Clyde McPhatter was 12 when his family moved to Harlem. At high school he showed vocal promise and joined the Mount Lebanon Singers. In 1950, Clyde and Charlie White were hired by Billy Ward for a new R&B group. Billy Ward & His Dominoes signed to the Federal label with Clyde McPhatter the lead singer. The partnership lasted two years before Clyde was sacked.
Atlantic founder, Ahmet Ertegun recognised Clyde’s talent and convinced him to sign with his fledgling label. Clyde went back to his Mount Lebanon cohorts to form a backing vocal group. Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters cut their first session in 1953, but the session was unremarkable. The Drifters were reformed and now included, Bill Pinkney, Andrew "Bubba" Thrasher, Gerhart "Gay" Thrasher, and Willie Ferbie. Walter Adams was their guitarist. Their debut single was the million-selling #1 R&B hit, "Money Honey."
Despite other lineup changes the group continued to have hit records including "Honey Love," before McPhatter was drafted into the Army in 1954.
He then continued on a successful solo career before he died in 1972.
The Drifters was owned between Clyde MacPhatter and manager George Treadwell and when McPhatter sold his half to his partner a series of singers were then employed. Lead vocalists Johnny Moore, and then Bobby Hendricks had hits with the Drifters in 1956 and 1957.
George Treadwell fell out with the Drifters in 1958 and sacked the group. Their replacements were the Five Crowns and now The Drifters consisted of Benny Nelson (aka Ben E. King [1938 – 2015]), Charlie Thomas, Doc Green Jnr, Ellsbury Hobbs, plus guitarist Reggie Kimber. Their debut was a Leiber, Stroller and Benny Nelson, the song was called “There Goes My Baby," and became their biggest hit to date.
Other hits followed, including "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment" and "Save The Last Dance For Me."
When Ben E King left in 1060 Rudy Lewis replaced him and the hits continued with "Sweets For My Sweet," "When My Little Girl Is Smiling," "Up On The Roof" and "On Broadway."
Tragically Rudy Lewis died in 1963 as a result of chocking on a bone and Johnny Moore returned to the line-up and provided the lead vocals for "Under The Boardwalk" which became one of their most memorable songs.Two other hits followed in 1964, "At The Club" and "Saturday Night At The Movies."
Throughout the rest of the sixties The Drifters continued to record in a number of contemporary styles, but had little critical or commercial success. In the 70s the Drifters signed with Bell Records and worked with a number of British songwriters/producers. Between 1973 and 1975 they had a number of UK hits, including "Like Sister And Brother," "Kissin' In The Back Row Of The Movies," "Down On The Beach Tonight," "There Goes My First Love" and "Can I Take You Home Little Girl." Ben E. King rejoined the group briefly in the 1980s but when Johnny Moore died in 1998, the touring group was led by Bill Pinkney.
Worth a listen:
Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters
Money Honey (1953)
There goes my baby (1959)
Dance with me (1959)
This Magic moment (1960)
Save the last dance for me (1960)
Sweets for my sweets (1961)
When my little girl is smiling (1962)
Up on the Roof (1962)
Under the boardwalk (1964)
Saturday night at the movies (1964)
Can I take you home little girl (1975)
There Goes My First Love (1975)