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The Midnighters

The first group to "do The Twist."

Founded in Detroit as the Royals in late 1950 or early 1951, by Henry Booth and Charles Sutton.

Original line-up: Booth (lead singer), Sutton (lead singer), Lawson Smith (harmony vocalist), Sonny Woods (harmony vocalist), Alonzo Tucker (guitarist).

Subsequent line-up changes: Smith was replaced by Hank Ballard; Smith returned to replace Sutton; Woods was replaced by Norman Thrasher; Tucker was replaced by Arthur Porter, who was subsequently replaced by Cal Green.

Hank Ballard & the Midnighters Fan Club
48 Las Cascadas Road, #1
Orinda, CA 94563

The Beginning

The Royals were playing at the Paradise Theater in Detroit when they were discovered by bandleader Johnny Otis in 1952. Otis subsequently introduced the band to Federal Records producer Ralph Bass, who signed them to a contract. Their first record -- a cover of Johnny Otis' "Every Beat of My Heart" -- enjoyed moderate success, as did subsequent records, but it wasn't until a new lead singer joined the group that the Royals found true success.

New Inspiration

In 1953, Royals co-founder Lawson Smith left the band, and was replaced by Hank Ballard. Ballard had little professional music experience, but his tenor voice impressed the other band members. Ballard also brought a wealth of songwriting talent into the band, and it was this talent that put the Royals on the R&B charts.

The first Ballard-written song to be released was "Get It," in late 1953. The song received as much attention for its "erotic" lyrics as it did for its musical qualities, and made it to #6 on the R&B chart.

Hank Ballard and the MidnightersName Change

In early 1954, Federal Records signed the Five Royales, an R&B group which had already produced a string of hits on the Apollo label. In order to avoid confusion, the record company changed the name of its then-lesser-known group to the Midnighters.

"Work With Me Annie"

In 1954, the Midnighters released "Work With Me Annie," a song full of raunchy, double-entendre lyrics. Although many radio stations refused to play the song, the single was a hit on jukeboxes around the country and it skyrocketed to the #1 position on the R&B chart and to #22 on the pop chart. The popularity of the song spurred the group to release several "answer songs," including "Annie Had a Baby" and "Annie's Aunt Fannie."

"The Twist"

In the late-1950's, Ballard tried to get Federal Records to record a song he had written called "The Twist," but Federal didn't think the song was good enough and refused. In response, Ballard took his song, and the Midnighters, to Vee-Jay Records, which also refused to record "The Twist." He finally took the song and group to King Records, which agreed to release it as the B-side of the ballad "Teardrops on Your Letter." Ballard wasn't happy with the decision, because he felt "Teardrops" would be a flop and therefore ruin any chance for "The Twist" to get air play. As it turned out, the record label was right and Ballard was wrong, as "Teardrops" made it to #4 on the R&B chart.

Although it had been relegated to the B-side, "The Twist" did not go unnoticed by radio stations, many of which played it instead of "Teardrops." This would prove fortunate for Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

When Dick Clark, host of the then-popular television show American Bandstand, heard the Midnighters' recording of "The Twist" he liked it so well that he wanted the band to play it on his show. For reasons not entirely known, however, the Midnighters never appeared on the show, so Clark financed a cover recording by a then-unknown chicken plucker named Ernest Evans. "The Twist" went on to become the first hit for Evans, who is of course better known to us as Chubby Checker.

In response to Checker's cover hit the Midnighters re-released their version of "The Twist" in 1960.

"The Twist" was the first single to place Hank Ballard's name on the label in front of the group's.

Subsequent Years

The Midnighters continued to appear on the R&B charts through the end of the 1950's and into the 1960's. In fact, at one point in 1960, they had three singles on the chart at one time. By 1961, however, the group was beginning to lose fan base and Ballard left to pursue a solo career. Although the Midnighters attempted to continue without Ballard, the loss of their star lead singer and songwriter proved too much and the group had completely disbanded by 1967.

Ballard formed a new "Midnighters" group in the mid-1980's and enjoyed some success, but nowhere near the success of the original group.

Partial Discography (Singles)

"Get It" (1953)
"Work With Me, Annie" (1954)
"Sexy Ways" (1954)
"Annie Had a Baby" (1954)
"Annie's Aunt Fannie"
"Teardrops On Your Letter" (1958)
"The Twist" (1958)
"Finger Poppin' Time" (1960)
"The Twist" (1960)
"Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (1960)
"Hoochie Coochie Coo" (1961)
"The Switch-A-Roo" (1961)

SOURCES
Blues World http://www.bluesworld.com/Ballard.html
History of Rock 'n' Roll http://www.history-of-rock.com/hank_ballard_and_the_midnighters.htm

SEE ALSO
Hank Ballard
Chubby Checker

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The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Musical Groups

This page was last updated on 03/21/2017.