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'Answer records' helped define original Black rhythm and blues

Richard G. Carter | 10/12/2012, 4:17 p.m.
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"I ain't had no baby, don't want no baby, don't need no baby. And I don't know why they told that lie..."

- Hazel McCollum, "Annie's Answer" (Vee-Jay Records, 1954)

Among the memories that came rushing to my mind in the wake of the recent deaths of Etta James, Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston is the titanic talent of so many trendsetting Black singers and musicians of the 1950s and '60s. Indeed, countless numbers have entertained, enchanted and inspired us to the present day.

These performers provided a unique approach to music in general and original Black rhythm and blues in particular. One of the best loved were "answer records" during their 1953-1963 golden era. I revel in the fact that I was around to enjoy these innovative sounds.

An example was James' "Roll With Me Henry" with the Peaches on Modern Records in 1954. This answered the suggestive "Work With Me Annie" written by Hank Ballard with his Midnighters--initially the Royals--on the Federal label.

However, the most authentic answer to "Work With Me Annie" was "Annie Had a Baby," which began the trend in 1954. Also waxed by Ballard, it was a gas. To wit:

"Annie had a baby, can't work no more. Every time we got to workin', she has to stop and walk the baby across the floor. She has to walk with the baby, instead of me; talk to the baby, instead of me; sing to the baby, instead of me; cling to the baby, instead of me. Annie please don't tease, give me all my meat. Now I know Annie understood, that's what happens when the gettin' gets good."

This tune by Ballard--who made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990--is king of the answer record genre. It spawned 11 answers by nine different artists from 1954-1965. Ballard made one more with the Midnighters in 1954: "Annie's Aunt Fannie."

Others that year include "Annie's Answer" by Hazel McCollum and the sensational El Dorados on Vee-Jay; "I'm the Father of the Baby," Danny Taylor on Bruce; "My Name Ain't Annie," Linda Hayes on King; "Mama Took the Baby," Lena Gordon and the Sax Kari Orchestra on Checker; "Annie Pulled a Hum-Bug," Midnights on Music City; and "Annie Kicked the Bucket," the Nu-Tones on Hollywood Star.

The "Annie" craze continued in 1955 with the Midnighters' "Henry's Got Flat Feet" on Federal; "Hey, Henry," Etta James and the Peaches on Modern; and "Annie Met Henry," the Champions on Chart. Finally, in 1965, there was "Annie Don't Love Me No More" by the Hollywood Flames on Symbol.

Of note, the Midnighters' 1959 version of "The Twist" on King--which hit big in urban Black communities--was not the initial recording of the tune written by Ballard. It was first done by the Spaniels on Vee-Jay but was deemed too sexy and wasn't released.

"The Twist" was covered by Chubby Checker in 1960 on the Parkway label and became a crossover smash with white record buyers. Over the next few years, Checker followed this success on Parkway and MCA with "Let's Twist Again" and "Twistin' U.S.A." (1961); "Slow Twisting" with Dee Dee Sharp (1962); and "Twist it Up" (1963).