‘The Twist’, First Recorded and Produced by Henry Stone, Just Named Billboard Hot 100 Era Number 1 Song Of All Time
“Hank Ballard came into my Tone Distributing office one day and said to me, “Henry, my contract with King Records is over.” I pretty much knew this information because of my involvement with King Records and remembered him signing a three-year contract. Ballard implied to me that he was shopping for a new record label and asked me if I could get him signed with Chicago’s Chess or Vee Jay record labels.”
“I told him that I did not think that would be a problem and that I would make a couple of phone calls and see what I could do. I called Leonard Chess, who thought he might be interested. I next called Ewart Abner at Vee Jay, who was definitely interested.”
“As it turned out, Ballard had pretty much made the decision that he would like to go with Abner at Vee-Jay. I called Abner and said, “Would you like to have Hank Ballard on your label?” He said, “Yeah, he’s a great artist and he’s had quite a few hits on the King label. Is his contract over?” I told him I was 100% positive that his contract had expired and that he was getting ready to sign a contract with somebody.”
“Abner said that he would sign him up under one condition, that I record him in Miami, while he was down here. I told Abner that there was one slight problem, that we did not have a recording studio in Miami at the time. At this stage I was focusing on my distribution company and had shut down my recording studio.”
“Mack Emerman’s Criteria Recording Studio, located in North Miami, had not yet officially opened its doors. Emerman had quite a bit of portable equipment and he was recording out of his house. He was also recording live at the North Miami Armory, so we decided to take Ballard into the Armory and we recorded him there for Vee Jay.
While recording, I was working with Ballard on material. Ballard had some terrific records on King such as “Work With Me Annie” and “Annie Had A Baby”, considered very risqué for their time. During the recording session at the Armory, Ballard played for me a very slow Bluesy tempo song that he called “The Twist”.
I remember Ballard’s guitar player, Cal Green, tuning up his guitar for “The Twist” in a much faster tempo than the slower Bluesy version. Green’s faster riff while tuning his guitar fit into the chord structure of what Ballard was singing to me. I turned to Ballard and said, “Why don’t we take this Blues version and merge it with Green’s up tempo guitar riff and turn ‘The Twist’ into a dance record?”
“We did just that and sent the tapes to Abner at Vee Jay in Chicago. After Abner received the tapes, he got a call from Syd Nathan, who stated, “That son-of-a-bitch Henry Stone had no right recording Hank Ballard. Ballard’s contract is up, but he owes me $300.00. If Ballard don’t pay me the $300.00, I’m going to sue you and Henry Stone and the whole world.” That was Nathan’s forte.”
“Abner called me and said, “Henry, I don’t want to get into a lawsuit with Nathan, he’s a pain in the ass! What do you want to do?” I told Abner that I would send him the $300.00 to give to Nathan to shut him up, but he had to send me all the copyrights for the $300.00. Abner agreed and said he would call Nathan with my proposal. A loss I have remembered for years! On an agreement we had made previously, Abner then sent me 10,000 free records as payment for my recording session with Ballard.
After Syd Nathan received the more up tempo version of “The Twist” from Abner, the version that I produced, Syd released “The Twist” as the B-side to Ballard’s #4 national hit, “Teardrops On Your Letter”. Chubby Checker (real name Earnest Evans) covered the song and took it to #1 twice in 1960 – 1962! “The Twist” would in time become the biggest teenage and adult dance craze in all of Rock history.”
“The version playing is a very rare alternative with no official ending that I found in my vaults after 44 years.”
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