Phast Phreddie Patterson on those gone but not forgotten
RHYTHM & BLUES singer Hank Ballard (76) died of throat cancer on March 2 at his home in Los Angeles. His chief claim to fame is that he wrote ‘The Twist,’ a dance number that went on to become a Number One pop hit for Chubby Checker in September 1960 and again in the first weeks of 1962.
The dance itself (possibly invented by Checker or some Philadelphia choreographer) became immensely popular in clubs and discothèques around the world and is said to be the first dance where the partners do not have to touch each other–breaking ground for the likes of the Jerk, the Shimmy, the Boogaloo, the Watusi, the Hully Gully, the Dog, the Duck, the Monkey, the Horse, the Mashed Potatoes… well, you get the picture. To the vast majority of people who have heard of him, Hank’s legacy stops there. However, he was a great rhythm & blues singer whose records were solid examples of super-fine, pre-soul, African American music.
Ballard was born John Henry Kendricks on November 18, 1927 in Detroit. When he was 7 he was sent to Bessemer, Alabama to be raised by strict Baptist relatives after his father died. On one hand he was exposed to gospel music, which he took to. On the other, the restrictions he was under were too much for him and he ran away when he was 15. Back in Detroit, Ballard worked on the Ford assembly line and soon joined The Royals, a local doo-wop group that was brought to the Federal label by Johnny Otis after winning a talent contest (losing the contest were Little Willie John and Jackie Wilson, who then joined The Dominos). The Royals’ ‘Every Beat of My Heart’–written by Otis–made a little noise in 1952. The next year, ‘Get It’ was a Top Ten R&B hit. Ballard wrote that one.
In 1954, when the well-established 5 Royales signed to Federal’s mother label King, Ballard’s group changed its name to The Midnighters. Ballard’s ‘Work With Me, Annie’ was a Number One hit for seven weeks that year and remained on the charts for six months. In fact, The Midnighters became more popular than The 5 Royales ever were. Also, the song begat an ‘Annie’ craze with several answer songs – ‘Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry)’ by
Etta James being the most popular, which was answered by The Midnighters with ‘Henry’s Got Flat Feet’ – and The Midnighters followed it up with ‘Annie Had a Baby’ and ‘Annie’s Aunt Fanny.’
After ‘It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)’ peaked at Number Ten in 1955, The Midnighters’ disappeared from the charts in spite of the excellence of more than a dozen singles released until their next hit. ‘Tore Up Over You,’ ‘Ow-Wow-Ow-Wee,’ and ‘Sweet Mama Do Right’ were among the great records that somehow got over looked at the time. In 1958, the group cut a demo that included ‘The Twist,’ and it was on the strength of the demo that got the group re-signed to King Records and releases were subsequently issued under the name Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. ‘The Twist’ was originally issued as the B-side to the ballad ‘Teardrops on Your Letter,’ which went to Number 4 R&B in 1959. The enterprising Dick Clark heard ‘The Twist’ and decided to cut it with local Philadelphia talent Chubby Checker. To get the whole story on this, read Jim Dawson’s superb book The Twist : The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World.
During 1960 and ’61, while ‘The Twist’ was doing good business for Checker, Ballard charted with several of his own songs, including his version of ‘The Twist,’ which was re-released to cash in. ‘Finger Poppin’ Time,’ Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go,’ ‘The Switch-a-Roo,’ ‘The Float’ and ‘Nothing But Good’ were Top Ten R&B hits. However, after this, there was another dry spell. In 1963, the records were released under his name alone, but it didn’t break his streak of bad luck–’Shakey Mae,’ ‘Sloop and Slide,’ ‘She’s the One’ and ‘I Don’t Know How to Do but One Thing’ all should have been hits. Other notable songs are ‘Sugaree,’ a great, rockin’ version of the Marty Robbins rockabilly tune; ‘Broadway,’ which features his band on a quick, tough vamp as Hank and the boys shout the title of the song over and over at appropriate, exciting moments; a 1963 re-working of ‘It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)’ produced by James Brown (who was greatly influenced by The Midnighters) is prototypical soul music; and ‘The Continental Walk,’ which originally came with a picture sleeve that explains how to do the dance.
In 1968, Ballard re-connected with James Brown for a series of records and an album. Key among these recordings is the boss funk of ‘How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven’t Cut Your Process Yet),’ which has backing by The Dapps, a white group that was working with JB at the time. Other recordings during this period feature the musicianship of a couple of local brothers who hung around the King Records studios in Cincinnati: William ‘Bootsy’ and Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins, who would later work in The J.B.’s and Parliament. Ballard continued to work with JB through the early seventies, including a track on The Godfather of Soul’s Get on the Good Foot album called ‘Recitation by Hank Ballard,’ wherein Ballard takes nearly six minutes to praise James Brown on his own album.
Through most of the ’70s, and, indeed, the rest of his life, Ballard was relegated to the oldies circuit. The Grim Reporter first witnessed Hank Ballard live at a Rock’n’Roll Revival show around 1971. The Johnny Otis Orchestra backed him and the show was sublime. Another notable show was during the mid-’80s. He was backed by The Lee Allen Orchestra (AKA The Blasters) at The Club Lingerie in Hollywood. More than twenty years after his prime, the man could still shake it loose.
While in New York City in the early ’90s, his wife was hit by a car in the afternoon and he played a show that night at the Lone Star. Hank continued to perform and record through the nineties. In 1993, he released Naked in the Rain and, in 1998, From Love to Tears.*
BAMBOO CANE FIFE player and drummer Othar Turner (94) died of a heart condition on February 27 at one of his daughters’ home in Gravel Springs, Mississippi. He played in The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band and his music was used in the recent film Gangs of New York.
Othar (sometimes Otha) Turner was born into a sharecropper family in Jackson County, Mississippi on June 2, 1907. As a teenager he taught himself how to play drums and the fife, and learned the African American music form dating to before the Civil War. He performed locally for many years and the money he received was enough to buy a farm he lived on for the rest of his life in the Gravel Springs community outside Como, Mississippi. He recorded occasionally through the years, mostly by musicologists such as Dave Evans and Alan Lomax. Most of his early recorded work, circa 1969-70, is backing fellow artists Napoleon Strickland or Compton Jones. Some of these were later issued on LPs on the Testament and Arhoolie labels. Mostly, though, Turner stayed home and worked his farm.
During the ’70s and ’80s, Turner performed at blues festivals and concerts presented by ethnic music associations. He was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992.
Turner didn’t spend much time in the studio. In 1996, he recorded with Twenty Miles, a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion side project. Turner cut his first full album Everybody Hollerin’ Goat for Birdman Records the next year. It is a raw-sounding field recording that captures the flavor of a traditional fife & drum event–its rhythms are hypnotic and brilliant. In 1998, Turner released From Senegal to Senatobia, made with African musicians and recorded in Senatobia, Mississippi. It is a missing link between the blues and traditional African music.
In 2001, Spike Lee and Wim Wenders filmed a show of North Mississippi blues musicians that included Othar Turner. The footage will be included in an upcoming PBS special called The Blues.
Turner hosted an annual Labor Day picnic that featured barbecued goat, pig, blues and fife & drum music–it was the most important social event of the year in the area.*
BRITISH POP STAR and actor Adam Faith (Terrence Nelhams, 62) died of a heart attack on March 8 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, where he was appearing in a touring version of the play Love and Marriage.
Faith was born in London on June 23, 1940 and, in his teens, was discovered playing in a skiffle group by a BBC music program producer. He was soon one of Britain’s most popular pop stars, along with Cliff Richard, Billy Fury and Tommy Steele. His 1965 song ‘It’s Alright’ (backed by The Roulettes) was his biggest US hit–it just scraped under the Top Thirty–and it is one fabulous rockin’ jam, similar in feel to the Dave Clark Five.
Most of Faith’s other recordings are sub/post Buddy Holly pop numbers. He had several hits on the British charts, but his popularity waned with the onslaught of Beatlemania. He reinvented himself as an actor and appeared in several movies, including Beat Girl, Mix Me a Person and Stardust, as well as in stage productions and in television shows. During the seventies Faith managed and produced Leo Sayer. Faith also produced Roger Daltrey’s 1973 Daltrey, which included Sayer’s ‘Giving It All Away.’*
African trumpet player and singer Bala Miller (75) died in Kaduna, Nigeria in February. He led a band called Bala Miller & the Great Music Pirameeds of Afrika that was very popular in the ’70s. He also worked with The Calabar Brass Band, The Sam Akpabot Band, Victor Olaiya, The Nigerian Ports Authority Harbour Band, The West End Club Musical Band and Bobby Benson. He was virtually unknown outside of Nigeria because few of his recordings were licensed to European or American labels and never toured anywhere but in Africa.*
Folksinger/songwriter Tom Glazer (88) died of complications from a stroke at St. John’s Home in Rochester, New York. He suffered a stroke on the way from his home near Philadelphia to his son’s home in Rochester in December. Glazer wrote such topical songs as ‘Talking Inflation Blues,’ ‘Because All Men Are Brothers,’ ‘Ain’t Gonna Study War No More’ and ‘They Hung Him in the Rain,’ but he is most famous for having written ‘On Top of Spaghetti,’ an enduring children’s favorite. Glazer was born on September 2, 1914, in Philadelphia. After finishing school, he went to Washington, DC, where he worked at the Library of Congress and became friends with Alan Lomax. Glazer learned to play guitar around this time and was invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to play at the White House. On January 8, 1943, he appeared at Town Hall in New York City. During the forties he hung out with fellow folkies Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Oscar Brand, Woody Guthrie, Josh White and Leadbelly. Glazer had his own radio shows and, in the sixties, he hosted a weekly music program for kids in NY. In 1957, he wrote songs and the film score for A Face in the Crowd, a genius political satire directed by Elia Kazan and staring Andy Griffith. Glazer’s songs were cut by Woody Guthrie, Johnny Maddox, Peter Paul & Mary, The Kingston Trio, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra.*
Drummer and singer Earl Forest (76), one of the legendary “Beale Streeters”, died of cancer on February 26 at Memphis Veterans Medical Center. The Beale Streeters were a loose collection of friends who, along with Forest, usually included Roscoe Gordon, Johnny Ace, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker and sometimes BB King. During the early fifties, they played on each other’s records and often showed up at each other’s gigs. By 1952, all of them (except King) were signed to Duke Records and they accounted for 12 of the first 15 R&B releases for the label. Forest’s ‘Baby Baby’ b/w ‘Rock the Bottle’ is Duke 103. His next release, ‘Whoopin’ and Hollerin’,’ was a local hit. The informal group’s recordings for the Flair-RPM-Modern associated labels are available on the Ace (UK) collection The Original Memphis Blues Brothers. Few of the Duke recordings are currently available.
The titles of Forest’s songs could guarantee a good time all by themselves: ‘Out on a Party,’ ‘Ohh Ohh Wee,’ ‘Keep That Monkey Off Me,’ ‘Memphis Twist,’ ‘The Duck.’ A Grim Reporter favorite is ‘Beale Street Popeye.’ Forest also established himself as a songwriter. Parker, James Cotton, Nancy Wilson and The Grateful Dead have cut his ‘Next Time You See Me’. Bland, Little Milton and Johnnie Taylor have also cut his songs. In recent years in, Forest took his role as an elder statesman of Memphis blues seriously, helping young blues musicians when he could.*
Brian Epstein’s secretary Beryl Adams (66) died in Liverpool, England on March 1, after a short illness thought to be Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the disease people get from eating meat infected with Mad Cow Disease). As a 24 year-old, she was doing administrative work at the North End Music Store (NEMS) in Liverpool when she met Brian Epstein, who was overseeing daily operations of the store at the time. In 1961, when Epstein decided to become The Beatles’ manager, she left the store to work for Epstein. After ‘Love Me Do’ screamed up the UK pop charts, Epstein moved his business to London, but Adams remained in Liverpool where she became secretary to Ray McFall, who owned the Cavern Club. After the club closed, she was a receptionist at a doctor’s office for most of the rest of her life. Coincidentally, her partner at the time of her death was Allan Williams, The Beatles’ first manager. This summer, her life story will be released in a book called The Tragical History Tour.*
Jazz pianist Linton Garner (87) died of a heart attack on March 6 at his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. Garner was born March 25, 1915 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although his career is not as storied as his younger brother, Erroll, he was a highly regarded accompanist and soloist who worked with Fletcher Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine, Babs Gonzales and Fats Navaro. During the seventies he was hired to play in a hotel lounge in Vancouver and ended up staying there the rest of his life.*
British songwriter and producer Ian Samwell (66) died of heart failure on March 13 at Mercy San Juan Hospital in Sacramento, California. He was born in London on January 19, 1937. As a teenager he wrote short stories and poetry. In early 1958, Samwell met Cliff Richard playing in a coffee shop in Soho and talked the singer into letting Samwell play lead guitar with him. Later that year, Richard signed to English Columbia Records and cut ‘Schoolboy Crush’ for a single. Samwell wrote the B-side, ‘Move It.’ Samwell’s song proved to be the better song when it charged up the UK pop charts, peaking at Number Two. The song is often cited as the first authentic rock’n’roll song written in England. However, Samwell soon left Richard’s backup group–The Drifters, later known as The Shadows–to make way for a better guitarist–Hank Marvin. But Samwell continued as a songwriter, contracting with a publishing company. He wrote several more songs for Richard, including the great ‘Dynamite,’ and such English rock and pop stars as Kenny Lynch, Dusty Springfield and Joe Brown recorded his material. In 1959, while visiting the US with Cliff Richard, he wrote ‘Say That You Will,’ which The Isley Brothers cut the next year.
During the ’60s Samwell produced such acts as Sounds Incorporated, John Mayall and Georgie Fame. Samwell co-wrote The Small Faces’ 1965 single, ‘Watcha Gonna Do About It.’ By the end of the decade, Samwell was working as a staff producer for Warner Bros. Records’ London office. He signed Linda Lewis and Al Jarreau to the label and produced America’s first album, including the hit, ‘Horse With No Name.’ Samwell moved to Sacramento in 1980, but continued in the music business. He had a heart disease that led to a transplant in 1991. Musician friends helped raise the $100,000 he needed for the operation.*
Grand Ole Opry star Bill Carlisle (94) died in his Nashville-area home on March 17 after suffering a stroke on March 12. William Carlisle was born on December 19, 1908 in Wakefield, Kentucky. Like his older brother Cliff, he learned to play the guitar and performed locally when he was a teenager. In 1929, the brothers, along with other members of their family began a radio show called “The Carlisle Family Saturday Night Barn Dance” on a Louisville radio station. The brothers recorded separately and together–as The Carlisles–through the years. Most of their duo recordings were novelty in nature but were quite popular during the fifties. In 1966, Bill’s ‘What Kinda Deal Is This’ went to Number Four on the country chart. It was so popular that Titus Turner covered it for the R&B market later that year. Carlisle had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1953. His last appearance there was on March 7. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year.
© Phast Phreddie Patterson, April 2003