ANNIE HAD A CO-WORKER

HANK BALLARD BROUGHT ROCK 'N' SEX OUT OF THE DARK AGES AND INTO THE HALL OF FAME. OH, YEAH, AND HE INVENTED THE TWIST!

After the British Invasion, things cooled considerably for the group. Worse, the Midnighters, hell raisers who one time dropped their pants and climbed flagpoles at a university gig, discovered the Nation of Islam. Around 1967, Ballard's bandmates became Muslims, refused to sign white fans' autographs and do white shows. When Ballard lost that group to Malcolm X, he was heartbroken and quit touring. Sometime later, Ballard alleges that three of the other members of the group tried killing him, which rules out the possibility of a reunion in this lifetime.

But you'll find Ballard touring with a more agreeable set of Midnighters these days. "I'd rather make less money and put on a good show. Not like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. All they do is travel with a guitar, pick up any kind of band. They don't care what they sound like. And Chuck Berry plays out of tune all night long."

Ballard plays 150 to 200 dates a year. "I'd rather work more. Back in the Fifties, we were working 365 days a year. That was when the one-nighters were really popular. The chitlin circuit. Man, goddamn!" Reviewers of his recent tours have commented that Ballard's sultry tenor has lost none of its urgency and that the height-challenged legend is possibly more of a dynamo at age 58 than he was starting out.

"I stayed away from drugs, and my voice is better than ever now that I stopped smoking last year," he boasts. Ballard is also looking forward to recording some new material. Chances are it will be more in line with what made him famous and less like some of the trendy singles he released after the Midnighters split, like 1968's "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet?)" and 1974's saucy "Let's Go Streaking." Ballard, secure about his place in history, is brimming with optimism about his place in rock's future. "When Barry White hit the charts after 17 years of not being on, the industry started looking for singers again. Isaac Hayes has a new record coming out. So does Percy Sledge. I'm gonna be next," he promises.

"Of course, you know," he adds, "all the best singers come from the Fifties.

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