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From the Land of Band Box Records

The Many Faces of the Drifters

Drifters – January, 1965

Attempting to track the story of the R&B greats – The Drifters – can be maddening to say the least.

Without the benefit of an intricate road map such as Marv Goldberg’s R&B historical site – good luck.

The Drifter’s story begins with failure of sorts back in 1953.  That was the year that Dominoe’s lead singer Clyde McPhatter was more or less lured away from Bill Ward’s group by one of the founders of Atlantic Records – Ahmet Ertegun.  McPhatter wasn’t completely happy with his role as a Dominoe – Followers of the group generally assumed Billy Ward was the primary lead voice of the group, not Clyde.

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Ahmet Ertegun

Clyde’s time with the Dominoes lasted about a year and on recordings he was prominently featured as lead voice on “Have Mercy Baby” (number 1 R&B for 10 weeks), “”I’d Be Satisfied” (number 8 R&B), and then the early 1953 release “The Bells” which went to number 3. (The Dominoe’s earlier monster hit “Sixty Minute Man” from the spring of 1951 featured the lead bass voice of Bill Brown but McPhatter was part of the group at the time having recently signed on.  That song would go to number 1 R&B and remain there for 14 straight weeks and would chart number 17 on the Billboard Pop Charts.

Excited by the prospect of getting a shot at joining the Atlantic roster, McPhatter quickly rounded up a group of fellow church singers who sang with Clyde in the “Mount Lebanon Singers”.  And so it was that Clyde along with David Baughan, William Anderson, Charlie White, James Johnson and David Baldwin entered the studio to cut four tracks.

The “Mount Lebanon” Version of Drifters – A No Go

Very quickly Ahmet with his experience in R&B put a nix on this assemblage and so Clyde was challenged to quickly put together a second lineup.  This one would include Gerhart and and Andrew Thrasher gospel singers from “The Thrasher Wonders”, accompanied by Willie Ferbee and Walter Adams.  This second set of Drifters would stick and would record the group’s very first charting recording, “Money Honey” which would come out in the fall of 1953 released on the Atlantic label.

The Second Drifters Set – This One Would Stick – But Not for Long

What a beginning it would be for the Drifters:  “Money Honey” skyrocketed the the top of the R&B charts remaining at number 1 for 11 weeks.  An oddity occurred on the next Drifter’s release – a double sided hit with “Such A Night” on the “A” side and “Lucille” on the “B” side.  The two songs would go to numbers 2 and 7 respectively R&B – And so we ended up with a record which featured McPhatter’s second grouping of Drifters per Ahmet’s request on side one.  “Lucille”, however, was from the first Drifter recording session with the quickly disbanded Drifters singing along with Clyde.

So two nearly different groups of Drifters on a single recording – both charting!

So after this curious beginning – Drifters would come and go – be dispatched by the Drifter’s owner George Treadwell, return, reassemble – break up, fracture into multiple sets of Drifters.  There would be an additional generally “stable” set of Drifters in 1958 when a group called “The Crowns” got an opportunity after Treadwell suddenly fired the entire group of Drifters.  Since he had obligations for his group to make public appearances nearly a year into the future – this would be an opportunity for the “Crowns” whose lead singer was Benjamin Earl Nelson who performed as “Ben E. King”.

This group had a very nice run up into the 1960’s.  Basically the Drifters had four strong runs with different lead singers (and many changes in lineup members) those being first the Clyde McPhatter era – then the Ben E. King era, the Rudy Lewis era and finally the Johnny Moore era as will be demonstrated below by the selected discography.

A couple of others who held down the lead chores for a short time included Bobby Hendricks who had a considerable hit in 1958 titled “Itchy Twitch Feeling” which peaked R&B number 5 and number 25 Hot 100.  Another was David Baughan who would go onto front the R&B group “The Harps”.

All in all there were more than 60 members of the various combinations of Drifters – The group benefited from top of the line composers in the 1960’s.  At times the Drifters would hit the road and would perform as “The Coasters” and other times as “The Ravens” to an unsuspecting public.  George Treadwell paid low wages and never had empathy for his singers – At one point after original Drifter Bill Pinkney asked for a raise, Treadwell fired him.  This inspired Andrew Thrasher to quit in protest.  At an Apollo Theater appearance a couple of the group members argued with the promoter.  Treadwell’s reaction to this incident was to fire all the Drifters and start over once again.

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Tight-Fisted Drifters’ Owner – George Treadwell

Treadwell would later lose lead singer Ben E. King when he refused to grant him a salary increase.

Spin-off groups included “Bill Binkney’s Original Drifters”, and in one instance Pinkney brought in a group called the “Tears” to act as Drifters for a brief tour.  Dock Green led his own Drifters in the 70’s and 80’s.  Ray Lewis and Roy Hemmings did the same as did Bobby Hendricks.  Don Thomas led “Don Thomas and the Drifters Review”.  Clyde McPhatter’s son, Ronn, got into the act after his father’s death called “Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters”.  And old tightwad Treadwell would put together “The Drifters Legends which included four lesser known former members.

Real as Real Can Be – Dock Green’s Drifters

Later on the group in various forms in the 1970’s enjoyed some chart success in the U.K. but nothing approaching the earlier days.

Recognition

When it came to memorialize the Drifters – a couple of different approaches were taken by the music industry.  The “Vocal Group Hall of Fame” honored two sets of Drifters calling the first “The Original Drifters” (inducted in 1998) and the second “Ben E. King and the Drifters” inducted in 2000.

The “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” elected to mix it up.  In 1988 the Hall named originals Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher and Clyde McPhatter along with following members Charlie Thomas, Ben E. King, Johnny Moore, and Rudy Lewis as a Drifter-Conglomerate.

Top: McPhatter – Thrasher – Pinkney – King – Bottom: Lewis – Moore – Thomas

The Drifters Selected Discography with Lead Vocalists

the Drifters would place 66 songs on the popularity charts from 1953 into 1977 including U.K. chart appearances.  Their final eight charting songs would only appear on the U.K. charts.

The Drifters remained with Atlantic Records through all of the turmoil and changes up until 1973 when they moved over to Bell Records.*  Only one track on Bell would dent the charts – “Kissin’ In The Back Row of the Movies”, a reach back to capture some earlier magic.

NOTE: There was one very brief stint (one 45) on a small record label out of Gary, Indiana, “Steeltown” – placed on that label by composer Henry Farag who often placed his songs with small area labels.  The Jackson 5’s very first 45 release came out on Steel-Town (Steeltown) in 1968, “We Don’t Have To Be 21 (To Fall In Love)” b/w “Jam Session”.

Clyde McPhatter Lead Vocals – June, 1953 through July, 1955

45 – Atlantic 45-1006 – “Money Honey” – Charted Number 1 R&B for 11 Weeks – Released August, 1953

45 EP – Atlantic 45-534 – The Drifters Sing Featuring Clyde McPhatter – Released 1955

45 – Atlantic 45-1019 – Such A Night b/w Lucille – Double Sided Hit Number’s 2 and 7 R&B – Released January, 1954

45 – Atlantic 45-1043 – Bip Bam b/w Someday – Did Not Chart – Released October, 1954

45 – Atlantic 45-1048 – White Christmas – Charted Number 2 R&B 1954 – Number 5 R&B 1955 and Number 80 Hot 100 – Number 12 1956 R&B

(McPhatter and Bill Pinkney shared lead vocals)

45 – Atlantic 45-1055 – Whatcha’ Gonna Do – Charted Number 2 R&B – Released February, 1955

Johnny Moore Lead Vocals – September, 1955 through October, 1957

(Johnny Moore had two runs with the Drifters – He would return in 1964 and would again become their lead voice after Rudy Lewis suddenly passed away in May of that year._)

45 – Atlantic 45- 1078 – Adorable b/w Steamboat – Double Sided Hit – Charted Numbers 1 and 5 R&B Charts – Released October, 1955

45 – Atlantic 45-1089 – Ruby Baby – Charted Number 10 R&B – Released March, 1956

45 – Atlantic 45-1101 – Soldier of Fortune b/w I Gotta Get Myself A Woman – Double Sided Hit – Charted Number 10 Both Sides R&B – Released July, 1956

45 – Atlantic 45-1123 – Fools Fall In Love – Charted Number 10 R&B – Number 69 Hot 100 – Released January, 1957

45 EP – Atlantic 592 – The Drifters – Released 1957

45 – Atlantic 45-1141 – Hypnotized – Charted Number 79 Hot 100 – Released May, 1957

Bobby Hendricks Lead Vocals – October, 1957 through April, 1958

45 – Atlantic 45-1187 – Drip Drop b/w Moonlight Bay – Double Sided Hit – Charted Numbers 58 and 72 Hot 100 – Released May, 1958

Lead Vocals for the B Side – Moonlight Bay was by the entire group

Ben E. King Lead Vocals – March, 1959 through May, 1960

(Several Ben . King tracks released after his departure)

45 – Atlantic 45-2025 – There Goes My Baby – Charted Number 1 R&B – Number 2 Hot 100 – Released April, 1959

45 – Atlantic 45-2040 – Dance With Me/(If You Cry) True Love, True Love Double Sided Hit – Side One Charted Number 2 R&B – Number 15 Hot 100 – Side 2 Charted Number 5 R&B – Number 33 Hot 100 – Released September, 1959

Lead Vocal on True Love, True Love by Johnny Lee Williams

45 – Atlantic 45-2050 – This Magic Moment – Charted Number 4 R&B – Number 20 Hot 100 – Released January, 1960

45 – Atlantic 45-2062 – Lonely Winds – Charted Number 9 R&B – Number 54 Hot 100 – Released May, 1960

45 – Atlantic 45-2071 – Save The Last Dance For Me – Charted Number 1 R&B – Number 1 Hot 100 for 3 Weeks – Released August, 1960

45 – Atlantic 45-2087 – I Count The Tears – Charted Number 6 R&B – Number 17 Hot 100 – Released November, 1960

Rudy Lewis Lead Vocals – February, 1961 through May, 1964

Rudy passed away on May 5th, 1964)

45 – Atlantic 45-2096 – Some Kind Of Wonderful – Charted Number 6 R&B – Number 32 Hot 100 – Released March, 1961

45 – Atlantic 45-2105 – Please Stay – Charted Number 13 R&B – Number 14 Hot 100 – Released May, 1961

45 – Atlantic 45-2117 – Sweets For My Sweet – Charted Number 10 R&B – Number 16 Hot 100 – Released August, 1961

45 – Atlantic 45-2127 – Room Full Of Tears – Charted Number 72 Hot 100 – Released November, 1961

Charlie Thomas Lead Vocal on Room Full of Tears

45 – Atlantic 45-2134 – When My Little Girl Is Smiling – Charted Number 28 Hot 100 – Released February, 1962

45 – Atlantic 45-2143 – Stranger on the Shore – Charted Number 73 Hot 100 – Released April, 1962

45 – Atlantic 45-2151 – Sometimes I Wonder – Charted Number 103 Music Vendor/Record World Charts – Released June, 1962

Ben E. King Lead Vocal

45 – Atlantic 45-2162 – Up On the Roof – Charted Number 4 R&B – Number 5 Hot 100 – Released September, 1962

45 – Atlantic 45-2182 – On Broadway – Charted Number 7 R&B – Number 9 Hot 100 – Released March, 1963

45 – Atlantic 45-2191 – If You Don’t Come Back – Charted Number 101 Bubbling Under Charts – Rat Race Charted Number 71 – Released May, 1963

(Johnny Moore Lead Vocal A Side – Rudy Lewis B Side)

45 – Atlantic 45-2201 – I’ll Take You Home – Charted Number 24 R&B – Number 25 Hot 100 – Released August, 1963

45 – Atlantic 45-2216 – Vaya Con Dios – Charted Number 10 R&B – Number 43 Hot 100 – Released January, 1964

Johnny Moore Lead Vocals – Returns for 2nd Stint – April, 1963 through into 1973

45 – Atlantic 45-2225 – One-Way Love – Charted Number 12 R&B – Number 56 Hot 100 – Released April, 1964

45 – Atlantic 45-2237 – Under The Boardwalk – Charted Number 1 R&B for 3 Weeks – Number 4 Hot 100 – Released June, 1964

45 EP – Atlantic SD 8099 – The Drifters Under The Boardwalk – Released 1964

45 – Atlantic 45-2253 – I’ve Got Sand In My Shoes – Charted Number 21 R&B – Number 33 Hot 100 – “B” Side He’s Just a Playboy Charted Number 115 Bubbling Under Charts – Released September, 1964

45 – Atlantic 45-2260 – Saturday Night At the Movies – Charted Number 8 R&B – Number 18 Hot 100 – Released October, 1964

45 – Atlantic 45-2261 – The Christmas Song/I Remember Christmas – Did Not Chart – Released December, 1964

45 – Atlantic 45-2268 – At the Club – Charted Number 10 R&B – Number 43 Hot 100 – Released January, 1965

45 – Atlantic 45-2285 – Come On Over To My Place b/w Chains of Love – Double Sided Hit – Charted Numbers 60 and 90 Hot 100 – Released April, 1965

Johnny Moore lead vocal A side – Charlie Thomas B side

45 – Atlantic 45-2292 – The Outside World – Charted Number 116 Music World/Record Vendor – Released June, 1965

Charlie Thomas Lead Vocal

45 – Atlantic 45-2310 – We Gotta Sing – Charted Number 130 Music Vendor/Record World Charts – Released November, 1965

45 – Atlantic 45-2325 – Memories Are Made Of This – Charted Number 48 Hot 100 – Released February, 1966

45 – Atlantic 45-2336 – You Can’t Love Them All – Charted Number 127 Bubbling Under Charts – Up In The Streets Of Harlen Charted Number 132 Music Vendor/Record World Charts – Released June, 1966

Charlie Thomas Lead Vocals A Side – Johnny Moore B Side

45 – Atlantic 45-2366 – Baby, What I Mean – Charted Number 37 R&B – Number 62 Hot 100 – Released November, 1966

45 – Atlantic 45-2426 – Ain’t It The Truth – Charted Number 36 R&B – Number 127 Music Vendor/Record World Charts – Released July, 1967

45 – Atlantic 45-2471 – Still Burning In My Heart – Charted Number 111 Bubbling Under Charts – Released December, 1967

45 – Bell 45,600 – Kissin in the Back Row of the Movies – Charted Number 83 R&B – Number 138 Music Vendor/Record World Charts – Released August, 1974

45 – Musicor 1498 – A Midsummer Night In Harlem – Charted Number 106 Music Vendor/Record World Charts – Released September, 1974

The Drifters Long Play Selected Discography

LP – Atlantic 8003 – Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters – Released July, 1957

LP – Atlantic 8022 – Rockin’ & Driftin’ – Released November, 1958

LP – Atlantic 8041 – The Drifters’ Greatest Hits – Released June, 1960

LP – Atlantic 8059 – Save The Last Dance For Me – Released February, 1962

LP – Atlantic 8073 – Up On The Roof – Charted Number 110 Billboard LP Charts – Released February, 1963

LP – Atlantic 8093 – Our Biggest Hits – Released May, 1964

LP – Atlantic 8099 – Under the Boardwalk – Charted Number 40 Billboard LP Charts – Released August, 1964

(First and Second Issue Covers Shown)

LP – Atlantic 8103 – The Good Life with The Drifters – Charted Number 103 Billboard LP Charts – Released January, 1965

LP – Atlantic 8113 – I’ll Take You Where The Music’s Playing – Released September, 1965

LP – Atlantic 8153 – The Drifters’ Golden Hits – Charted Number 122 Billboard LP Charts – Released January, 1968

LP – Atco 33-375 – Their Greatest Recordings – The Early Years – Released November, 1971

LP – Atlantic 81927 – Let The Boogie-Woogie Roll – Greatest Hits 1953-1958 – Released 1988

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