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Drifters, The

Formed in 1953 in New York at the behest of Atlantic Records, The Drifters were consistent US hit makers until 1964.

A few years later their career was strongly revived in Britain – some of their later UK hits (eleven of them in less than five years) were new songs, but their rebirth started in 1972 with the reissue of the classic Saturday Night At The Movies – their last US Top 20 hit, from 1964. The second time around, this single reached the UK Top Three.

Ostensibly a vehicle for ex-Dominoes singer Clyde McPhatter (b. Clyde Lensley McPhatter, 1933), the quartet was completed by Gerhart Thrasher, Andrew Thrasher and Bill Pinkney. The group achieved a million-selling #1 with their debut single, Money Honey. Follow-up releases included Such A Night and Lucille.

McPhatter’s soaring tenor juxtaposed perfectly against the frenzied support of the other members, providing a link between gospel and rock & roll styles. The leader’s interplay with bassist Pinkney was revelatory, but McPhatter’s induction into the armed forces in 1954 was a blow that The Drifters struggled to withstand.

Upon leaving the military, the vocalist opted for a solo career. Although his former group enjoyed success with Adorable (1955), Steamboat (1955), Ruby Baby (1956) and Fools Fall In Love (1957), such recordings featured a variety of lead singers, most notably Johnny Moore (1934 – 1998).

Other new members included Charlie Hughes, Bobby Hendricks (who became 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 on The Drifters’ name – invited another act – The Five Crowns – to adopt the appellation.

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Charlie Thomas (Tenor), Doc Green Junior (bass/baritone) and lead singer Ellsbury Hobbs (1936 – 1996), plus guitarist Reggie Kimber, duly became ‘The Drifters’. Hobbs was replaced by Ben E King, and 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 a lowly R&B recording.

The single not only topped the R&B chart, it also reached #2 on the US pop listings. It also anticipated the ‘symphonic’ style later developed by Phil Spector.

Other excellent singles followed, notably This Magic Moment (1960) and Save The Last Dance For Me which became a million seller, topped the US charts, and went to #2 in the UK.

King eventually left for a solo career and was replaced by Rudy Lewis who fronted the group until his premature death in 1964 from drug-induced suffocation.

Clyde McPhatter
Vocals
Gerhart Thrasher
Vocals
Andrew Thrasher
Vocals
Bill Pinkney
Vocals
Johnny Moore
Vocals
Charlie Hughes
Vocals
Bobby Hendricks
Vocals
Jimmy Millender
Vocals
Tommy Evans
Vocals
Charlie Thomas
Vocals
Doc Green Junior
Vocals
Ellsbury Hobbs
Vocals
Ben E King
Vocals
Rudy Lewis
Vocals