, born 1936
(so they say). Member for damn sure of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
, as of 1990
. He was one of the early rock and roll
artists whose songs convinced American parents
(black and white) that this was surely the devil's music
Ballard is most famous for being the leader of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, but before then, the Midnighters were The Royals; their first record, "Every Beat of My Heart" (circa 1952) became Gladys Knight and the Pips' first hit nine years later. Ballard joined them in 1953 (both he and the group were Johnny Otis discoveries at one time), and the group's sound changed from the smooth early doo-wop of the day to something more gospel-based and raunchier; it was a style not unlike that of The Famous Flames, some of whose members would cross paths with Ballard in subsequent years - they shared the same label, Cincinnati's King/Federal Records.
"Work With Me, Annie" (1954) was actually done by The Royals, but they quickly changed their name to The Midnighters, to avoid confusion with The "5" Royales. The song was a huge rhythm and blues hit, and launched answer songs, like Etta James' "Roll With Me, Henry", and Annie sequels from Ballard, like "Sexy Ways", "Annie Had a Baby" (cain't work no mo'), and
the enough-already "Annie's Aunt Fanny". Other groups had hits "loosely" based on one or another of these songs.
Pop success eluded Ballard (and many other great R&B artists), due mainly to the "suggestive nature" of the
lyrics, but also to the beat that just might inspire you to rock'n'roll wit' your baby all night long - that "devil's music" thing, though there was probably an element of apartheid coloring all this as well. Obscured in all the notoriety was the little morality tale embedded in the Annie saga.
R&B would hit the mainstream in sanitized, but still-potent form.
"The Twist", originally a 1958 B-side (the first 45 by "Hank Ballard and the Midnighters", graduating to parent label King, alongside the now-famous Flames), inspired the beginnings of a dance craze that went nuts when newcomer Chubby Checker's Hank-alike cover version became a pop hit, hot on the heels of Ballard's at-long-last crossover hit "Finger Poppin' Time"; with the absence of an Annie, her sexy ways, and her ability to work, there was no way to ban the now semi-classic "Finger Poppin' Time" from Top 40 radio.
In the late 1960s, his post-Midnighters touring band included some musicians who were kidnapped by James Brown to form the most famous version of The JB's. OK, so maybe they weren't kidnapped. Brown produced some of Ballard's recordings back then, and was so impressed by the band that when some members of the James revue ran away, they were quickly replaced by some youngsters from Ballard's band. The rest is history, perhaps.