The Solo Clyde
By mid 1955 Clyde McPhatter was barely out of his teenage years but had already had a major influence on the world of American music. Coming out of North Carolina and the world of gospel music, he had a stint as the lead singer of The Dominos who became top stars of the R & B circuit. Wanting more input and control of his talent he quit the Dominos and formed The Drifters. In barely two years at Atlantic they proved to be one of the all time top vocal groups in history and left a historic musical legacy forever. Now in July of 1955 Clyde McPhatter decided to make another split and leave The drifters and go out on his own as a solo performer. His place with The Drifters is taken by David Baughn and now Clyde is a solo act with Atlantic.
The first recording by McPhatter as a solo comes in August on Atlantic #1070 - "Everyone's Laughing" and "Hot Ziggety" (both sides are actually by Clyde & The Drifters but the group is cut out of label credits). The 'A' side "Everyone's Laughing" is a dramatic gospel tinged blues ballad of the kind that Clyde has made his own specialty and it sells well initially. The second post-Drifters record by Clyde is a surprise to many in that it is a duet with the queen of Atlantic Records, Ruth Brown. The songs "Love Has Joined Us Together" and "I Gotta Have You" are released on #1077 in August. They both previewed the songs live on radio with George "Hound Dog" Lorenz on WKBW from Buffalo's Zanzibar Lounge. Clyde, still in the army is stationed on nearby Grand Island and soon joins the big New Year's Eve R & B Show at the Buffalo Palace. Before that show he is announced as a main attraction on stage at the Brooklyn paramount with the Dr. Jive Christmas Show. At the end of 1955 "Seven Days" and "I'm Not Worthy Of You" are released by Atlantic on #1081.
It was a hectic but successful final week of the year for Clyde McPhatter. He appeared with Ruth Brown at the Doctor Jive show to big crowds, the Buffalo New Year's Eve show was a complete sellout, and "Seven Days" has sold more than 250,000 in ten days. The Atlantic label was able to set an all time sales record for Dec 1955-Jan 1956 on the strength of "Seven Days" which is now a national pop music chart hit and results in a number of pop cover versions. In March Clyde signs a new exclusive contract with Atlantic and is recognized as one of the top stars in the business.
In April Clyde gets his army discharge and soon plans to join a national touring show. At about this time Atlantic releases #1092 - "Treasure Of Love" and "Are You Sincere". The ballad side "Treasure" takes off and is an immediate pop smash rising on the national charts. RCA releases Elvis Presley's version of "Money Honey" and in reaction Atlantic re-releases the original version by Clyde & The Drifters. The Biggest Rock 'n Roll Show of 1956 heads out for a national tour to last close to two months and besides Clyde McPhatter the show features Bill Haley, Joe Turner, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, LaVern Baker, The Drifters, Flamingos, Teen Queens, Colts, and Red Prysock & his band. After the end of the tour Clyde headlines at the Apollo Theater for a week in late June.
Atlantic Records announces a new two month sales record spurred by huge sales of McPhatter's "Treasure of Love" (which eventually sells more that two million copies). In late August Clyde returns to the Apollo Theater with Buddy Johnson and his band and The Eldorados. In September Atlantic issues #1106 - "Thirty Days" and "I'm Lonely Tonight". In November Clyde is in Denver for a big show with Bill Haley, The Clovers, Platters, Flairs, Teenagers, Shirley & Lee, and Chuck Berry. he then returns to New York's Neopolitan Club for a week with The Heartbeats and Della Reese. He goes out to Akron, Ohio, for the Jack Clifton memorial Show at the Armory starring Pat Boone and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. At year's end Atlantic releases #1117 - "Without Love" and "I Make Believe".
In 1957 Clyde moved further still into a pop music style while still retaining his gospel feel and sound that he had always presented. "Without Love" continued to be a big seller for Clyde and a national pop chart hit. His appearance at the Apollo Theater in New York for the holiday show with Jocko is a big success. In January Clyde signs on for the "Greatest Show of 1957" another huge travelling R & B road show produced by Irvin Feld. Atlantic #1133 is a rather strange record in the history of the music. Clyde does a cover record of a Duke release by an Alabama singer named Paul Perryman on a tune called "Just To Hold My Hand". What makes it all so interesting is that Perryman is a McPhatter sound-a-like ! The confusion was complete as record buyers had trouble telling the two apart and since Clyde had much more "name" recognition, it certainly helped sales of the Atlantic side. (I must be one of the few outside of Texas and Alabama that bought the Perryman original !). A couple of months later on #1149 Clyde did another cover, this time from a recording by Philadelphia vocal group Lee Andrews & The Hearts called "Long Lonely Nights". The McPhatter recording got some airplay and sales but coming head to head with the Hearts record hurt the overall success of the Atlantic side. In August "Rock And Cry" and "You'll Be There" were released on #1158. This proved to be a quickly forgotten side and the first real failure that Clyde McPhatter had experienced at Atlantic.
In January of 1958 Atlantic tries again with "That's Enough For Me" and "No Love Like Her Love" on #1170. "No Love" a ballad tune initially sells but soon falls out of sight. McPhatter signs up for a touring unit called "The Greatest Show of Stars" and joins The Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, LaVern Baker, Paul Anka, Jimmy Reed, and others. In April Atlantic releases #1185 - "Come What May" and "Let Me Know". By mid May the record is a top seller in Miami, Atlanta, and Nashville. Clyde's record helps Atlantic gain the second biggest month in their history for May sales. In July Clyde appears on Alan Freed's new television show based in New York which is being syndicated to other national markets. In August McPhatter tours with Jerry Butler & The Impressions, The Coasters, and Sil Austin & his band. Clyde signs on for another national touring show for Irvin Feld to start in October. The lineup is overloaded with teen idols such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Jack Scott, Connie Francis, Jimmy Clanton, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, and Dion & The Belmonts. Also on the bill are Bobby Freeman, The Coasters, Olympics, Danleers, and Sil Austin.
In September #1199 is out - "A Lover's Question" and "I Can't Stand Up Alone". By late October "A Lover's Question" (written by Brook Benton) becomes a solid hit and is starting to break big nationally. Clyde signs on for a Thanksgiving weekend show at the Brooklyn Paramount for New York dj Scott Muni and television personality Ted Steele. Also on the bill are The Solitaires, The Shields, Jerry Butler, Royal Teens, Big Bopper, Cozy Cole, Jimmy Clanton, and others. The show, by the way, was an unmitigated disaster playing to nearly empty houses for the duration. Clyde's performance was one of the few positive moments in an otherwise dreary few days. "A Lover's Question" continues to sell and it becomes the biggest hit record of McPhatter's career. It remains on the national pop charts for five months, sells over one million copies, and gets as high as the number six position on the national best sellers.
Early in 1959 Clyde once again teams up with producer Irvin Feld and signs on for "The Biggest Show of 1959" along with The Platters, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Jimmy Clanton, Bo Diddley, The Crests, Cadillacs, and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra with Ella Johnson. A late February booking at New York's Village Vanguard showcases Clyde's vocal stylings in a jazz setting. At about this time Atlantic Records recording contract with McPhatter ends and he signs with MGM. Arranger and conductor Ray Ellis was instrumental in getting Clyde to switch. Ellis the newly hired director of A & R for the MGM Records label did the arranging and conducting on most of McPhatter's solo sides for Atlantic. In the spring of 1959 Clyde's follow up of "Lovey Dovey" / "My Island Of Dreams" on Atlantic #2018 (going to a new numbering system) does not do well. Clyde signs on with Feld again for "The Biggest Show of Stars" along with The Coasters, LaVern Baker, Bo Diddley, and many others. MGM hurries out "I Told Myself A Lie" and "The Masquerade Is Over" on #12780. The next release for Atlantic #2028 - "Since You've Been Gone" and "Try Try Baby"(a tune cut with The Drifters) is also rather unsuccessful although "Since" did get on the national pop charts for a brief two weeks in August and helps Atlantic to its biggest month in sales in history. #2038 was more of the same - "You Went Back On Your Word" and "There You Go", and #2049 - "Just Give Me A Ring" and "Don't Dog Me" (an earlier cut with The Drifters) also vanished without much of a trace. Clyde still had the "name" to bring in the crowds doing in person appearances and recent memories of his monster hit "A Lover's Question" gained him acceptance, but his hit making days appeared over. In October Atlantic releases an LP of solo McPhatter tunes with the title "Clyde". Atlantic releases #2060 pairing a Drifters jump tune "Let The Boogie Woogie Roll" with "Deep Sea Ball" which does another disappearing act. #2082 features "If I Didn't Love You Like I Do" (once again a six year old Drifters tune sitting on the shelf) and another forgettable effort called "Go Yes Go". This recording marked the end of the long association between Clyde McPhatter and Atlantic Records. In November Clyde headlines an SRO event for charity in New York presented by dj Scott Muni.
By late 1959 Clyde seemed to be (pardon the pun) drifting without direction. His stay with MGM Records which did not result in anything more than a few short memories. These include "Twice As Nice" on #12816, "Let's Try Again" / "Bless You" on #12843, "Think Me A Kiss" on #12877, and "The Glory Of Love" on #12988. Struggling to regain his stature as a top pop music performer he went to another major label in 1960, this time Mercury Records. The first time out for his new label seemed to bode well for the new partnership. He was re-united with producer Clyde Otis with whom he had worked during his earlier years at Atlantic. Mercury #71660 was "Ta Ta" which was released in late summer of the year and received good airplay and did fairly well in sales for the label which was an encouraging sign. It got into the top twenty five pop chart position and proved that after a decade Clyde McPhatter still had what it took to deliver.
Not every one was a winner for Mercury but McPhatter kept at it. "I Just Want To Love You" on #71692, "I Never Knew" on #71841, and "Your Second Choice" on #71868 did not measure up to the promise of "Ta Ta". But the next release for Mercury was the one that McPhatter had been hoping for. "Lover Please" on #71941 was released in March of 1962 right in the middle of the big flux in American popular music as everyone was waiting for the "next big thing". Clyde's happy jump tune hit the airwaves and was an immediate success. It was everybody's pick hit and it justified Mercury's signing of Clyde to the label. It was a top ten chart hit on the national charts and eventually was the third gold record of his solo career. "Little Bitty Pretty One" on #71987 was the next release for Mercury and the remake of Thurston Harris 1958 smash did well for Clyde making the top twenty five sellers on the pop charts. Unfortunately for Clyde McPhatter this was the last time he would make the best seller charts. Other records for the label included "The Best Man Cried" on #72051, "Deep In The Heart of Harlem" on #72220, and "Crying Won't Help You Now" on #72407.
Other instances of Clyde McPhatter on record during the mid and late sixties are "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" on Amy #941 in 1965, then after a trip to England in 1968 Clyde recorded for British Deram Records on "Only A Fool" #85032 in 1968, and "Baby You've Got It" on #85039 in 1969. By late 1969 he returned to the United States and recorded for Decca Records in the early 1970s which included "I'll Still Belong To You" on #32719 in 1970, "Why Can't We Get Together?" on #32753 in 1971. The last time I saw Clyde on stage was in 1971 at an R & B revival show in New York's Academy of Music. He was not in the best of shape and complained to the audience of being one of the first acts in the show. In a somewhat sad voice he proclaimed "I used to be a headliner, baby !". The truth of that statement was lost on most of the audience and the situation became worse as he had trouble with the band on key, starting tempo, and mike placement. But once he got it together and delivered "Lover Please", "Treasure Of Love", and "A Lover's Question" the old performer took over and he was still in possession of that great tenor gospel derived voice. In less than a year he was dead at the ridiculously young age of 38.
From the age of fifteen Clyde McPhatter was a star. A unique singer that came out of the Black church in his native North Carolina to lead two of the great vocal groups ever, The Dominos and Drifters, and then go on to have a solo career with great success. That he was a top performer for more than a decade is remarkable, that he could not sustain this high level of success is regrettable. But what we are left with is a legacy of recorded material that spans the history of the music that dominates the world today as it has for almost a half century. It is very difficult to think of that history without the contributions of the singular talent of Clyde McPhatter. He should be remembered forever.
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