Monday, February 18, 2008


Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Finger Poppin' Time.
The Stanley Brothers, Finger Poppin' Time.

Syd Nathan, owner of Cincinnati's King Records, was one of the United States' secret integrationists from the late '40s through the '60s, mixing white and black popular music together--mainly for the cash, certainly, but creating some essential records in the process.

Nathan's King Records, founded in 1943 when Nathan set up shop in an old Cincinnati icehouse, began segregated--King was the label for country artists, while Queen was for "race" records. But by the early '50s, Nathan had hired R&B producer Ralph Bass as his A&R man, had moved R&B and jazz records to the main King label, and was putting out LPs and singles back-to-back from Grandpa Jones, James Brown, Bill Doggett, Earl Bostic and Ivory Joe Hunter.

And after a time, King's country and R&B artists began to record the same songs, and sometimes play on the same recordings: it made economic sense, as King (a notoriously low-budget label) could flog the same composition to two different markets.

So that's how the Stanley Brothers, who were originally known for pious bluegrass records like "We'll Be Sweethearts in Heaven," and "A Vision of Mother," wound up recording a dance song made famous by Hank Ballard, best known for his ribald R&B hits like "Work With Me Annie." Ballard was rumored to have sung backup on the Stanleys' record (though I don't hear him), while King employees provided the finger snaps.

Ballard's version was released as King 5341 c/w "I Love You, I Love You So-O-O"; the Stanleys', recorded 7 November 1960, was released as King 5384 c/w "Daybreak In Dixie". Ballard's is on Very Best; the Stanleys' is on Ridin' That Midnight Train.

An epilogue: towards the end of 1960, Nathan realized that "folk" music was starting to sell with white college kids, and so he threw the Stanleys' "Finger Poppin' Time" onto a 1961 LP called The Stanleys In Person, which was a bunch of Stanley Brothers studio tracks dressed up to seem as though they had been recorded live at a folk hootenanny. Who knows what the folkies made of "Finger Poppin' Time," but it must have seemed authentic, at least.

Top: Andy Warhol, Dick Tracy.

No comments: