Hank Ballard and The Midnighters began in the early 1950’s as a doo wop group named The Royals. The group consisted and had several future stars, such as Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Freddie Pride and Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, perform in the group. In 1953 the group stabilized with members, Alonzo Tucker, Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Lawson Smith (lead singer). Soon after that Smith got drafted and Hank Ballard was brought in to replace him as lead singer. After recording a few unsuccessful doo wop songs the group decided to change their style to a more raunchy rhythm and blues. They also decided to change their name to The Midnighters. The group received a recording contract with the King Records subsidiary Federal Records and had several R&B hits such as “Get It”, “Annie Had a Baby”, “Annie’s Aunt Fannie”, “Sexy Ways”, “Work With Me Annie”, “Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More)”, “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)”. Many of these songs were considered to risque for radio, but still sold over a million copies through jukebox airplay in dancing lounges and bars throughout the U.S. Most of these songs were sung and written by Hank Ballard elevating him as the groups lead performer. After almost 4 years without a hit song the group changed its name to Hank Ballard and The Midnighters and began focusing on dance music. The newly formed group became very popular and recorded several hit songs, with several expanding into the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart: “The Twist” (#28), “Teardrops on Your Letter” (#87), “Kansas City” (#72), “Finger Poppin’ Time” (#6), Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” (#6), “The Hoochi Coochi Coo” (#23), “Let’s Go Again (Where We Went Last Night)” (#39), “The Continental Walk” (#33), “The Float” (#92), “The Switch-A-Roo” (#26), “Keep On Dancing” (#66), “Nothin’ But Good” (#49) and “Do You Know How to Twist” (#87). After 1962 the group never had another hit song. Hank Ballard went on to record a couple of solo albums, but never regained the success he had in the mid 50’s and again in the early 60’s. He reformed The Midnighters in the mid 1980’s and they performed through 2002. Hank Ballard (born John Henry Kendrick) died of throat cancer on March 2, 2003 at the age of 75.
From The Royals to The Midnighters; Ballard becoming a member
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters was a 50s music era rock and roll group who helped define the rock and roll movement in the 1950’s. They initially started their career as the doo-wop group The Royals in the early 1950s. The original lineup consisted of Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Lawson Smith, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker apart from. The group was discovered by Johnny Otis who endorsed them to Ralph Bass, producer from Federal Records. In early 1952, The Royals released the doo-wop song penned by Otis “Every Beat of My Heart,” which later became Gladys Knight and the Pips’ in 1961.
In 1953, Smith left the group and replaced by Hank Ballard (Detroit, Michigan, November 18, 1927-March 2, 2003). The Royals’ smooth doo-wop sound was radically changed into raunchy rock and roll when Ballard stood as the frontman. With Ballard as the new leader, they started with the song “Get It” later that year.
In 1954, still as The Royals, they released the sophomore single “Work with Me Annie.” It charted at #1 on the R&B chart and #21 on the US chart. The band gained success and popularity — they became popular in fact that they even caused a confusion between them and another R&B vocal group The 5 Royales. So the group later changed their name from the Royales to the Midnighters.
The now-Midnighters released a couple of answer songs to their first big hit “Work with Annie”: “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie.” The former peaked at #10 while the former rose to #1, both on R&B charts. In 1955, they issued “Henry’s Got Flat Feet” (#14) and “It’s Love Baby” (#10) which both charted well on the R&B charts.
A lot of personnel changes happened between 1955-1958; Smith returned to replace Sutton, Norman Thrasher replace, and Cal Green replaced for Arthur Porter, who had taken Tucker’s place before.
Success of “The Twist” and other singles
In 1958, Ballard came up with the song “The Twist” which was recorded at Ballard’s new label Vee-Jay. He soon left Vee-Jay for the label did not release the song. Subsequently, he jumped into King Records (Ferderal’s parent label) and picked up “The Twist” as the group’s single along with the b-side “Teardrops on Your Letter.” It was also the time when Ballard’s name was included before the group’s. By then the group was called Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.
“Teardrops on Your Letter” reached at #4 on the R&B charts while “The Twist” made at #16 also on R&B in 1959. The latter single caught the attention American Bandstand host DJ Dick Clark and he asked his friend Chubby Checker to re-record it. The Chubby Checker version of “The Twist” became a success, it topped the pop chart in 1960 and once again in 1962.
In 1960, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters re-released “The Twist” which peaked at a higher position at #6 on R&B. It was followed by two big hits “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” which made at #6 on the pop and #1 on R&B. Another single, “The Hoochie Coochie Coo” which peaked at #3 on R&B. The group continued to release singles but after numerous failed attempts to enter the charts, Hank and the Midnighters disbanded for good in 1965.
Ballard’s later years
In 1968, Ballard started to become a solo artist and gained a hit with the song “How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven’t Cut Your Process Yet).” It went to #15 on the R&B singles chart that same year, becoming his most successful song after his career with the Midnighters. However, Ballard reformed the band in the mid-1980’s and performed with them until 2002. At his home in Los Angeles, Ballard died due to throat cancer. He was 75 years old.