Born: Wetumpka, AL

R&B Vocals The Drifters

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

the drifters 1953The classic first Drifters and Clyde McPhatter

To many fans as well as historians, The Drifters means Clyde McPhatter, although he was with the group for only one year. McPhatter was lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes for three years, starting in 1950. It was McPhatter's high-pitched tenor that was mostly responsible for the Dominoes' success. In 1953, Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic Records attended a Dominoes performance at Birdland and noticed Clyde wasn't present, only to learn that McPhatter was no longer with the group. As Jerry Wexler recalls,

"Ahmet exited Birdland like a shot and headed directly uptown. He raced from bar to bar looking for Clyde and finally found him in a furnished room. That very night, Ahmet reached an agreement with McPhatter under which Clyde would assemble a group of his own. They became known as the Drifters."[6]

Wanting to blend gospel and secular sounds, Clyde's first effort was to get 4 out of 5 members of his old church group, the Mount Lebanon Singers. They were William “Chick” Anderson (tenor), David Baldwin (baritone), James “Wrinkle” Johnson (bass), and David “Little Dave” Baughan (tenor). After a single recording session of four songs on June 29 1953, Ertegün realized that this combination didn't work and had McPhatter recruit another lineup.

This second group of new recruits consisted of gospel vocalists; first tenor Bill Pinkney (of the Jerusalem Stars), second tenor Andrew Thrasher and baritone Gerhart Thrasher (both formerly of the gospel group, the "Thrasher Wonders"), and Willie Ferbee as bass, with Walter Adams on guitar.

This is the group on the second session, which produced the group's first major hit, "Money Honey", released September 1953, with the record label proudly displaying the group name Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters. McPhatter was barely known during his time with the Dominoes, and he was sometimes passed off as "Clyde Ward, Billy's little brother." In other instances people assumed it was Billy Ward doing the singing.

"Lucille", written by McPhatter, from the first session was put on the B-side of "Money Honey", making a recording industry rarity; a single released with songs from two essentially different groups of the same name on the two sides. "Money Honey" was a huge success and propelled the Drifters to immediate fame.

More lineup changes followed, after Ferbee was involved in an accident and left the group and then Adams died. Adams was replaced by Jimmy Oliver. However, Ferbee was not replaced; instead, the voice parts were shifted around. Gerhart Thrasher moved up to first tenor, Andrew Thrasher shifted down to baritone, and Bill Pinkney dropped all the way down to bass. This group released several more hits, including "Such A Night" in November 1953,[7][8] "Honey Love" June 1954, "Bip Bam" October 1954, "White Christmas" November 1954, and "What'cha Gonna Do" in February 1955. McPhatter received his draft letter in March 1954; however, as he was initially stationed in Buffalo, New York, he was able to continue with the group for a time. "What'cha Gonna Do", recorded a year before its release, was McPhatter's last official record as a member of the Drifters, although his first solo release ("Everyone's Laughing" b/w "Hot Ziggety") was actually from his final Drifters session in October 1954. After completing his military service, McPhatter pursued a successful, but relatively short-lived, solo career with 16 R&B and 21 Pop hits.

McPhatter had demanded a large share of the group's profits, which he had been denied in the Dominoes, but, on his departure, did not ensure that this would continue for his successor. He sold his share of the group to George Treadwell, manager, former jazz trumpeter, and husband of singer Sarah Vaughan. As a result, the Drifters recycled many members, none of whom made much money. McPhatter later expressed regret at this action, recognizing that it doomed his fellow musicians to unprofitability.

McPhatter was first replaced by David Baughan, who had already been singing lead in concert, while McPhatter was in the service. Baughan's voice was similar to McPhatter's, but his erratic behavior made him difficult to work with and unsuitable in the eyes of Atlantic Records executives. Baughan soon left the group to form the Harps (1955) (finding his way back into Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters in 1958), and was replaced by Selma native Johnny Moore (formerly of The Hornets). September 1955 saw this lineup record a major double-sided R&B hit with the A side's "Adorable", reaching number one and the B side, "Steamboat," going to number five. These were followed by "Ruby Baby" in February 1956, and "I Got To Get Myself A Woman".

Low salaries contributed to burnout among the members, particularly Bill Pinkney, who was fired after asking Treadwell for more money. In protest, Andrew Thrasher left as well. Pinkney formed another group, called "The Flyers", with lead singer Bobby Hendricks, who would leave to join the Drifters the next year. Bill Pinkney was replaced by Tommy Evans (who had replaced Jimmy Ricks in The Ravens). Charlie Hughes, a baritone, replaced Andrew Thrasher. Moore, G. Thrasher, C. Hughes, and Evans were the last quality lineup with the top ten hit, "Fools Fall In Love" in 1957 (number 69 Pop and number 10 R&B).

Moore and Hughes were drafted in 1957 and replaced by Bobby Hendricks and Jimmy Millender. By early 1958, the lineup was: Bobby Hendricks (lead tenor), Gerhart Thrasher (first tenor), Jimmy Millender (baritone), Tommy Evans (bass), and Jimmy Oliver (guitar). This lineup had one moderate hit, the original version of "Drip Drop" (number 58 Pop), released in April 1958.

With declining popularity, the last of the original Drifters were reduced to working the club scene and doing double duty with gigs under the Coasters and the Ravens names.[3] By May 1958, both Hendricks and Oliver had quit, returning only for a week's appearance at the Apollo Theater. During that week, one of the members got into a fight with the owner of the Apollo, Ralph Cooper. That was the last straw for manager George Treadwell, who fired the entire group.



original drifters albums

Amazon: All The Singles 1953 - 1958 Plus Bonus Tracks [ORIGINAL RECORDINGS REMASTERED] 2CD SET and Money Honey: Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters 1953-58 and Clyde McPhatter Drifters MP3s


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