Gary: I have avoided posting this group for sometime. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I do not or did not like them. I did. It’s just that they had sooooo many group members, it was hard to keep track, but I will do my best.
We must go back and start before the Billboard Top 40 existed. There was the Top 100 and the R&B Charts. In 1953, when Clyde McPhatter left the Dominoes after the great hits of Sixty Minute Man (my favourite), Have Mercy baby, he got together with a group called The Civitones and asked Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher to join him, and Bill Pinckney to form a new singing group. They called themselves “The Drifters”, so here we go, hang on and try and keep track…
The Drifters 1953 – 1958
- Lead : Clyde McPhatter – replaced by David Baughan in 1954 – replaced by Johnny Moore in 1955 – replaced by Bobby Hendricks in 1957.
- Tenor: Gerhart Thrasher
- Baritone: Andrew Thrasher – replaced by Charlie Hughes in 1956
- Bass: Bill Pinckney – replaced by Tommy Evans in 56 replaced by Bill Pinckney rejoining the group in 1957.
The Drifters 1959 – 1966
- Lead: Ben E. King – replaced by Rudy Lewis/61 – replaced by Johnny Moore in 1964
- Tenor & Lead: Charley Thomas
- Baritone: Doc Green
- Bass: Elsberry Hobbs
Saturday Night At The Movies (live appearance – 1964)
Charlie Thomas – This Magic Moment Live
The Drifters before 1959 (with Clyde McPhatter)
1. Money Honey / Atlantic / 1953
2. Honey Love / Atlantic/ 1953
3 Ruby Baby/ Atlantic/ 1956
4. Drip Drop/ Atlantic / 1957
1. There goes my Baby/ Atlantic 2025/ June 1959/ #2
2. Dance with Me/ Atlantic 2040/ November 1959/ #15
3. This Magic Moment/ (Featuring Ben E. King) Atlantic 2050/ March 1960/ #16
4. Save the Last Dance for Me/ Atlantic 2071/ September 1960/ #1
5. I Count the Tears/ Atlantic 2087/ December 1960/ #17
6. Some Kind of Wonderful/ Atlantic 2096/ #32
7. Please Stay/ Atlantic 2105/ June 1961/ #14
8. Sweets for my Sweet (Gary’s favourite)/ Atlantic 2117/ September 1961/ #16
9. When my girl is Smiling/ Atlantic 2134/ March 1962/ #28
10. Up on the Roof/ Atlantic 2162/ December 1962/ #5
11. On Broadway/ Atlantic 2182/ April 1963/ #9
12. I’ll take you Home/ Atlantic 2201/ October 1963/ #25
13. Under the Boardwalk/ Atlantic 2237/ July 1964/ #4
14. I’ve got Sand in my Shoes/ Atlantic 2253/ October 1964/ #33
15. Saturday Night at the Movies/ Atlantic 2260/ November 1964/ #18
Formed in 1953 in New York, USA, at the behest of Atlantic Records, this influential R&B vocal group was initially envisaged as a vehicle for ex-Dominoes singer Clyde McPhatter, Gerhart Thrasher, Andrew Thrasher and Bill Pinkney. This new quartet, as “Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters”, achieved a million-selling #1 R&B hit with their debut single, ‘Money Honey’.
Follow-up releases, including ‘Such A Night’ (#5 R&B), ‘Lucille’ (#7 R&B) and ‘Honey Love’ (a second chart-topper), also proved highly successful, while the juxtaposition of McPhatter’s soaring tenor against the frenzied support of the other members provided a link between gospel and rock ‘n’ roll styles. The leader’s interplay with bass player Pinkey was revelatory.
Unfortunately, McPhatter’s induction into the armed forces in 1954 was a blow that the Drifters struggled to withstand, and then he opted for a solo career upon leaving the services.
The group carried on and enjoyed success with ‘Adorable’ (#1 R&B 1955), ‘Steamboat’ (1955), ‘Ruby Baby’ (1956) and ‘Fools Fall In Love’ (1957), featuring a variety of lead singers, most notably Johnny Moore. Other new members included Charlie Hughes, Bobby Hendricks (who came in as lead tenor when Moore was drafted in 1957), Jimmy Millender and Tommy Evans.
A greater emphasis on pop material ensued, but tension between the group and their manager, George Treadwell, resulted in an irrevocable split. Having fired the extant line-up in 1958, Treadwell, who owned the copyright to ‘The Drifters’ name, invited another act, The Five Crowns, to adopt the appellation. Charlie Thomas (tenor), Doc Green Jnr. (bass/baritone) and lead singer Ellsbury Hobbs (bass), plus guitarist Reggie Kimber, duly became ‘The Drifters’.
Hobbs was drafted and replaced by Ben E. King (b. Benjamin Earl Nelson, 28 September 1938, Henderson, North Carolina, USA). The new line-up declared themselves with ‘There Goes My Baby’. Written and produced by Leiber And Stoller, this pioneering release featured a Latin rhythm and string section, the first time such embellishments had appeared on an R&B recording. The single not only topped the R&B chart, it also reached #2 on the US pop listings, and anticipated the ‘symphonic’ style later developed by Phil Spector.
Further excellent releases followed, notably ‘Dance With Me’ (1959), ‘This Magic Moment’ (1960) and ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, the latter a million seller which topped the US pop chart and reached #2 in the UK.
However, King left for a solo career following ‘I Count The Tears’ (1960), and was replaced by Rudy Lewis (b. 27 May 1935, Chicago, Illinois, USA) who fronted the group until his premature death from drug-induced asphyxiation in 1964.
The Drifters continued to enjoy hits during this period and songs such as ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, ‘When My Little Girl Is Smiling’, ‘Up On The Roof’ and ‘On Broadway’ were not only entertaining in their own right, but also provided inspiration, and material, for many emergent British acts, notably The Searchers, who took the first-named song to the top of the UK chart.
Johnny Moore, who had returned to the line-up in 1963, took over the lead vocal slot from Lewis. ‘Under The Boardwalk’, recorded the day after the latter’s passing, was The Drifters’ last US Top 10 pop hit, although the group remained a popular attraction.
Bert Berns had taken over production from Leiber and Stoller, and in doing so brought a soul-based urgency to their work, as evinced by ‘One Way Love’ and ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ (1964).
When he left Atlantic to found the Bang label, the Drifters found themselves increasingly overshadowed by newer, more contemporary artists and, bedevilled by lesser material and frequent changes in personnel, the group began to slip from prominence.
However, their career was revitalized in 1972 when two re-released singles, ‘At The Club’ and ‘Come On Over To My Place’, reached the UK Top 10. A new recording contract with Bell was then secured and British songwriters / producers Tony Macaulay, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway fashioned a series of singles redolent of the Drifters’ ‘classic’ era.
Purists poured scorn on their efforts, but, between 1973 and 1975, the group, still led by Moore, enjoyed several UK Top 10 hits, including ‘Like Sister And Brother’, ‘Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies’, ‘Down On The Beach Tonight’, ‘There Goes My First Love’ and ‘Can I Take You Home Little Girl’.
This success ultimately waned as the decade progressed, and in 1982 their stalwart lead singer Moore briefly left the line-up. He was replaced, paradoxically, by Ben E. King, who in turn brought the Drifters back to Atlantic.
However, despite completing some new recordings, the group found it impossible to escape its heritage, as evinced by the numerous ‘hits’ repackages and corresponding live appearances on the cabaret and nostalgia circuits.
TheDrifters were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988, a year after McPhatter’s posthumous award. (oldies)