Earl Solomon Burroughs, more widely known as the singer "Jack Hammer" and the co-writer of the hit song "Great Balls of Fire," died this week of heart failure in his hometown of Oakland. He was 90.
The news was made public on his Facebook page, which Burroughs was posting on until January of this year. His family posted the news:
Born in 1925 in Georgia, Burroughs moved to Oakland as a child, where he grew up until he moved to New York in the 1950s. It was in the Big Apple where he started his music career as a master of ceremonies at the Baby Grand Theatre.
Burroughs began writing songs around that time, including "Fujiyama Mama," which later became a hit in Japan for Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly. He would write almost 150 songs throughout his career.
The version of "Great Balls of Fire" that was recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and is one of the greatest selling singles of all time -- it sold a million copies within 10 days -- is reportedly not the song that Burroughs wrote. He showed the song to songwriter Peter Case who liked the title but not the music, so Case asked hit songwriter Otis Blackwell to write a new version but give half of the credit and royalties to Burroughs. Case also included the song in the 1957 movie Jamboree, which was about a new craze called Rock 'n' Roll. The song title was also used for the 1989 biopic about Lewis that starred Dennis Quaid.
After recording a Beat Poetry-influenced album in 1960, Burroughs moved to Europe, where he would record a bunch of songs based on Chubby Checker's "The Twist," the most popular being "The Kissin' Twist." Burroughs would later be dubbed "The Twistin' King" of Europe.
Burroughs would move back to the United States in the '80s and at one point he reportedly was to play Jimi Hendrix in a biopic about the guitar hero's life. His health began to fail in 2010 and in 2014, a blog post stated that a lawyer Burroughs hired depleted him of all his income.
A press release from his grandson Lance McGee states that Burroughs will be buried in a private funeral in Oakland. He is survived by children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren.
Watch Jack Hammer perform with Hammond organ virtuoso Cherry Wainer in 1966. (The gun twirling is worth it alone):