NOTE: This article is a continuation of the story of the original Drifters.
During the last week of May 1958, during a show at the Apollo Theater, Drifters' manager George Treadwell fired the whole group. [For the events leading up to the sacking, see the Early Drifters.] This wasn't as easy to do as it might seem. Since Treadwell owned the rights to the name, he could do as he pleased with any individual singer, but when it came to the group as a whole (which was still in great demand), there were almost a year's worth of appearance contracts left for the Drifters to honor.
The answer was to get another batch of Drifters, and get them fast! Fortunately, there was a group on the same bill, the Crowns, who looked like they'd do.
The origins of the Crowns went back to 1952, when they'd started as the 5 Crowns. At the time of the fateful Apollo show, the group consisted of James "Papa" Clark (lead tenor), Benjamin Earl Nelson (lead tenor), Charlie Thomas (lead tenor), Dock Green (baritone), and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass). They were performing their new release "Kiss And Make Up," when they were approached by Treadwell. (Although it's probable that he had first opened negotiations with the group's manager, Lover Patterson).
According to Ben E. King, it took "about a week" for the Crowns to formally become the Drifters. Aside from the thrill of becoming "the Drifters," Treadwell lured them with a lucrative Southern tour. (Note that most of a group's income derived from appearances, not record royalties.) However, before anything was formalized, Papa Clark, another singer with a drinking problem (which is what caused Treadwell to fire the original group), was asked to leave; thus the Crowns/Drifters started as a quartet. How did it feel to be a member of the Drifters? Listen to Charlie Thomas: "It felt good; truly. I was working in the garment district pushing a hand truck. As a kid I used to play hooky to see the Drifters at the Apollo. It felt good!"
During the next ten months the new Drifters were on the road, first playing Greenville, South Carolina. Then Tuskegee, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham (all in Alabama); Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans; and Atlanta. However, according to Ben E. King, the touring wasn't the best experience it could have been. The Drifters were a big-name group and had been appearing for years. The lobby cards in the theaters and clubs all pictured the old group (some presumably still had Clyde McPhatter's photo) and all of a sudden a totally different group was up on stage. Said Ben, "We got booed off the stage almost everywhere we went."
It was on this tour that Ben Nelson did two remarkable things: he changed his name to Ben E. King (taking the surname of his favorite uncle), and he wrote the song that was to change the sound of Rock and Roll music—"There Goes My Baby." The Drifters practiced this song while on the road, but it was done to a much faster tempo than that used on the final recording.
Initially, the group's guitarist was Reggie Kimber, who had worked with the old Drifters on occasion, as well as Bill Pinkney's Flyers. Since this was their first tour through the South, Treadwell wanted someone with them who knew the territory. Kimber, from Greensboro, North Carolina, was the right man for the job.
During this round of touring, the Drifters would occasionally serve as "pallbearers" for Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who made his onstage entrance by rising from a coffin. One night, Charlie Thomas decided to inspect the coffin. Unwittingly, he knocked into it and the matchbooks that Jay used to keep the locks from fully closing (so that he could open it from the inside) were moved out of place. Charlie heard a clicking sound, but he didn't know what it meant. Jay, who was inside at the time, probably didn't realize what had happened either.
However, when the coffin was placed on its stand and the band started playing "I Put A Spell On You," Jay found that he couldn't open the lid. He panicked, knowing that there wasn't all that much air left, and began rocking the coffin. Fortunately, he finally rocked it hard enough so that it fell off the stand and popped open. Needless to say, he wasn't happy with Charlie for a long while. It wasn't, as is sometimes written, a practical joke that Charlie was playing on Jay, but it could have become deadly.
Finally, after almost a year of touring and practicing, the group was ready to record. The first Crowns/Drifters session was held on March 6, 1959 and was under the artistic control of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, former owners of the Spark label. The four songs recorded were: "Hey Senorita" (led by Ben E. King), "There Goes My Baby" (Ben E. King), "Baltimore" (Charlie Thomas and Elsbeary Hobbs), and "Oh My Love" (Ben E. King). Atlantic released "There Goes My Baby"/"Oh My Love" in May of 1959.
Ben E. King has said that he tried, without success, to sound like Sam Cooke. However, with his distinctive voice on a string of Drifters and solo hits, no one seemed to notice.
The one hit the session produced, "There Goes My Baby" (which rose to #2 on the Pop charts), was unlike anything that either the Crowns or the Drifters had previously done. The rhythm was distinctly Latin (called baion, a kind of Brazilian samba rhythm that fascinated Leiber and Stoller), and the violins started a trend. (It wasn't that violins were new. The Orioles had used them almost a decade before and Platters' hits had had them too. But with the baion rhythm thrown in, something was different this time.) The sound came as a shock to Atlantic VP Jerry Wexler; he was totally appalled by it. But Leiber and Stoller talked Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic, into releasing it, and it was soon soaring up the charts. However, it wasn't kept in the can for about a year after being recorded, which Jerry Wexler insisted, but a scant two months (per Atlantic's own files).
And then, just as with the original Drifters, the changes started: right after "There Goes My Baby" solidly established "Ben E. King and the Drifters," there was no "Ben E. King and the Drifters." Well, there sort of wasn't. Lover Patterson (former manager of the Crowns and now the Drifters' road manager) got into a dispute with George Treadwell. When he was managing the Crowns, Lover had each of them under a separate contract; he had sold all those contracts to Treadwell, except King's. When the dust settled, Patterson agreed to let King record with the Drifters, but not appear with them. Thus, until May of 1960, King is on every Drifters' song, but if you saw them in person, you saw new member Johnny Lee Williams with the group (although Charlie Thomas usually sang lead and Williams did background tenor). Williams did go into the studio with them, singing lead on "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love." However, the big hits of the time featured King: "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment," and "Save The Last Dance For Me." Therefore, the recording group was now Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, Johnny Lee Williams, Dock Green, and Elsbeary Hobbs. Subtract Ben E. King, and you've got the touring group.
A second change occurred after the first session: guitarist Reggie Kimber left, to be replaced by multi-talented Bill Davis. Davis, who had backed the Drifters on the road as a member of Doc Bagby's band, became composer, arranger, guitarist, and road manager.
The Drifters' next session took place on July 9, 1959. There were only two songs recorded: "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love" (led by Johnny Lee Williams) and "Dance With Me" (Ben E. King). However, both of these baion-beat tunes were chart hits ("Dance With Me" rose to #15, and "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love" went to #33) when Atlantic issued them in September of that year.
On December 23, 1959, the Drifters recorded three more songs, all led by Ben E. King: "This Magic Moment," "Lonely Winds," and "Temptation." In January 1960, Atlantic issued "This Magic Moment," another biggie for the Drifters [rising to #16]. It's flip was "Baltimore" from their March 1959 session. Note that "Temptation" was the only King-led song that never made it to a single.
In April, 1960, "Lonely Winds"/"Hey Senorita" was released. Not a big seller for the Drifters, "Lonely Winds" only made it to #54.
Finally, Ben E. King was made a soloist (releasing "Show Me The Way"/"Brace Yourself" on Atlantic's Atco subsidiary in April 1960) and Lover Patterson remained his manager. There is no truth to the story that King was the only Drifter to show up for a session and therefore his first solos were actually Drifters' material. King says he never actively sought a solo role for himself, being comfortable as a group member. It's interesting that King's second post-Drifters release (right before "Spanish Harlem") was a duet with Lavern Baker ("How Often"/"A Help-Each-Other Romance"), mirroring Clyde McPhatter's pairing with Ruth Brown at the start of his solo career. On many of his early sides, King was backed up by another of Lover Patterson's groups, the Duvals (also known as the Drapers [an attempt to find a name that sounded like "Drifters"]).
On May 19, 1960 the group recorded four more songs, all led by Ben E. King, in his final session with the Drifters: "Save The Last Dance For Me," "Nobody But Me," "I Count The Tears," and "Sometimes I Wonder." "Save The Last Dance For Me" and "Nobody But Me" were released in August, and "Save The Last Dance For Me" has the honor of being the only Drifters song to reach #1 on the Pop charts.
"Save The Last Dance For Me" was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who had owned R & B records, for which the Crowns had done their last recordings prior to becoming the Drifters. Doc Pomus (born Jerome Felder) was a rarity: a white blues singer in the 40s. Having had polio as a child, he had a right to the blues, performing on crutches. He had written the lyrics to "Save The Last Dance For Me" a couple of years before, on the occasion of his wedding. Since his dancing ability was severely limited, he was telling his new bride to go and have fun, but to remember him when the last dance was played.
The July 4, 1960 issue of Billboard had a blurb in which Syd Nathan, head of King Records, announced that King was negotiating for the Drifters ("originally heard on the Atlantic label"). In the July 18 issue, King's general manager, Hal G. Neely, stated that the Drifters wouldn't be leaving Atlantic for King after all.
The week beginning August 26 saw Clyde McPhatter ("And His Own Revue") at the Apollo Theater. This was a real reunion show, since others on the bill included Johnny Moore (who was doing his solo act as "Johnny Darrow"), the Original Drifters (the trio of Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, and Andrew Thrasher), and Jimmy Oliver's Band. [If you haven't read the first part of this article, Clyde McPhatter, Gerhart Thrasher, Andrew Thrasher, and Bill Pinkney were pretty much the original Drifters group, Jimmy Oliver had been their guitarist, and Johnny Moore was Clyde McPhatter's replacement.] The Bobbettes and George Kirby were also on the program. Bet you wish you'd been there!]
In November, as it had every year since 1955, Atlantic re-issued Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters' "White Christmas." Due to the chart action that the current group was seeing, this 1954 opus found itself on the Pop charts in 1960 (even if it was only at position #96).
In December 1960, Atlantic released "I Count The Tears." However, instead of putting another song by the current group on the flip (they were running out of Ben E. King songs, but they still had "Sometimes I Wonder" and "Temptation"), Atlantic pulled "Suddenly There's A Valley" out of the can. This had been recorded in April of 1958, and features long-departed Bobby Hendricks as tenor lead and Tommy Evans as bass. "I Count The Tears" topped out at #17.
Johnny Lee Williams continued to appear with the Drifters, even after Ben E. King was gone (after the May, 1960 session). However, when the Drifters appeared in Mobile, Alabama, Williams announced that, since this was his home, he was simply going to stay there. Along with being homesick, Williams was probably unhappy that, even though he was the replacement for Ben E. King, he rarely got to sing lead. (He subsequently had solo releases on the Cub, Cy, and Kent labels and was the lead singer of the Embraceables on "My Foolish Pride," a March 1962 release on Cy.) Now down to three singers, and with a Bahamas engagement coming up, a quick replacement was needed. He was found in the person of James Poindexter, who turned out to have a nice voice, but incurable stage fright. Since he froze on stage, the Drifters had to continue on with just Charlie Thomas (lead), Dock Green (baritone) and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass).
In late 1960, when the Drifters (still a trio) were playing Philadelphia's Uptown Theater, Rudy Lewis auditioned for George Treadwell and was hired as the new lead. Lewis had been with the Clara Ward Singers and had a vocal quality that was similar to Ben E. King's. Over the next two years he would, as Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Moore, and Ben E. King had done before him, lead the Drifters in a string of hits: "Please Stay," "Some Kind Of Wonderful," "Up On The Roof," and "On Broadway." Charlie Thomas occasionally took the lead, turning out "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" and the less successful "Room Full Of Tears."
Shortly after Rudy Lewis joined, bass Elsbeary Hobbs was drafted. He was replaced by Constantine Van Dyke (for about a month), George Grant (for a couple of weeks), and finally by Tommy Evans. Evans had been with the group in mid-1956 and again in 1958. Now he was back for his third stint as bass of the Drifters.
There was also a kind of auxiliary Drifters at the time - Atlantic used a studio group to back the Drifters on many of their sessions. Dionne Warwick, her sister Dee Dee Warwick, their aunt Emily "Cissy" Houston (mother of Whitney Houston), and Doris Troy were an unnamed quartet that can be heard on most of the Drifters' early and mid-60's recordings. At times these background singers were more prominent than the Drifters themselves. Throughout this entire period Atlantic stuck to Leiber and Stoller's baion and quasi-Latin rhythms in almost all the Drifters' material. While it ended up becoming formulaic and taking the Drifters completely out of the realm of R&B singers, at the start, the public couldn't get enough of it.
By February 1, 1961, the Drifters were ready to go back into the studio. This time they (Rudy Lewis, Charlie Thomas, Dock Green, and Tommy Evans) recorded "Room Full Of Tears" (led by Charlie), "Please Stay" (Rudy), "Sweets For My Sweet" (Charlie), and "Some Kind Of Wonderful" (Rudy).
In March 1961, Atlantic issued "Some Kind Of Wonderful." Once again, they dug deep into their vaults for a flip: "Honey Bee." This ancient tune had been recorded in April 1955, during the first session that the Drifters held after Clyde McPhatter had departed. It featured the lead voice of Little David Baughan, who initially replaced Clyde. "Some Kind Of Wonderful" was another hit for the group, rising to #32.
Lover Patterson, who should have been happy just managing Ben E. King, put together a phony Drifters group in 1961 (the first of several). He used Little David Baughan (from the ancient/current "Honey Bee") as lead. Ike Mason (from Patterson's Duvals/Drapers group) was another member. Herman Kelly was guitarist, and two singers named "Billy" and "Bobby" rounded out the group.
In June, Atlantic released "Please Stay." For a third time, they hunted up an old master for the flip. It was "No Sweet Lovin'," led by bass Bill Pinkney, also recorded in April 1955. "Please Stay" rose to #14 on the charts.
The Drifters' next Atlantic session was held on July 13, 1961. The three songs recorded were all led by Rudy Lewis: "Loneliness Or Happiness," "Mexican Divorce," and "Somebody New Dancin' With You."
"Sweets For My Sweet"/"Loneliness Or Happiness" was the next Atlantic release, issued in August 1961. "Sweets For My Sweet" became a #16 hit for the Drifters.
On October 26, 1961, the Drifters were back in the studio, recording "Jackpot" (led by Rudy), "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" (Charlie), and "She Never Talked To Me That Way" (Rudy).
In December, Atlantic released "Room Full Of Tears"/"Somebody New Dancin' With You." "Room Full Of Tears" just barely made it to the charts, only rising as far as #72.
Atlantic started off 1962 by issuing "When My Little Girl Is Smiling"/"Mexican Divorce" in January. "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" wasn't a smash, but still managed to reach #28.
The next session was held on March 15, 1962, when they recorded two songs led by Rudy Lewis: "Stranger On The Shore" and "What To Do"; these were released in April. "Stranger On The Shore" (or "Strangler On The Shore," as we used to call it) only struggled up to #73, unable to compete with clarinetist Acker Bilk's #1 instrumental hit.
In June 1962, Atlantic issued "Jackpot"/"Sometimes I Wonder." "Sometimes I Wonder" was the last Ben E. King title to be released (and was two years old at this point). Then, on June 28, 1962, the Drifters recorded "Another Night With The Boys" (led by Rudy), "Up On The Roof" (Rudy), and "I Feel Good All Over" (Charlie).
And still the personnel changed. Dock Green left after this session, and was replaced by Gene Pearson (of Rivileers and Cleftones fame). George Treadwell also managed the Cleftones, and, since they had faded from popularity at the time, he took Pearson out of one group and stuck him in the other. Although "Another Night With The Boys" was recorded before Gene arrived, he and Charlie Thomas and Tommy Evans went back into the studio to overdub it, so while Gene wasn't at the session, he is on the record.
After leaving the Drifters, Dock Green formed a new Drapers group, with Johnny Moore, "Carnation Charlie" Hughes, and Tommy Evans (who was still with the Drifters). Since Evans, Moore, and Hughes had all been with the Drifters in the mid-50s, this meant that the Drapers were more the Drifters than the current Drifters were. "(I Know) Your Love Has Gone Away" and "You Got To Look Up" were recorded for Gee on August 22, 1962 and released around February 1963, but the Drapers went nowhere (although they did go to Pittsburgh: Ed Salamon informs me that the Drapers appeared on Clark Race's Dance Party, on KDKA-TV, to plug their record).
Atlantic issued "Up On The Roof"/"Another Night With The Boys" in September 1962. This was more like it: "Up On The Roof" rose to the #5 position on the Pop charts. In November, Atlantic re-issued 1954's "White Christmas"; once again (and for the last time) it made the Pop charts (#88).
The January 22, 1963 session turned out two songs, both led by Rudy Lewis: "Let The Music Play" and "On Broadway." The blues guitar on "On Broadway" was played by record producer (and future convicted murderer) Phil Spector. Leiber and Stoller met him, guitar in hand, on the day of the session, and they invited him to come along and play. Both these tunes were released in February, with "On Broadway" rising to #9.
Tommy Evans left in early 1963 (after "On Broadway") and was replaced by baritone/bass Johnny Terry (who had been in the Links on Teenage). Therefore, the Drifters were now Rudy Lewis, Charlie Thomas, Gene Pearson, and Johnny Terry.
As a favor to George Treadwell, however, Dock Green and Tommy Evans both occasionally showed up at Drifters recording sessions (or did overdubbing) until after "At The Club" in 1964. Both Dock and Tommy related this story, which was corroborated by Atlantic engineer Tom Dowd.
When Johnny Moore (former lead of the Drifters from mid 1955 to late 1957) had been discharged from the army in 1960, he tried a solo career, calling himself "Johnny Darrow." (There were a few releases on Melic and Sue.) Here's where the name came from: "Because the old Johnny Moore of the [Three] Blazers was still alive, I couldn't use my real name. One day I was reading an article about Clarence Darrow, the lawyer, in Ebony, and it just struck me that 'Johnny Darrow' sounded good. But my sound was a little too 'white' for Juggy Murray [owner of Sue Records]. Then he got Ike and Tina Turner and spent his time with them."
After Johnny Moore had been with the Drapers (see above), he re-joined the Drifters in time for their next session (held on April 12, 1963). The personnel had changed 100% since he'd been with the group six years previously. This may have been insurance on the part of management, because in May, Atlantic released a solo by Rudy Lewis—"I've Loved You So Long"/"Baby I Dig Love." Charlie Thomas said that Rudy showed him the record and talked about going out on his own. Charlie felt that a lawyer acquaintance of Rudy's pushed him into the move, rather than George Treadwell. "Baby I Dig Love" had been recorded immediately before the Drifters at the April 12 session; the flip was recorded three days later.
Possibly because the record didn't do well, Rudy continued on with the group, alternating leads with Johnny Moore. (For the rest of 1963, the Drifters would be: Rudy Lewis, Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas, Gene Pearson, Johnny Terry, and guitarist Bill Davis.) At their April 12 session, they recorded "Only In America" (led by Rudy), "Rat Race" (Rudy), "If You Don't Come Back" (Johnny Moore), and "I'll Take You Home" (Johnny Moore). "Rat Race"/"If You Don't Come Back" were put out in May. "Rat Race" was a minor hit, only making the #71 position.
Due to the racial tension in the country at the time, Atlantic thought it would seem hypocritical to release the Drifters' "Only In America." Instead, the instrumental tracks were leased out and Jay and the Americans re-recorded the vocal tracks. The Drifters' version, never released in the United States, appeared on a British Atlantic album.
The Drifters' next session was held on August 22, 1963. This time, they recorded "In The Land Of Make Believe" (led by Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore) and "Didn't It" (Johnny Moore). Earlier in August, Atlantic had issued "I'll Take You Home"/"I Feel Good All Over." "I'll Take You Home" made a respectable showing on the charts, rising to the #25 position.
The last Atlantic session of 1963 was held on December 11. The three songs recorded were: "Beautiful Music" (Rudy), "One Way Love" (Johnny Moore), and "Vaya Con Dios" (Rudy). "Vaya Con Dios" was rushed out that same month, with "In The Land Of Make Believe" as the flip. "Vaya Con Dios" was another minor hit, peaking at #43.
March 1964 saw the release of "One Way Love"/"Didn't It." Can't say that I remember "One Way Love" at all, but someone bought it; it reached #56 on the charts.
On May 21, 1964, the Drifters were due to record "Under The Boardwalk" in an evening recording session. Earlier that day, Johnny Moore ran into Sylvia Vanterpool (of Mickey and Sylvia), who cryptically said: "Thank God it isn't you." He asked her what she was talking about and learned that one of the Drifters (it turned out to be Rudy Lewis) had died. The cause of death has been attributed to both asphyxiation (Rudy liked to eat very heavy meals late at night) and a drug overdose. Whatever the reason, the group, in tears, showed up for the session anyway. Ironically, one of the songs scheduled was "I Don't Want To Go On Without You," which Charlie Thomas led as a tribute to Rudy. The full lineup of songs recorded that day was: "Under The Boardwalk" (led Johnny Moore), "He's Just A Playboy" (Johnny Moore), and "I Don't Want To Go On Without You" (Charlie Thomas). After Rudy died, the make-up of the Drifters stabilized for two years at: Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas, Gene Pearson, and Johnny Terry.
"Under The Boardwalk"/"I Don't Want To Go On Without You" were released in June. "Under The Boardwalk" became the last top 10 hit for the Drifters, rising to #4.
Charlie Thomas, the only remaining member of the Crowns/Drifters, never got much of a chance to showcase his voice on record. Fewer than 10 songs were led by him, and he was on the verge of quitting because of it. His voice was earthier than Ben E. King's, Rudy Lewis', or Johnny Moore's and, especially in the Soul Era, it's surprising that he wasn't allowed to front the group more often. If you study photos, however, he's shown at the lead microphone more than would be expected from his recording history.
Sometime in 1964, Lover Patterson formed another competing Drifters group. This one had guitarist Herman Kelly and second tenor "Bobby" from his 1961 group. Dock Green and Tommy Evans were there too, and the lead singer was a guy named Curtis. There was probably even a third incarnation, with Dock and Tommy, along with Arnold and Charlie from Lover's original Duvals/Drapers group. Lover was a hustler, but he was probably lucky that none of his efforts bore fruit. George Treadwell and Atlantic would have taken a very dim view of an alternate Drifters group that had even the slightest success.
The Drifters held another session on August 4, 1964, with both songs being led by Johnny Moore: "I've Got Sand In My Shoes" and "Saturday Night At The Movies." "I've Got Sand In My Shoes"/"He's Just A Playboy" came out in September 1964, with "Sand" pulling down the #33 position on the national charts.
In late October 1964, the Drifters recorded three songs, all led by Johnny Moore. The first was "Spanish Lace" (on the 20th); the other two (on the 22nd) were "The Christmas Song" and "I Remember Christmas."
A strange session was held on November 10, 1964. A dozen Pop songs were recorded, all led by Johnny Moore: "Quando, Quando, Quando," "I Wish You Love," "Tonight," "More," "What Kind Of Fool," "The Good Life," "As Long As She Needs Me," "Desafinado," "Who Can I Turn To," "San Francisco," "Temptation," and "On The Street Where You Live." These were for an Atlantic album to be called The Good Life With The Drifters. But these songs were different from anything the group had done before, and the arrangements proved too complex for them to effectively handle. Engineer Tom Dowd and musician/arranger/producer Arif Mardin ended up overdubbing some harmony parts with their own voices to correct what had been done by the group. "Saturday Night At The Movies" was included on the album simply because "San Francisco" couldn't be sufficiently corrected for inclusion. (Note that "Temptation" was recorded twice by the Drifters–once with Ben E. King in the lead and once with Johnny Moore.)
A couple of days later, on November 12, 1964, there was a more normal session, at which two Johnny Moore-led songs were recorded: "In The Park" and "At The Club." Also in November, Atlantic issued not one, but two Drifters records: "Saturday Night At The Movies"/"Spanish Lace" and "The Christmas Song"/"I Remember Christmas." While it always seemed to me that "Saturday Night At The Movies" was a monster hit, the numbers say otherwise; it only rose to #18 on the national Pop chart. After this, the Drifters became part of Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars tour.
On December 31, 1964, the Drifters were brought into the studio to record a single side, with Johnny Moore in the lead: "Answer The Phone." This was rushed out in January 1965, with "At The Club" as the flip. "At The Club" turned out to be the hit, although it only rose to #43.
On March 17, 1965, the Drifters recorded half a dozen songs: "Looking Through The Eyes Of Love" (led by Johnny Moore), "Follow Me" (Johnny Moore), "Chains Of Love" (Charlie), "Far From The Maddening Crowd" (Johnny Moore), "Come On Over To My Place" (Johnny Moore), and "The Outside World" (Charlie). "Come On Over To My Place" and "Chains Of Love" were released that same month. While neither side did that well, both sides made the charts, with "Come On Over To My Place" rising to #60 and "Chains Of Love" peaking at #90.
On March 22, the Drifters started a three-week tour of England. They were enthusiastically received, as they would be on a subsequent tour, and this was probably a big factor in relocating the group there in the 70s.
In June, Atlantic released "Follow Me"/"The Outside World." "Follow Me" just barely made the top 100, cresting at #91. Their next session was held on June 30, 1965, with three songs led by Johnny Moore: "I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing," "Nylon Stockings," and "We Gotta Sing."
"I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing," backed with "Far From The Maddening Crowd" became the Drifters' July 1965 release. "I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing" made it to the #51 position.
"We Gotta Sing"/"Nylon Stockings" were issued in November, but neither side made the charts.
The Drifters' first session of 1966 was held on January 27. The songs recorded were: "Up In The Streets Of Harlem" (led by Johnny Moore), "Memories Are Made Of This" (Johnny Moore), and "You Can't Love Them All" (Charlie Thomas).
On February 8, 1966, there was an additional song recorded: "My Islands In The Sun" (led by Johnny Moore). It was rushed out that same month, backed with "Memories Are Made Of This." "Memories" was the one that charted, but only to the #48 position.
The Drifters, being a commercial success, were naturally enough tapped to make some commercials. Around 1962, they made a spot for Rheingold Beer. In 1966, they did some Coca Cola commercials which were released on at least two EPs on the "Swingers For Coke" label. These DJ records have Columbia master numbers and feature several famous artists, each doing a different Coke commercial. One of the Drifters' tunes (with the lyrics "sip, Susie, sip") seems to be a takeoff on "Mustang Sally."
"Up In The Streets Of Harlem"/"You Can't Love Them All" were issued in May 1966, but neither side charted.
The Drifters next returned to the studios on July 26, 1966, when they recorded two songs, both led by Johnny Moore: "Takes A Good Woman" and "Aretha."
After about three years with the group, bass Johnny Terry began missing jobs due to illness. In mid-1966 he was let go and replaced by Dan Dandridge, who only stayed a couple of months before getting married and leaving. Johnny Moore then went to Cleveland to recruit Bill Brent, who had been the bass in Moore's 1954 group, the Hornets and had later sung with the Metrotones.
Around the same time that Johnny Terry left, Gene Pearson quit, being very unhappy with management. He felt that their appearances were beneath a group still turning out hit records. Johnny Moore agreed, saying "We played the Chitlin' Circuit and we weren't a Chitlin' Circuit group; we were a nightclub act." Pearson was replaced, for a couple of months, by baritone Eddie Bowen, who then left to pursue a solo career. He, in turn, was replaced by Rick Sheppard, in time for their next session. Sheppard had been a soloist on Capitol and Shout records when George Treadwell selected him for the Drifters.
Another two songs were recorded on October 12, 1966: "My Baby Is Gone" (unknown lead) and "Baby What I Mean" (Johnny Moore). The cast on this session was Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas, Rick Sheppard, and Bill Brent.
Soon after the October, 1966 session, Bill Brent was asked to leave so that Bill Fredericks (a baritone/bass with a more versatile voice) could be added to the group. Fredericks had been in the Packards that had recorded "Ding Dong." Brent would later join Cleveland's Hesitations.
In November 1966, Atlantic put out "Aretha" and "Baby What I Mean." "Baby What I Mean" became the Drifters last national Pop chart hit, peaking at #62.
On May 5, 1967, the Drifters (Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas, Rick Sheppard, and Bill Fredericks) recorded "Ain't It The Truth" (led by Johnny) and "Up Jumped The Devil" (Bill). These two songs were released in July and "Ain't It The Truth" rose to #36 on the R&B charts. This was to be the last chart hit for the Atlantic group.
Only days after this session (on May 14), manager George Treadwell died. Dean Barlow (former lead of the Crickets) told me that in early 1967, Treadwell had formed a group which included Dean and former Vocaleers' lead, Joe Duncan. They were practicing in a Drifters vein, since Treadwell was tiring of the real Drifters. Possibly it was his intention to once again fire the entire Drifters group and replace them all, however, he died before anything was done.
Charlie Thomas, who had been with the group nine years (the longest anyone would continuously be with the Atlantic Drifters), left around August 1967. When George Treadwell died, his wife, Faye, had taken over the group's management. Charlie initially adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Eventually, there was a fight over some seemingly inconsequential thing, and Charlie walked out. He quit singing and bought a gypsy cab in New York.
Charlie was replaced (for the obligatory couple of months) by tenor Charles Baskerville, formerly of Shep and the Limelites, but he left after only a month or two.
The Drifters' next session was held on November 8, 1967. This time, they recorded "I Dig Your Act" (led by Bill Fredericks), "Still Burning In My Heart" (Johnny Moore), "I Need You Now" (Bill Fredericks), and "Country To The City" (Johnny Moore). There were only three singers present (Johnny Moore, Rick Sheppard, and Bill Fredericks), so overdubbing was done to create the illusion of more voices. In December, Charlie Thomas' vacated spot was filled by baritone Milton Turner, who had been with Bill Fredericks in the Packards. Around this time guitarist/arranger Bill Davis (who, by June 1966, had changed his name to "Abdul Samad") left too, and was replaced by Butch Mann, who had been guitarist for Ruby and The Romantics.
Atlantic issued "Still Burning In My Heart"/"I Need You Now" in December 1967, but the disc saw no chart action.
In 1968, Dock Green and Tommy Evans put together another group, called the Floaters, with Wilbur "Yonkie" Paul (an original member, with Dock, of the 5 Crowns) and a tenor named "Snugs." They had a single release, on the B.E.B. label in February of that year: "Cindy Lou"/"Walkin' On A Rainbow."
In spite of steady work, there were no Drifters sessions or releases in 1968. The next time they saw a studio was on March 10, 1969, when they (Johnny Moore, Rick Sheppard, Milton Turner, and Bill Fredericks) recorded "You And Me Together Forever" (led by Johnny), "Your Best Friend" (Johnny), and "Steal Away" (Bill). "Your Best Friend" and "Steal Away" were released in April, but nobody was buying.
Milton Turner stayed until late 1969, at which time he was replaced by another Charlie Thomas (who called himself "Don Thomas" in order to avoid confusion). He had been with the Mystics on the King label (who later changed their name to the Dealers). Having been on the same bill as the Drifters, he knew a lot of their material, so when he heard there was an opening, he rushed to audition for Faye Treadwell and the rest of the group. Don Thomas has the distinction of being the last singer hired to be a member of the Atlantic Drifters. The group (Johnny Moore, Rick Sheppard, Don Thomas, and Bill Fredericks) had a session on February 24, 1970, at which time they recorded "Black Silk" (led by Bill), "You Got To Pay Your Dues" (Johnny), "On My Block" (Johnny), and "The World Doesn't Matter Anymore" (Johnny).
Then, in March 1970, the seemingly impossible happened: the Drifters broke up. Johnny Moore, Rick Sheppard, and Don Thomas all quit due to internal problems, presumably involving Bill Fredericks. They talked about continuing on by themselves as the Drifters, but nothing ever came of it. Finally, Rick Sheppard became a New York City policeman, and that idea was gone.
In spite of the breakup, Atlantic released "Black Silk"/"You Got To Pay Your Dues" in July, 1970. It didn't matter whether the group was intact or not; their fans weren't rushing out to buy the disc.
By late 1970, Johnny Moore reunited with Bill Fredericks and Faye Treadwell. Their last session (on January 5, 1971) was done in Chicago as a private venture and the results subsequently sold to Atlantic. The tunes were: "A Rose By Any Other Name" (led by Johnny), "Be My Lady" (Johnny), "I Depend On You" (Bill), and "Guess Who" (Johnny). The other voices were done by two pick-up singers (one of whom might have been Ronald Quinn, who wrote "Be My Lady"). In February 1971, "A Rose By Any Other Name"/"Be My Lady" became the last original Drifters' release on Atlantic. Like its immediate predecessors, it saw no chart action.
And that was it. After almost 18 years, the Drifters and Atlantic parted company. They had made the R&B charts on 36 occasions (including 3 trips for "White Christmas"), scoring top 10 hits with 23 of their songs. More important, they had cracked the more prestigious Pop charts 37 times. Five of those songs were in the top 10: "There Goes My Baby," "Save The Last Dance For Me," "Up On The Roof," "On Broadway," and "Under The Boardwalk."
The years had been good to the Drifters—up to a point. Even with a seemingly endless series of personnel changes, they were at the forefront of American popular music from "Money Honey" through "Saturday Night At The Movies" (a span of 11 years). They weathered all sorts of musical changes and had been both loyal followers and innovators. But from the mid-60s, the releases were more and more formula-driven, less exciting. Finally they trickled to about one a year. To be sure, Billboard was still giving them favorable reviews, but the hits were lower and lower down on the charts—and then stopped coming. No Drifters record from mid-1967 to 1971 made the top 100.
In early 1971, Tommy Evans and Dock Green put together a group called the Exciting Changes. With Hughie Beauregard (tenor), and Leo Wright (lead), they released "I Got Something Good For You" and "Falling In Love" on Westhill.
The story of the Drifters continued in several parts (before totally fragmenting):
1. Bill Pinkney had formed the "Original Drifters" in 1958 (and continued leading them right up until his death on July 4, 2007, just shy of his 82nd birthday).
2. In 1972, Faye Treadwell, Johnny Moore, and Bill Fredericks moved the remnants of the Atlantic group to England (with the addition of Grant Kitchings, formerly of the King Toppers, Butch Leake, and guitarist Butch Mann), where they recorded for Bell and Arista throughout the 70s. Johnny continued to front a group in England (with a bewildering array of personnel changes) until his death on December 30, 1998, at age 64.
3. Charlie Thomas started his own group in late 1971for a show at New York's Academy Of Music, reuniting with Dock Green and Elsbeary Hobbs. The fourth member was tenor Al Hurst (soon to be replaced by the Turbans' Al Banks); Bill Davis (Abdul Samad) was once again on guitar. As soon as Charlie formed his group, Faye Treadwell sued on behalf of that old warhorse, "Drifters, Inc." However, the judge ruled (in February 1972) that Charlie probably had more right to the name "Drifters" than she did. This may have been what precipitated her group's move to England. Charlie is still performing in 2010.
4. Since 1970, Rick Sheppard has headed up "The Drifters, Featuring Rick Sheppard" (they're still gigging in the U.S. and Canada).
What happened to the Drifters? They started out as innovators. With Clyde McPhatter at the helm, they blazed a path through R&B. Once Johnny Moore took over in the 50s, their sound became more polished, but also more routine. Excessive personnel turnover finally toppled them. Once the second group was formed, the cycle began again. "There Goes My Baby" was innovative. But by the mid-60s their songs tended to sound very similar. After that, having turned into a Soul group, I find their work to be derivative, boring, and basically unlistenable. While that's just my opinion, their fans were also deserting them in droves during the latter half of the 60s.
The Drifters weathered drastic changes in the music industry. They began as one of the greatest of the R&B groups, easily transformed themselves into a Rock 'n Roll group, switched to Pop stars in the early 60s, and finished up as Soul singers in the later 60s. The Drifters could do it all. The Drifters did it all.
2025 There Goes My Baby (BEK)/ Oh My Love (BEK) - 5/59
2040 Dance With Me (BEK)/ (If You Cry) True Love, True Love (JW) - 9/59
2050 This Magic Moment (BEK)/ Baltimore (CT/EH) - 1/60
2062 Lonely Winds (BEK)/ Hey Senorita (BEK) - 4/60
2071 Save The Last Dance For Me (BEK)/ Nobody But Me (BEK) - 8/60
2087 I Count The Tears (BEK)/ Suddenly There's A Valley (BH/TE) - 12/60
2096 Some Kind Of Wonderful (RL)/ Honey Bee (DB) - 3/61
2105 Please Stay (RL)/ No Sweet Lovin' (BP) - 6/61
2117 Sweets For My Sweet (CT)/ Loneliness Or Happiness (RL) - 8/61
2127 Room Full Of Tears (CT)/ Somebody New Dancin' With You (RL) - 12/61
2134 When My Little Girl Is Smiling (CT)/ Mexican Divorce (RL) - 1/62
2143 What To Do (RL)/ Stranger On The Shore (RL) - 4/62
2151 Jackpot (RL)/ Sometimes I Wonder (BEK) - 6/62
2162 Up On The Roof (RL)/ Another Night With The Boys (RL) - 9/62
2182 On Broadway (RL)/ Let The Music Play (RL) - 2/63
2191 Rat Race (RL)/ If You Don't Come Back (JM) - 5/63
2201 I'll Take You Home (JM)/ I Feel Good All Over (CT) - 8/63
2216 Vaya Con Dios (RL)/ In The Land Of Make Believe (RL/JM) - 12/63
2225 One Way Love (JM)/ Didn't It (JM) - 3/64
2237 Under The Boardwalk (JM)/ I Don't Want To Go On Without You (CT) - 6/64
2253 I've Got Sand In My Shoes (JM)/ He's Just A Playboy (JM) - 9/64
2260 Saturday Night At The Movies (JM)/ Spanish Lace (JM) - 11/64
2261 The Christmas Song (JM)/ I Remember Christmas (JM) - 11/64
SD-8103 "The Good Life With The Drifters" - 12/64
Quando Quando Quando
On The Street Where You Live
I Wish You Love
What Kind Of Fool Am I
The Good Life
As Long As She Needs Me
Who Can I Turn To
Saturday Night At The Movies
2268 At The Club (JM)/ Answer The Phone (JM) - 1/65
2285 Come On Over To My Place (JM)/ Chains Of Love (CT) - 3/65
2292 Follow Me (JM)/ The Outside World (CT) - 6/65
2298 I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing (JM)/Far From The Maddening Crowd (JM) - 7/65
2310 We Gotta Sing (JM)/ Nylon Stockings (JM) - 11/65
2325 Memories Are Made Of This (JM)/ My Islands In The Sun (JM) - 2/66
2336 Up In The Streets Of Harlem (JM)/ You Can't Love Them All (CT) - 5/66
2366 Baby What I Mean (JM)/ Aretha (JM) - 11/66
2426 Ain't It The Truth (JM)/ Up Jumped The Devil (BF) - 7/67
2471 Still Burning In My Heart (JM)/ I Need You Now (BF) - 12/67
2624 Your Best Friend (JM)/ Steal Away (BF) - 4/69
2746 Black Silk (BF)/ You Got To Pay Your Dues (JM) - 7/70
2786 A Rose By Any Other Name (JM)/ Be My Lady (JM) - 2/71
BEK = Ben E. King; CT = Charlie Thomas; EH = Elsbeary Hobbs; RL = Rudy Lewis;
JM = Johnny Moore; JW = Johnny Lee Williams; BF = Bill Fredericks; DB = David Baughan;
TE = Tommy Evans; BH = Bobby Hendricks; BP = Bill Pinkney