The Royals / Midnighters©2002JCMarion
part two : lull of the 50s and the heights of 1960
"It's Love Baby" on Federal #12227 (a cover version of the Louis Brooks tune which is also covered by Ruth Brown) gets some action on the sales charts. The flip is "Looka Here". In late July "Give It Up" and "That Woman" are paired on #12230. In October the Midnighters tour the deep South with Cal Green now fronting the backing band for the group. During the tour "Don't Change Your Pretty Ways" and "We'll Never Meet Again" is released by Federal on #12243. In November the Midnighters are a big draw in Atlanta sharing the stage with The Drifters. The interesting song "Rock & Roll Wedding" is coupled with the hard rocking "House On The Hill" (a great party song ! ) on Federal #12240 as 1955 comes to a close.
The first record release of 1956 for The Midnighters is "Sweet Mama Do Right" and "Partners For Life" on #12251. This record goes nowhere and the feeling starts to grow that the group's days in the spotlight may be behind them. In March "Open Up The Back Door" and "Rock Granny Roll" on Federal #12260 are as uninspiring as the titles. "Early One Morning" and "Tore Up Over You" are paired on #12270 in May. The group still is a good draw on the road as proved by good business over the summer in Denver, Kansas City, and Tulsa. "Tore Up" manages to make the top ten sellers in Atlanta in August. "I'll Be Home Someday" and "C'mon And Git It" are on Federal #12285 released in November.
During 1957 the group hits a low point as their records do not sell, they are given very little airplay, and most of their fan base has moved on. They release four records for Federal that go nowhere : "Let Me Hold Your Hand" / "Ooh Bah Baby" on #122288; "In The Doorway Crying" / "E Basta Cosi" on #12293; "Is Your Love So Real" / "Oh So Happy" on #12299; and "What made You Change Your Mind?" / "Let 'Em Roll" on #12305. In January of 1958 The Midnighters are still at it with "Daddy's Little Baby" and "Stay By My Side" on #12317. In April of that year - irony of ironies - The Midnighters and The 5 Royales will share the stage in the Big Rhythm & Blues cavalcade of 1958 that will tour the country. Also on the bill are Bo Diddley, Etta James, Little Willie John, Beulah Bryant, Cal Green's band and others. "Baby Please" and "Oh Wow Oo Wee" on #12339 is released by Federal in November. That seemed like the end of The Midnighters as Federal Records dropped them from the label after a stay of seven years.
The group still existed, now named Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. In 1959 a leftover Federal side was out pairing a great blues ballad "Teardrops On Your Letter" with an up tempo rocker called "The Twist" on the significant release number #12345. Since Federal had dropped the group they were in limbo when someone in the Syd Nathan combine decided to keep the group around, but on the parent King label. Both sides were released on King #5171. There was a bit of action on both tunes so King thought there was life in the quartet yet. "Kansas City" and "I'll Keep You Happy" on #5195 went nowhere as did "Sugaree" and "Rain Down Tears" on #5215. Hank again prevailed on a blues ballad "House With No Windows" and remade "Sexy Ways" as "Cute Little Ways" (for the mainstream pop stations) on #5245 which garnered a little airplay for the group. Not so for "Never Knew" / "I Could Love You" on #5275 or "Look At Little Sister" / "Said I Wouldn't Beg You" on #5289.
The group was still intact in 1960. Their status was a virtual replay of where they were in late 1953. The records weren't selling and the demand for in person appearances and club dates was waning as the reliance of hits from years gone by was wearing thin. "The Coffee Grind" and "Waiting" on King# 5312 went nowhere as the failures began to mount. But then - as in early 1954, the group recorded a tune that exploded on the record buying scene like a bomb. In '54 it was "Annie Had A Baby" and here seven long years later the tune was "Finger Poppin' Time". It was a straight dance tune with a blasting hook and irresistible drive led by the tenor sax spurring the group on the connecting verse. The Midnighters were back with a vengeance and bucked the trend of the teen idols and girl group sounds with a pounding R & B side from out of the mid fifties. The tune was on the pop charts for three and a half months, solidly in the top ten, and a million seller. The nationwide teenage record buying public had "discovered" the new sensation of the hit parade. At about this time King Records re-released a 1958 Midnighters record (Federal #12345, now on King# 5171) called "The Twist".
In the end "The Twist" became the biggest song of the pre-Beatle sixties, but Hank Ballard was not to be the main beneficiary. Supposedly the hand of Dick Clark was all over this one. He liked the song but not the Midnighters remembering their "Annie" days. He wanted "wholesomeness" or some such thing, and so the legend of Philadelphia chicken plucker Ernest Evans was born. Re-christened Chubby Checker, Evans and the schlockmeisters at Cameo-Parkway Philly's main hit machine of the time, recreated the Midnighters version of the song note for note (with The Dreamlovers on backup vocals). With the Philadelphia powerhouse backing, the Checker version blew the original out of the water and hit number one not once, but twice in 1960 AND 1962 - unprecedented in pop music history. Hopefully Ballard made out on composer credits. I remember Hank Ballard appearing on the TV show To Tell The Truth (Hank and two impostors all purporting to be the originator of The Twist). When the real Hank was asked to stand up, he was a real mystery guest as he was unknown by everyone. However I was always thankful for the show and host Bud Collyer for introducing a little bit of truthful history to the masses.
The reissued Midnighters version of "The Twist" stayed on the pop charts for six weeks and got as high as #28 which was not bad considering the tidal wave of Chubby and Parkway Records. Later that year King #5400 proved that the new found hitmaking power of The Midnighters was no fluke. "Let's Go Let's Go Let's Go" was another throwback R & B song with a sixties dance sensibility that translated to top ten seller, three months on the charts, and a gold record for the effort. Hank Ballard & The Midnighters were now pop stars, seemingly light years from their earlier time as a purveyor of raunchy, off color tunes. They had made the transition. 1960 was certainly their best year yet, with three more million sellers. But - as all good things happen, they must also come to an end. The group couldn't keep their position as a top pop charting act but they gave it a good shot during 1961. King #5430 gave the group a two sided chart record - "The Hoochi Coochi Coo" and "Let's Go Again" were moderate hits in the early part of the year, as were "The Continental Walk" on #5491 and "The Switch-A-Roo" on #5510. Then the chart hits stopped for the group. The could parlay their big 1960 on the road for a while, but the coming British Invasion in early 1964 killed off most of American pop except for Motown (where Hank's niece Florence was part of a girl group trio called The Primettes, soon to change their name to The Supremes).
The Midnighters made a number of records for the King label throughout the sixties, but never again got near the pop charts. A King LP "All Their Juke Box Hits" had all the Federal best sellers from 1954 and 1955 and because of the earlier notoriety, was a good seller for King. By the mid sixties Hank had called it quits on a group format, and did some work with James Brown and released some solo sides such as "How You Gonna Get Respect" and a remake of "Teardrops On Your Letter" on King#6196, and "Funky Soul Train" / "Butter Your Popcorn" on King#6244. Founding member Henry Booth had passed away in the late sixties and Hank & The Midnighters were mostly a memory until The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame came (belatedly) calling in 1990.
That is the story of The Royals / Midnighters one of the most proficient R & B entities ever. Two decades of performing, from the little neighborhood clubs in the inner cities of the early fifties, to the center stage of teenage America, this group of talented musicians have broken new ground many times. They have adapted to the many changes in society as well as musical tastes, fads, and the search for the next big thing to remain an American original. And always the invitation "let's go . . .let's go . . .to that house on the hill . . "
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