HANK BALLARD: ‘You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down: The James Brown Sessions’ (Label: Soul Brother)

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HANK BALLARD: 'You Can't Keep A Good Man Down: The James Brown Sessions'

Unlike most of the singers that worked in James Brown’s legendary soul revue in the 1960s, Hank Ballard (real name John Henry Kendricks) already had a proven track record when it came to hit singles – back in the early ’50s, Ballard and his band The Midnighters (formerly The Royals) scored two US R&B chart toppers for Sid Nathan’s Federal label in the shape of ‘Work With Me Annie’ and ‘Annie Had A Baby.’ Ballard, in fact, was also responsible for penning the dance craze tune, ‘The Twist,’ which Chubby Checker turned into a global smash in 1960. However, when Ballard’s fortunes began to ebb from 1962 onwards – the Midnighters split in ’65 – it was his King label mate and friend, James Brown, who tried to resurrect the Detroit-born singer’s career with the socio-political-themed single ‘How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven’t Cut Your Process Yet)’ in 1968. Sure enough, Brown’s magic touch paid off and the 45 – which featured the Cincinnati group, The Dapps, and used virtually the same backing track to ‘Licking Stick,’ a chart hit for the Godfather only a few months earlier – dented the R&B Top 20. This excellent new 18-track compilation opens with the above mentioned 45 and features the complete ‘You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’ LP that Ballard recorded for King in 1968 under the influence of the Godfather. The album’s almost impossible to find now, so hats off to Soul Brother for putting it back on the shelves again. As well as Ballard’s original King LP – the highlights of which include a version of ‘Unwind Yourself,’ previously recorded by Marva Whitney, and ‘Funky Soul Train’ – you’ll also find six non-album bonus cuts. Among them is the funky gem, ‘Butter Your Popcorn,’ and ‘Blackenized,’ a Brown-penned slice of black power rhetoric riding on a funky, flute-laced groove. Ballard’s funk-infused revamp of his ’50s hit, ‘Annie Had A Baby’ – released on JB’s People label – is also included, along with the fiercely funky ‘Finger Poppin’ Time’ and the popular rare groove, ‘From The Love Side,’ which steals the backing track to Marva Whitney’s ‘I Made A Mistake Because It’s Only You.’ Needless to say, this is an essential purchase for both funk fanatics and aficionados of James Brown productions (for more information go to www.soulbrother.com).
(CW) 4/5