era began to bite. But, adaptable as ever, Hank proceeded to give his new dance songs a soul beat, notably Funky Soul Train and the James Brown-type Butter Your Popcorn.

This set is sure to appeal to fans of rock 'n' roll oldies, vocal group collectors and dancers alike. Get those hips swivelling and come on, baby, let's do the Twist! 

By John Broven

Article properties: Hank Ballard & The Midnighters: Dancin' And Twistin' (CD)

Ballard, Hank & The Midnighters - Dancin' And Twistin' (CD) CD 1
01 The Twist Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
02 Rock & Roll Wedding Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
03 Henry's Got Flat Feet Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
04 E Basta Cosi Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
05 Rock Granny Roll Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
06 The Coffee Grind Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
07 Finger Poppin' Time Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
08 Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
09 The Hoochi Coochi Coo Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
10 The Continental Walk Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
11 Let's Go Again (Where We Went Last Night) Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
12 The Float Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
13 The Switch-A-Roo Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
14 Keep On Dancing Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
15 It's Twistin' Time Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
16 Good Twistin' Tonight Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
17 Do You Know How To Twist Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
18 That Low Down Move Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
19 (I'm Going Back To) The (That House On The..) Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
20 Poppin' The Whip Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
21 Sloop And Slide Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
22 Dance Till It Hurtcha Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
23 Funky Soul Train Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
24 Butter Your Popcorn Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters Long before Motown officially put Detroit on the... more
"Hank Ballard & The Midnighters"

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

Long before Motown officially put Detroit on the international musical map and humble little recording studios started popping up all over town in the mammoth wake of Hitsville U.S.A.'s unprecedented success, the Motor City could already lay claim to more than its share of street corner vocal groups, even if there weren't many local record labels to transfer their sweet harmonies onto wax during the 1950s. The modest imprints that did exist were mom-and-pop operations like Fortune Records, which released seminal mid-'50s vocal group sides by The Diablos, most notably their ethereal ballad The Wind.

Nolan Strong, the lead tenor of The Diablos, was one of Smokey Robinson's principal influences. Other local singers opted to idolize the modern jazz-inflected harmonies of The Four Tops, who were a force around town for nearly a decade before Motown managed to pin them down to a longterm contract. But for more than a few up-and-coming young aggregations, it didn't get any better than Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. They were the first Detroit R&B group to transcend their local standing to really make it big on a national basis, and Ballard was their chief source of material as well, composing nearly all of his group's hits and a great many more classics that didn't dent the charts.

"The Midnighters were The Temptations before The Temptations in Detroit," exclaims Joe Harris, a member of The Peps during the '60s and eventually handpicked by Motown producer Norman Whitfield to be lead singer of The Undisputed Truth. "I was really deciding that this was what I wanted to do when I was hanging around those guys, 'cause they always seemed like they were having a lot of fun."

Their impact wasn't limited to the Motor City. The Midnighters were the first professional vocal group young James Brown ever witnessed in person. He and Bobby Byrd were dazzled by their crowd-pleasing antics at the Greenville Textile Hall in Greenville, South Carolina, and they vowed one day soon they'd be onstage doing the very same thing.

Recording initially for the Federal subsidiary of Cincinnati-based King Records and later the parent imprint itself, The Midnighters were hitmakers from 1954 on, when their salacious Work With Me Annie crashed the peak of the R&B hit parade and was one of the most important rhythm and blues waxings of the year. Its inherent raunchiness precipitated corporate hand-wringing from coast to coast as uptight radio programmers banned the leering anthem from their lily-white airwaves. But that didn't deter teenagers of every hue from buying the platter, even if they had to hide it from their disapproving parents.

Ballard's piercing, slightly pinched lead tenor was quite invigorating and immediately identifiable. And not only were Hank and his Midnighters devastating on wax, concentrating primarily on blistering rockers and only occasionally slowing down for a blues-permeated ballad, they were relentless high-energy showmen, engaging in rowdy onstage routines that were as influential to their acolytes as their recordings. When it came to their raucous choreography, Hank readily deferred to his high-stepping mid-'50s group mates, tenor Henry Booth (a master at doing the splits who had started out with another Detroit group, The Serenaders), tenor/baritone Lawson Smith, and bass singer Ardra 'Sonny' Woods.

"We created dances on the stage for the songs. If it looked good and everybody liked it, and the three of us liked it, we'd keep it in. Because Hank didn't dance," says Norman Thrasher, who replaced Woods in 1957. "We all did the splits. We created the dances on how we would feel, 'cause each one of us would take an individual part on the stage doing 'The Twist' or doing 'Finger Poppin' Time' or doing 'Let's Go.' Then we had those comical outfits up under our clothes. I would have them big drawers on, them big bloomers on. And I'd jump off the stage, dance up the aisles, and pull 'em off and hit folks in the head with 'em!" Although King Records inevitably placed a solo photo of Hank on their album covers, this was a full-fledged vocal group whose shenanigans deeply impacted the next generation of Motor City vocal aggregations.

"We always had patterned our group after The Midnighters," says Joe Billingslea of The Contours, who gave Motown one of its first R&B chart-toppers in 1962 with their gritty Do You Love Me. The Contours' amazing acrobatics followed in the athletic footsteps of The Midnighters, and their first audition for Berry Gordy reflected the impact of their heroes on their repertoire. "We did 'Whole Lotta Woman,' 'Come On And Be Mine,' and another song, probably one of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters' songs, because we were definitely Midnighters fans," says Billingslea. "We patterned our routines after The Midnighters."

"We had been on a show with those guys," says The Contours' Billy Hoggs. "They helped us out a few times when we did a show with them. We went backstage and talked to 'em, and asked them what did they think they could criticize us on that we need to improve. And they told us a few pointers. Anytime we were on a show with someone more adept, or more experienced in the field, we'd ask them suggestions. And then we would incorporate it."

Ballard wasn't even part of the group when they began recording, and they didn't start out as The Midnighters. Their genesis goes back to 1950, when original lead tenor Charles Sutton joined forces with three more denizens of Detroit's East Side--Booth, Woods, and baritone Freddie Pride (a close friend of Jackie Wilson's, who was part of their musical social circle along with future Four Tops lead Levi Stubbs)--to form The Royals. An early promotional blurb from King Records claimed they'd originally been known as The Four Falcons. Entranced by the beautiful harmonies of out-of-town hitmakers such as The Orioles, Five Keys, and Dominoes, they fashioned a repertoire heavy on ballads. Also part of their fledgling group was the more experienced Alonzo Tucker (probably born November 21, 1915), who would serve as one of their primary songwriters and arrangers and knew his way around a guitar. When Pride was drafted into the military, Lawson Smith took his place.

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
Nothing But Good (52-62) (5-CD)


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