Henry Stone and Hank Ballard and The Midnighters Created The Twist Dance Craze
Before Chubby Checker’s version of The Twist took the world by storm, spawning a Dick Clark fueled dance craze, and a series of answer records that continues till today, it was just another record cut by Henry Stone and Hank Ballard and The Midnighters at the North Miami Armory. The back story is little known outside the music industry, but is a documented fact in a recent book called “Peppermint Twist: The Mob, Music, and The Most Famous Dance Club of the ’60s” by John Johnson Jr., Joel Selvin, and Dick Cami.
It all started when Henry took a Chitlin Circuit run with Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. He remembers, “I got a call in the 1950’s to go on the road with The Midnighters for like 2 weeks. I was out promoting my records and the Midnighters records along with em’. I was the white man, so I had to buy food for the band and bring it to the car. While we were on the road Hank said, “My contract is about to be up with King. I wanna get with either Veejay or Chess.” I said no problem. I called Ewart Abner and said “How would you like to sign Hank Ballard?” He said “Record him now, and I’ll give you 5,000 free records and half the publishing on the song.”
I didn’t have a studio yet, but Mack Emmerman (Criteria Recording Studios) had a lot of portable recording equipment. I brought Hank up to the Armory in North Miami and he came up with The Twist, but like a blues grind. It was originally going to be a blues number.
Hank’s guitar player, Cal Green, was tuning up his guitar and I said, “How about we do it like a dance song.” And that’s how we recorded it. I sent the masters up to Ewart at Veejay, but somehow, Syd Nathan found out about it. He said ‘Oh that sonofabitch Henry Stone…Hank still owes me $300 on his contract! You better give me that master or I’m gonna sue your ass off.’ Ewart didn’t wanna do anything with the courts so he just sent him the tapes and it came out as a B-Side on Federal.
“Later, Cameo-Parkway sent Chubby Checker down to perform at one of my sock hops I used to run with DJ Bob Green. Chubby came by the studio when I was cutting James Brown doing the “Mashed Potato.” I told Chubby that if he’s looking for a song, to go look at this little B Side that came out on Federal Records, and so I’m the man responsible for “The Twist.” But these were just things I did to make a living, I never thought twice about it at the time. –And that’s how history is made.”
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