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When the Drifters were introduced to UK and European music fans with
‘There Goes My Baby’ a bubble under hit in 1959, they had already been famous in America for six years. The group had originally been formed by Clyde McPhatter who was signed to Atlantic Records and wanted his own backing group. Clyde set up ‘Drifters Inc.’ so that he owned the name mark with partner and manager George Treadwell. When McPhatter was drafted in ’54 he sold his shares to Treadwell who got himself some new partners and began making serious money from the deal. Drifters Inc. legally took the earnings from all Drifters activities and George paid the four group members a weekly wage. This situation caused all sorts of ructions, dismissals and walkouts way down the line and by ‘58 Treadwell had enough. He signed a new group the Crowns to his management agency - sacked the Drifters en masse and transferred their name to the Crowns. The old group led by ex bass singer Bill Pinkney eventually became the Original Drifters and the new group picked up their tour schedule and public appearances. At first the ‘new’ Drifters met with some rejection and even hostility from Drifters fans, especially in New York but after they cut the classic ‘There Goes My Baby’ all was forgiven.
‘Dance With Me’ broke the Drifters internationally when it became a worldwide hit early in 1960 but by then their lead singer Ben E King had already quit the group and signed a solo contract with Atlantics sister label Atco. Ben had co-written ‘There Goes My Baby’ and other Drifters records and he didn’t think that $75 a week covered it. Though he didn’t tour with the Drifters again (until later) King agreed to record as their lead singer until Atlantic could find a suitable replacement. This was a good decision by all concerned for over the following year they scored four major single hits with ‘This Magic Moment’, ‘Lonely Winds’, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and ‘I Count The Tears’ and the Drifters became international stars. Atlantic producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller were able to keep the hit run going with new lead Rudy Lewis in America with superb records like ‘Some Kinda Wonderful’ and ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ and then they bought them back to the rest of the world with ‘Up On The Roof’ and ‘On Broadway’.
Their records became so popular that most of the Lewis led sides were covered in the UK and sales suffered in Europe. After Rudy died in ’64 they triumphed again with ‘Under The Boardwalk’ and their new lead voice Johnny Moore rang out around the planet. Bert Berns, their new producer, recorded a series of club anthems like ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ and ‘At The Club’ but they only did good business in the US (until later). Treadwell bought the Drifters to Europe for the first time in mid ’65 and they were triumphant once again. This led to a number of UK reissue hits that kept the Drifters on the British charts for five years while sales dwindled in America. George Treadwell died in 1967 and his widow Faye became the Drifters new manager.
While the Drifters could only manage middling R&B hits in America an ‘At The Club’ reissue went to #3 pop in the UK in April ’72 and four months later ‘Come On Over To My Place’ hit the top ten. Faye Treadwell signed a deal with Bell records that same year and moved the Drifters from New York to London to work with English producer Roger Greenaway (Cookaway Productions). After a shaky start ‘Like Sister And Brother’ hit the top 10 in August ’73 and set up a chain of seven more big hits that ran until September ’76. Other than ‘Like Sister And Brother’ which featured Bill Fredericks on lead, Johnny Moore supplied his infectious vocals to ‘Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies’, ‘Down On The Beach Tonight’, ‘Love Games’, ‘There Goes My First Love’, ‘Can I Take You Home Little Girl’, Hello Happiness’, Evry Nites A Saturday Night With You’ and ‘You’re More Than a Number In My Little Red Book’. The Drifters were international stars everywhere but America. They constantly toured the world and became the most popular vocal group of all time. Soul fans prefer their earlier Atlantic records to the later Bell sides but the Drifters have transcended any such musical genres and though they haven’t had a hit single for over thirty years, some great singers have passed through their ranks including Ben E King, Bill Fredericks, Clyde Brown, Roy Hemmings, Louis Price and the current line up Patrick Alan, Rohan Turney, Vic Bynoe and Peter Lamarr.
The Drifters lost their evergreen lead singer Johnny Moore in December ’98 and his death was a tragic loss to the world of music. The group was on the point of breaking up but Phil Ludeman became their new manager and brought them back to celebrate their 50th year in show business in 2003 when they were booked solid on their Golden tour and a double CD compilation album went UK top ten, earning them a gold disc. The Drifters popularity has risen, fallen and risen again many times over the last half century and they have endured many fads and fashions but keep on performing to packed theatres all over Europe. And long may it continue to be so.

Peter Burns August ‘04

Other SoulMusicHQ references
Clyde McPhatter
Ben E King

More research available by email
from SoulMusicHQ.com
Drifters full biography by Peter Burns
Other support biographical info
Discography
Sessionogrphy
Drifter spin off discographies
Photo and graphic scans

Recommended reading
‘Keep On Driftin’’ by Peter Burns - Ready for Publication

Recommended listening
Definitive Drifters Anthology – UK 7 CD set Sequel /96
The Drifters Box - US 3CD set Rhino R2 72417 /96
The Definitive Drifters – UK Atlantic-Warner WSMCD137 /03

 


 
   
   
             
               
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