© 2024 WBGO
Discover Jazz...Anywhere, Anytime, on Any Device.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rhythm Revue Spotlight on legendary soul and R&B singer-songwriter Hank Ballard (Part 2)

Hank Ballard
Hank Ballard

“You know, what inspired me to write that was when Fats Domino had that ‘I Found My Thrill on Blue berry Hill.’ I said, ‘Okay, Fats, you said the thrill up there, let's go and get it.’”

Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go

“Let's Go” became one of the biggest hits for Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. The year was 1960. It reached number one on the R&B chart. And crossed over to Pop as a Top 10 hit, the second of only two Top 10 singles for Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

“Johnny Otis was the guy that was instrumental in getting us a recording contract.”

The Midnighters were originally called The Royals. Sonny Woods, a member of the first group, knew that The Royals needed to change their sound to keep up with the rising popularity of rock and roll. That's when he found Hank Ballard.

“Sonny Woods was the guy that found me on the assembly line at Ford Motors in Detroit, Michigan. That was during the war when the 16-year-olds was allowed working permits, because the manpower shortage. But Sonny heard me singing on the assembly line one day. Just, you know, singin’ tunes that was current on the radio. Sonny took me in for an audition and I came out all right. It took them two years to train me how to keep from singing flat.”

Hank Ballard was born November 18, 1936 in Detroit. His father died when he was seven years old and was sent to Alabama to be raised by relatives. It didn't take long before Hank Ballard felt the itch to get back to the big city.

“My people in Alabama was fanatics, man. All they did was go to church and back home into the store there or the grocery store. And that was it. That was one of the reasons why I ran off when I was 13 years old and went back to Detroit. I couldn't stand that restraint, you know. I wanted to sing the blues.”

Like hundreds of other examples in the annals of rock and roll history, Hank Ballard has a story of what could have been. It was 1959. King Records released a single by Hank Ballard which became a minor hit. It was called “Teardrops on Your Letter.”

Teardrops On Your Letter

“That song was written by Henry Glover. He was the vice president of King Records, and that's where he was going to go with his song, man. He had written it and had it published. You know he was going to push his side. You know, that's business. I can understand that. But I kept telling him, ‘See man, you gotta turn it over. The hit is on the other side.’ I kept pleadin’ and pleadin’ and they couldn't hear it.”

The flip side was a little dance number written by Hank Ballard called “The Twist.”

“They just couldn't hear it, but Dick Clark heard it. He heard it and went and found Chubby Checker.”

Chubby Checker - The Twist (Official Music Video)

Chubby Checker's recording of Hank Ballard's “The Twist” became an international dance sensation. Despite all that, Hank Ballard had a stellar career, which was reignited when he did some work with his old friend James Brown.

Hank Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. He died on March 2nd, 2003.

Listen, above.

Recommended tracks

“Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go”
“Look at Little Sister”
“House with No Windows”
“From the Love Side” (with James Brown) 

Deep cut

“How You Gonna Get Respect”




Felix Hernandez started his career as a producer and radio journalist while in college. In the 1980’s, Felix independently produced the award-winning radio series BluesStage, which had a 6 year run on over 200 NPR stations. He also worked extensively as a journalist with WBEZ in Chicago, and NPR.