The Drifters are still touring, even though all original members are dead!
In 1953, Clyde McPhatter formed The Drifters after a request from the record label Atlantic to assemble a vocal group.
They did so because they’d realized that Clyde had left his previous band Billy Ward and his Dominoes and been replaced by Jackie Wilson.
Keen to snap up the talent, they asked him to assemble a new group. Clyde recruited Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher, Bill Pickney, and Jimmy Oliver.
Since its inception, the group has had 60 members coming and going and amazingly, seven decades later, they’re still going. Now in two versions, without any original members, it’s their kids that are suing and blaming each other, but more on that later!
The Drifters’ classic hit tunes started already with their first release, Money Honey, which went to #1 and had lead vocals by the founder of the band. Three years later, Money Honey was featured on Elvis Presley’s debut album. Being covered like this would be a trend that stuck.
Following the success of the debut, The Drifters did have several hits although none have had the same legacy. It would take several new lead singers before another classic appeared.
In 1960, they recorded This Magic Moment with Ben E. King now on lead vocal duties. This tune has since been covered by Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and even Lou Reed.
The same year, with Ben still leading the way, they had one of their biggest hits in Save The Last Dance for Me. This time they did reach #1, and Save The Last Dance For Me got covered by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and (much later) Michael Buble.
In 1961, The Drifters’ next proper tune arrives in Sweets For My Sweet. This one was covered by The Searchers only two years later and then in 1994 in a reggae club version by C.J. Lewis.
By now, Ben E. King had left the group to pursue a solo career. Funnily enough, just as he was leaving he wrote Stand By Me and offered it to the group but they turned it down!
Anyway, with Ben out of the way, in 1963 another tune with a massive legacy arrives in On Broadway. Perhaps not a huge hit for The Drifters at the time, it did have a guitar solo by no other than Phil Spector who had by now had several hits with The Crystals and later the same year would become world famous for Be My Baby with The Ronettes.
Speaking of guitar solos, most importantly, George Benson would cover On Broadway on his legendary 1978 album Weekend In L.A. This recording has scared the living daylight out of every guitar player in the world at the time and since.
In 1964, The Drifters release another of their classics, Under The Boardwalk. Crazy circumstances surrounded the recording as the lead singer of the group at the time, Rudy Lewis died the night before the session.
Instead of canceling the studio, another of the group’s singers, Johnny Moore, stepped up and recorded perhaps The Drifter’s biggest hit.
Apart from every covers band in the world, famous artists and bands like The Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, and, wait for it, Bruce Willis(!), have recorded their version of Under The Boardwalk.
This was The Drifters’ last big tune but as a group, they would continue to tour for decades, sometimes under variations on the name. Most famously The Original Drifters, led by Bill Pinkney, one of the original members.
There was also a version called Charlie Thomas Drifters. Charlie was the lead singer on the aforementioned Sweets for My Sweet.
Strangely, the main version is mainly touring around the U.K. This version of the band is derived from the ownership that came from the band’s original manager, George Treadwell. When George passed, his widow bought the rights to the band. When she passed, her daughter, Tina, took over.
Currently, Tina Treadwell is managing the group in the U.K. and is reportedly working on a Broadway show based on the legend of the band. Perhaps she’s seen Jersey Boys a few too many times…
I’m guessing Pinkney’s family isn’t too happy about this. Bill himself died in 2007 so it’s the kids of the members that are keeping the band(s), and the arguments going.
The Drifters tunes | Related pages
| Ab7 Gb | Ab7 Gb7 | Ab7 Gb | Ab7 Gb7 |
They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway.
| Ab7 Gb | Ab7 Gb7 | Ab7 Gb | Ab7 Gb7 |
They say there’s always magic in the air.
Under The Boardwalk
| G | G | D | D |
Oh, when the sun beats down and burns the tar up on the roof.
| D | D | G | G |
And your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fireproof.