Sunday, March 9, 2003

Hank Ballard epitomized King Records sound



By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The world remembers Hank Ballard as the man who gave the world "The Twist" and challenged the censors of '50s radio with such risque hits as "Work With Me Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby."

Few artists better personified King Records than Ballard, who died last Sunday.

The Cincinnati record label is known for integration, not just racially, but culturally as well, freely mixing R&B and country music.

In the mid '60s, when King owner Syd Nathan decided bluegrass icons the Stanley Brothers should record Ballard's rocking "Finger Poppin' Time," he brought Ballard into the studio to do the finger snaps.

Drummer Phillip Paul, who will accept today's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Legacy Award for King Records, didn't play on that session. But he was on the original version of that song and more than 50 other Ballard songs, including "The Twist," "Work With Me Annie" and "Sexy Ways."

"He was a sharp dresser, good-looking guy," Paul remembers. "He was very easy to get along with. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to go about getting it. He was very nice to the musicians."

In the late '60s, when Ballard's hits were long behind him, he hired the young session band at King to back him on the road, a group that included the young Bootsy Collins.

Collins credits Ballard with giving him an education in the music business, not all of it good. By then, Ballard didn't treat his musicians quite so well. Collins remembers the star often disappeared after shows without paying the band. Collins and his older brother Phelps quickly learned how to duck out on hotel bills.

"It just became so routine we didn't even feel we were doing nothin' bad," he recalls. "OK, we didn't get paid, so we have to sneak out the back."

But for a 16-year-old kid, playing on the road with Ballard was a dream come true. "We just wanted to get out there."

Ultimately, it's the music Ballard recorded at the King studios in Evanston that will be remembered.

"The music of Hank Ballard & the Midnighters epitomizes everything I like about the King/Federal rhythm & blues sound," says Robert Beemon, host of WNKU-FM's classic R&B program, You're On The Air With Mr. Rhythm Man.

"Hank out front with those kind-of-racy-for-the-times lyrics (and) background vocals that began in gospel and ended in rock," he says. "Add those great King studio musicians that could really swing, and those records from 45 years ago just still rock."

More information at Cincinnati.com




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