“A lot of magic moments”
In the history of beach music no group had more records purchased, played or been more popular than the Drifters. Their great legacy began in 1953 when former tenor lead for the Dominoes, Clyde McPhatter, joined forces with former gospel singers Bill Pinkney, Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher and Willie Ferbee to cut an unforgettable record on the fledgling Atlantic record label. The song was Money Honey and it shot immediately to #1 on the rhythm and blues charts.
Their string of hits continued through the 50s with such songs as Honey Love, White Christmas, I’ve Got To Get Myself A Woman, Ruby Baby, Drip Drop, Moonlight Bay, Fools Fall In Love, Steamboat, It Was A Tear and others. Their version of White Christmas is said to be the 2nd most popular version of all time, exceeded only by Bing Crosby. Featured on the soundtrack of the mega-hit movie, “Home Alone”, the song reached an entirely new generation of fans.
Circumstances such as lead singer Clyde McPhatter being drafted and personnel changes by their record label and manager, led to a revolving door of lead singers. Clyde was the original lead singer on Money Honey and Honey Love, and sang the tenor lead on White Christmas. He eventually went on to a solo career. Other leads were Bill Pinkney singing bass lead on White Christmas, Johnny Moore on Ruby Baby and Bobby Hendricks on Drip Drop. Despite their success, as the 50s era came to an end, they were all released due to disagreements over money, song selection, etc. Another group, The Five Crowns, became the Drifters and a singer named Ben (Ben E King) Nelson became their new front man.
Their first hit with Ben E. King was There Goes My Baby, one of the 1st R&B hits backed by strings. Other hits with King were Dance With Me, This Magic Moment, and Save The Last Dance For Me. When King left for a solo career Charlie Thomas sang lead on 2 hits, Sweets For My Sweet, and When My Little Girl Is Smiling. Next up was Rudy Lewis who took over as lead, for Up On The Roof and On Broadway. During some of Rudy’s sessions, his backup vocals were provided by Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and Doris Troy. Rudy died unexpectedly and Johnny Moore was brought in to sing lead on Under The Boardwalk, Sand In My Shoes, and Saturday Night At The Movies among others.
Many groups changed personnel but the Drifters had to be the most promiscuous. According to Bill Millar’s book, they had 12 lead singers listed below in order of their contributions to recorded songs:
Johnny Moore 43%, Clyde McPhatter 15%, Rudy Lewis 14.5%,
Ben E King 9%, Bill Fredericks 5%, Charlie Thomas, 4%,
Bill Pinkney 3.2 %, Bobby Hendricks 1.6%, Gerhart Thrasher 1.6%,
David Baughn 1%, Charlie Hughes 1%, Johnny Lee Williams 1%.
The hits faded in the late 60s, yet several former members continued to perform as the Drifters. Bill Pinkney of Sumter, S. C. formed Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters. Among beach music fans his was the group of choice. Beloved in his home state, he became a South Carolina legend. Many of his songs became beach music hits. The biggest was a number titled I’m Gonna Move Across The River. Governor Carroll Campbell bestowed him the state’s highest honor, The Order of the Palmetto. Pinkney was also awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Coastal Carolina University. His funeral July 4th 2007 was attended by thousands of S.C fans, musicians and numerous celebs and politicians.
Lead singer, Johnny Moore moved to England with his manager Faye Treadwell. They formed a Drifters group that performed and recorded only in England. Ironically many American beach music fans embraced some of those “English Drifters” songs. Johnny and his “English Drifters” did record one of the most popular beach music hits of all time, Little Red Book. Other minor hits from the English group are There Goes My First Love and Closely Guarded Secrets.
Sadly there have been several phony groups of Drifters as well as Platters and Coasters. Different states, South Carolina being the first, have passed legislation to try to stop this practice if there is not a recording member in the group. Charlie Thomas of course is on hit records and still legally performs as the Drifters.
Abiding by our criteria to only consider artists for our first induction who recorded 1955 or earlier, we are inducting the original group of Drifters. We of course acknowledge the continuing influence, greatness and popularity of all their songs by all the different combinations of Drifters. We marvel at the voices, charisma and singing talents of all their lead singers and all their great harmonies.
Regardless of their tumultuous history, the Drifter’s legacy stands tall in beach music because of their complete body of work. When Life Magazine did a feature a few years back on the first 50 years of Rock and Roll and its influences, the Drifters were named the 19th most influential act. We proudly induct the incredible Drifters into the initial Beach Music Hall of Fame class.