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Guide Profile: The Drifters

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The Drifters (with Ben E. King)

The Drifters (with Ben E. King)

Formed:

1953 (New York, NY)

Genres:

R&B, Doo-Wop, Soul, Pop, Pop-Soul, Pop Vocal

Lead Vocalists, 1953-1972:

Clyde McPhatter (b. Clyde Lensley McPhatter, November 15, 1932, Durham, NC; d. June 13, 1972, Teaneck, NJ): tenor (1953-1954)
Ben E. King (b. Benjamin Earl Nelson, September 23, 1938, Henderson, NC): baritone (1959)
Johnny Moore (b. 1934, Selma, AL; d. December 30, 1998, Los Angeles, CA): tenor (1955-1957; 1964-1972)
Rudy Lewis (b. Aug 23, 1936, Philadelphia, PA; d. May 20, 1964, New York, NY): baritone (1960-1964)
David Baughn, Bobby Hendricks, Charlie Thomas, Johnny Williams (various)

Contributions to music:

  • Maintained popularity through nearly two decades of doo-wop, R&B, and soul
  • Gave the world Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King
  • Instrumental in helping turn R&B into soul
  • Helped bring Latin elements into R&B
  • One of history's great doo-wop groups
  • A major sustaining force for Atlantic Records in the Fifties and early Sixties

Early years:

The story is a complex one, but it began when Clyde McPhatter quit or was fired from Billy Ward and the Dominoes in 1953 -- Ahmet Ehrtegun, then struggling with a new label, Atlantic Records, urged him to start his own vocal group. After a series of auditions through which passed many of McPhatter's friends and associates, a quintet (four vocals, one guitar) emerged. In 1953 the single "Money Honey" went to Number One on the R&B charts. McPhatter, however, unhappy with his producers, soon left.

Success:

Johnny Moore eventually replaced McPhatter on lead, and the group continued to enjoy hits, notably 1955's "Ruby Baby." But Moore was drafted in 1957, and McPhatter, who had owned rights to the group name, had sold it to manager George Treadwell. This meant he could hire and fire at will, and he did, axeing the entire group over pay disputes in 1958 and replacing them with a group called The Five Crowns. One of those members was Ben E. King, who sang on "There Goes My Baby" in 1959.

Later Years:

That milestone of a hit changed R&B forever -- some consider it the first soul record -- but King was soon off on a solo career, eventually replaced by Rudy Lewis. Lewis sang on "Up On The Roof" and "On Broadway," among other hits, but choked to death in his sleep in 1964. Moore rejoined the group as singer for "Under The Boardwalk" that year, but soul soon turned harder, and the Drifters were out of favor. Their classics remain popular, however, and various lineups still tour today.

Other facts:

  • Other members have included: Gerhart Thrasher (tenor), Andrew Thrasher (baritone), Willie Ferbee (bass), Walter Adams (guitar), Jimmy Oliver (guitar), Bill Pinkney (bass), Bobby Hendricks (tenor), Jimmy Ricks (bass), Tom Evans (bass), Charlie Hughes (baritone), Jimmy Millender (baritone), Dock Green (baritone), Elsbeary Hobbs (bass), Billy Davis (guitar)
  • Drifters members past and present include members of the The Five Crowns, The Swallows, The Hornets, The Dominoes

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1988)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (1998)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (1998, 1999, 2001)

Songs, Albums, and Charts:


#1 hits:
Pop:
  • "Save The Last Dance For Me" (1960)
R&B:
  • "Adorable" (1955)
  • "There Goes My Baby" (1959)
  • "Save The Last Dance For Me" (1960)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "There Goes My Baby" (1959)
  • "On Broadway" (1963)
  • "Up On The Roof" (1963)
  • "Under The Boardwalk" (1964)
R&B:
  • "What'cha Gonna Do" (1955)
  • "White Christmas" (1955)
  • "Ruby Baby" (1956)
  • "Steamboat" (1956)
  • "Fools Fall In Love" (1957)
  • "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love" (1959)
  • "Dance With Me" (1959)
  • "Lonely Winds" (1960)
  • "This Magic Moment" (1960)
  • "Some Kind Of Wonderful" (1961)
  • "Sweets For My Sweet" (1961)
  • "On Broadway" (1963)
  • "Up On The Roof" (1963)
  • "Under The Boardwalk"(1964)
  • "At The Club" (1965)
Other important recordings: "Lucille," "The Way I Feel," "Such A Night," "Don't Dog Me," "The Bells Of St. Mary's," "Honey Love," "Three Thirty Three," "Your Promise To Be Mine," "I Gotta Get Myself A Woman," "Soldier Of Fortune," "I Count The Tears," "Please Stay," "I'll Take You Home," "I've Got Sand In My Shoes," "Saturday Night At The Movies," "Vaya Con Dios," "Loneliness Or Happiness," "Mexican Divorce," "Come on Over to My Place," "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing," "Kissin' in the Back Row of the Movies," "You're More Than a Number (In My Little Red Book)"
Covered by: James Taylor, George Benson, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Donna Summer, Elvis Presley, Rickie Lee Jones, The Rolling Stones, John Mellencamp, The Searchers, The Persuasions, Otis Redding, the Ventures, Little Eva, Jay & The Americans, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Dolly Parton, The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Connick, Jr., Billy Joe Royal, Buck Owens, The Troggs, Paul Anka, Dion, Faron Young, Ike & Tina Turner, Anne Murray, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones
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