22 January 2018: The Drifters Story
Every month author of Rock’n’Roll Unravelled, Derek Shelmerdine joins Frank Carlyle to chat about a little bit of rock’n’roll history.
The show starts at 8.00 pm (UK), Derek will be joining Frank and his studio guests at around 9.15pm (UK). Mersey Radio
This month we’re looking at The Drifters story, one of the most successful vocal groups of all time. Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records called them, “the all-time greatest Atlantic group”.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DRIFTERS
Formed by Clyde McPhatter in 1953, the group was a revolving door of singers, more than 60, with an ever-changing array of lead singers. They scored R&B, soul and pop hits across the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. In fact, the Drifters career had three distinct eras, R&B in the 1950s, soul in the 1960s and a move to the UK provided continued success there as a pop group in the 1970s. As well as founder Clyde McPhatter, the lead singers have included Johnny Moore, Bobby Hendricks, Ben E King, Rudy Lewis, Charlie Thomas and Bill Fredericks.
When original lead singer Clyde McPhatter was called up to join the Army in 1954, he sold his share in the group to manager George Treadwell. On 30 May 1958, concerned that the group’s lead singer, Bobby Hendricks, had left the group and they were no longer scoring hit records, Treadwell sacked the entire band after a week’s residency at the Apollo in New York’s Harlem. He replaced them with Ben E King’s vocal group The Crowns, who were also performing at the Apollo that week. As owner of the name “The Drifters” George Treadwell was able to simply rebrand The Crowns as The Drifters. Ben E King was only with the Drifters for a short time, before he left in mid-1960 for a very successful solo career.
The Drifters had a run of soul hits in the 1960s with lead singers, Rudy Lewis, Charlie Thomas and Johnny Moore, including: Some Kind of Wonderful, When My Little Girl is Smiling and Under the Boardwalk. By 1968 the hits had dried up on both sides of the Atlantic. The Drifters soldiered on, continuing to release singles on Atlantic Records but to no avail. They split up in the spring of 1970.
The story doesn’t end there… The Drifters relocated to the UK, with members including Johnny Moore and Bill Fredericks. They formed a relationship with Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook for production and songwriting, and moved to the Bell record label. The hits started again with Like Sister and Brother, albeit only in the UK. More of their classics come from this era, including There Goes My First Love and You’re More Than a Number in My Little Red Book. Various members of the band have joined the UK based lineup over the years and an official version of the Drifters is still performing and releasing new albums…
Actually, the story doesn’t end there either… Since the mass sacking in 1958, when Bill Pinkney formed the Original Drifters, there have been an number of spin-off “Drifters” bands over the years and permutations of the Drifters are still performing. As well as Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters, there have been: Charlie Thomas’ Drifters; The Drifters, Featuring Rick Sheppard; and The Drifters featuring Doc Green. In 2017 you could have a night out with Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters, fronted by Clyde McPhatter’s son Ronn. (Clyde McPhatter died in 1972.)
A great story and one of the most complicated band stories in rock’n’roll history…
For all of Derek Shelmerdine’s appearances on The Frank Carlyle Show
Rock’n’Roll Unravelled tells the story of rock’n’roll from its roots to mid-1970s punk. Not just the story of the music but also the social factors which influenced it, such as the Vietnam War, Civil Rights struggle and the Cold War.