The Drifters - after Clyde McPhatter©2000JCMarion


At the end of 1954, Clyde McPhatter was drafted in the army and the group knew that he was intending to go forth as a solo performer when he resumed his career. Clyde continued to appear with the group into 1955. In January they were at Alan Freed's poll winners show at St. Nick's Arena in Harlem. In April Clyde and the group did a show at the Cleveland Arena on Easter Sunday. The spring of 1955 was the first recording session for The Drifters without their celebrated lead singer. In early July The Drifters star at New York's Apollo Theater. The split between Clyde and the Drifters becomes official on July 16 of the year. Clyde continues as a PFC in the army stationed on Grand Island near Buffalo, New York. The Drifters meanwhile sign on teenaged David Baughn as their new tenor voice. He was recently a member of the group The Checkers. The group went on to an engagement in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and then went out to the West Coast and were a big hit at the 5-4 Ballroom in L.A. By October of the year, David Baughn had left the group and was signed by Savoy Records as a solo performer and also with a newly formed group called The Harps. Meanwhile The Drifters had their first recording for Atlantic out without Clyde as lead singer. The 'A' side of the record on Atlantic #1078 which was a cover of The Colts tune "Adorable" on Vita, featured Johnny Moore on lead. Moore formerly with a group called The Hornets (on United / States in Chicago) had been recruited by Bill Pinkney. Bill took his turn on the unique tune "Steamboat" which was the flip side of #1078 and in turn became a good hit on the R & B charts. In November The Drifters share the bill with The Midnighters in Atlanta for a big R & B show. Atlantic Records re-releases "White Christmas" by Clyde and The Drifters in time for the holiday season. In Atlanta, The Drifters win a battle of the groups with The Eldorados, and then move on to dates in Miami.


The first big plan for the group in the year 1956 was signing on to a big touring show produced by Irvin Feld. Among the other performers are Bill Haley & The Comets, LaVern Baker, The Platters, Joe Turner, The Five Keys, Bo Diddley, Roy Hamilton, The Turbans, and Red Prysock and his band. The tour will begin in Pittsburgh and go to mainly the Southeast. After the tour is over, the group will play the big theaters in the East like the Howard in Washington, Royal in Baltimore, and the Apollo in New York. Atlantic Records announces its two biggest months in the history of the label for December through January. A big part of the sales mark are the re-release of "White Christmas" and the combination of "Adorable" and "Steamboat" all by The Drifters. In March the group appears in Chicago with radio dj McKee Fitzhugh along with Bo Diddley and The Clovers. In early April Atlantic #1089 is out featuring "Your Promise To Be Mine" and "Ruby Baby". The group alternates leads on the record with Johnny Moore on "Ruby" and Gerhart (Gay) Thrasher doing the honors on "Promise". The ballad side "Promise" takes off big in the Washington D.C. area immediately. In May of 1956, Atlantic reacts to the RCA version of "Money Honey" by Elvis on an LP by a re-release of Clyde and The Drifters original 1953 side. "Ruby Baby" has started to appear on various pop music charts across the country in May. The Drifters join the cast of a new Irvin Feld traveling R & B revue called the "Biggest Rock 'n Roll Show of 1956" which kicks off in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The show will tour for a month and a half and headlines Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and Bill Haley. Also on the bill is interestingly enough, is Clyde McPhatter. The group says there are no plans for an in person reunion as part of the show. After a short break at the end of the tour, Atlantic #1101 is released which features "Soldier of Fortune" and "I Gotta Get Myself A Woman". The ballad side "Soldier" once again features the lead singing of Johnny Moore. "Soldier" is a solid seller in parts of the South especially in Atlanta and New Orleans. Atlantic will once again re-release "White Christmas" by Clyde and The Drifters for the third year in a row.


Near the end of the year tensions that had been simmering below the surface between the group and their manager George Treadwell erupted and tore the group apart. Bill Pinkney complained about (what else ?) money he felt the group was owed for royalties and appearance money. He was shown the way out by Treadwell and Andrew Thrasher followed soon after. Now the only original member left was Gerhart Thrasher. The rest of the group was Johnny Moore on lead, Charlie Hughes originally a part of the Atlantic Diamonds and a sometime member of The DuDroppers, Tommy Evans a member of a little known group called The Carols, and Jimmy Oliver, a sometime member of the group as a singer-guitarist. Early in 1957 this lineup recorded Atlantic #1123 featuring two vocals by Johnny Moore on "Fools Fall In Love" and "It Was A Tear". Despite all the internal problems the group was having, "Fools", a jump-shuffle tune with appealing lyrics was a huge hit on the national R & B charts and also made the pop music charts as well which was a great accomplishment for the group. The next Atlantic record was a failure. It was "Hypnotized" and "Drifting Away From You". The split leads (Moore on "Hypnotized" and Gerhart Thrasher on the flip) did not help the record and it was soon forgotten. Atlantic released #1161 during the late fall which paired "I Know" , a lovely sentimental ballad, and a bit of a throwaway jump tune called "Yodee Yakee". The ballad side "I Know" did moderately well but was probably hurt by the constant changing of the personnel in the group.
Personnel on hand for the group now seemed to change almost weekly. Bill Pinkney returned with a member of his interim group The Flyers named Bobby Hendricks from Columbus, Ohio who was also a member of The Swallows. Johnny Moore and Charlie Hughes were drafted during the summer, and another new member named Jimmy Millinder rounded out the group at that time. The group was still a good draw on the road such as a February, 1958 show in Houston with Sam Cooke, The Dubs, Ernie Freeman, and others with radio personality "King Bee" Smith. In the spring Atlantic releases #1187 which featured the group and their take on the old tune "Moonlight Bay". The flip side "Drip Drop" was written by the team of Lieber and Stoller, who recently moved to Atlantic as writers and producers after a number of years on the West coast after establishing their own record company there (Spark Records). The side being pushed by Atlantic "Moonlight Bay" initially sells well in California, but soon the flip side starts getting airplay across the country. The record helps Atlantic Records have their second biggest month ever in May with their subsidiary label Atco, also added to the sales numbers. In June the group appears on the new Alan Freed television show which is nationally syndicated. "Drip Drop" takes over as the featured side with Bobby Hendricks lead vocal in the Atlantic Coast area (especially Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia) and soon moves onto the national pop music charts. Right after the television appearance, The Drifters went to New York's Apollo Theater for a week long stay. It was at this time that the long period of antagonism between the group and manager George Treadwell came to a head. He decided to fire the entire group on the spot. Since he had legal rights to the group's name, Treadwell came up with a new version of The Drifters on the spot. The new group had been known as The Five Crowns with a recent hit called "Kiss And Make Up" on the R & B label. They went on to international fame with a number of legendary hits beginning with "There Goes My Baby" for Atlantic. Of that last group of original Drifters, Bobby Hendricks went on to immediate fame with "Itchy Twitchy Feeling" backed up by The Coasters for Atlantic. The rest went their separate ways to re-appear from time to time as The "Original" Drifters without much success. As a lasting legacy, this original group of Drifters after Clyde McPhatter were to me the most interesting version of the group even though they were not nearly as ground breaking as the first fivesome, or as popular as the Ben E. King and subsequent groups (with lead singers Charlie Thomas, Rudy Lewis, and the returning Johnny Moore). This second version of The Drifters had a history that lasted less than three years, and without the dynamics of Clyde McPhatter as lead, they were still able to make interesting and memorable music. For that we can all be thankful.

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