Jack and his daughter Pascale, Hollywood, Sunset Plaza, May 2011
Born Earl Solomon Burroughs, 18 September 1940, New Orleans, Louisiana
Songwriter, singer, dancer, MC (Master of ceremonies)
Jack Hammer is probably best known as the co-writer of one of the immortal classics of rock n roll, "Great Balls Of Fire", Jerry Lee Lewis' # 2 hit from 1957. Born in New Orleans, he moved to California as a youngster and then, probably in the mid-1950s, to New York City, where he became the M.C. at the Baby Grand Theatre.
Earl Burroughs (his real name) started writing songs at a very young age. One of his earliest compositions, credited to Earl Burrows, was the spectacular "Fujiyama Mama", written at the age of only fourteen. It was recorded by Annisteen Allen in late 1954, covered by Eileen Barton soon afterward and is probably best known in the version of Wanda Jackson from 1957, though none of these versions charted. Probably in 1955 he changed his name from Earl Burroughs to Jack Hammer, as "Rock 'n' Roll Call" by the Treniers (recorded on December 15, 1955) shows the writers as Jack Hammer and Rudolph Toombs. This song was also recorded by Louis Jordan in 1956. In April of that year, Hammer's composition "Knock Kneed Nellie from Knoxville" was recorded by the Jumping Jaguars (Decca 29938), a side-project of Franny Beecher of Bill Haley's Comets. It is possible that Hammer was a member of this group. "Football Rock"/ "So What" (Decca 30109, released October 1956) was the first release under his own name. His next appearance on record was "Girl Girl Girl" (Roulette 4046, 1958), a good rocker, followed by two singles on Kapp in 1959.
Hammer is probably more important as a songwriter than as a singer. The story behind "Great Balls Of Fire" (as revealed by Stuart Colman) is as follows. Hammer wrote a song of that name and submitted it to New York songwriter Paul Case, who at that time also happened to be musical consultant for the forthcoming movie "Jamboree". Case was unimpressed with the contents but loved the title. He subsequently called Otis Blackwell, who had never met Jack, and commissioned him to write a new song around the title, to be used in "Jamboree". Hammer was in full agreement to this arrangement as the deal was to be split right down the middle. In 1958, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded "Milkshake Mademoiselle" (unreleased at the time), Big Danny Oliver cut the exuberant rocker "Sapphire" and the Cadillacs scored a # 28 hit with "Peek-A-Boo", all penned by Hammer. "Croc-O-Doll" was written for the Impacts (RCA 7583), in 1959. In that year, a record was released "Black Widow Spider Woman"/"Doggone That Moon", credited to Jack Hammer and the Pacers on the Milestone label, but this was in fact a pseudonym for rockabilly/country singer Werly Fairburn. In 1960, Hammer recorded a strange LP for the Warwick label, "Rebellion - Jack Hammer Sings and Reads Songs and Poems of the Beat Generation".
The next year Hammer moved to Europe. First to Paris where he appeared in cabaret doing Sammy Davis and Chuck Berry impersonations. But he stayed much longer in Belgium, where he was discovered by Albert Van Hoogten, who had founded the Ronnex label in 1951. Jack recorded a whole bunch of twist ditties for Ronnex, which were also released in other European countries on a variety of labels (Oriole in the UK). The most successful of these was "Kissin' Twist", which sold especially well in Belgium (# 3), Germany, France and Sweden. Jack was an excellent dancer and in Belgium he became known as "The Twistin' King", which was also the title of an LP (as far as I know, the only LP that Ronnex ever released). The album had a different title in every country where it came out ; in the UK it was called "Hammer + Beat = Twist" (Oriole PS 40020, 1963). Some of the more successful twist recordings were also recorded in German and/or Spanish for the local markets. By 1971 he was living in Wiesbaden, Germany, where he played the U.S. military bases. Apart from "Swim"/"Color Combination", there were no new releases in the 1970s. Hammer moved back to New York in order to play the part of Jimi Hendrix in a proposed film, but the plans for this movie foundered in the early to mid-1980s. At present (2010) he is living in Hollywood. A BMI search tells us that he has written 144 songs registered with BMI, including those credited to Earl Burroughs and Earl Burrows.
Acknowledgements : Adam Komorowski (liner notes for the Sequel CD "Roulette Rock 'n' Roll Collection"), Pete Hoppula, Stuart Colman.
Currently there is no CD overview of Jack's recordings. The Belgian Marginal label released a 30-track CD in 1997, which is no longer available, although there was a Russian (!) reissue in 2001.