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The Drifters:

The Kings of the R&B Groups

by Erika Cox

The Drifters created a soulful sound of Rhythm and Blues using stirring Gospel vocals. Their sound helped create Soul music, which came from a deep mixture of Gospel and Rhythm and Blues.
The Drifters went through a number of personnel changes including members and management. The name Drifters came about because the group had drifted from one group to the next. The original members were Clyde McPhatter, Bill Pinkney, Gerhardt Thrasher, Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore.*
*excerpt from an email we received:
Ron McPhatter (Clyde's son) and I are partners in the company My Heart Entertainment. I just wanted to bring one thing to your attention. The original members of The Drifters were Clyde, Bill Pinkney, Willy Ferbie, Andrew and Gerhardt Thrasher. Thomas, Moore, and King did not enter until after Clyde left the group. This is an important fact of history. You can visit our site at www.myheartentertainment.com
Bill Pinkney is the only original member of the original 1953 group and he continues to keep the Drifters name alive with recent tours. The lead singer was Clyde McPhatter, who first started with the Dominos, one of the first Rhythm and Gospel groups in the music industry. The term Rhythm and Gospel is really a misnomer, the real term of this music later became known as Soul music. Itís called Rhythm and Gospel because religious words were replaced with worldly words, for example instead of the verse saying, ďLord, take my handĒ, the verse would be, ďBaby, take my handĒ.
McPhatter started singing with the Dominoes at age seventeen he had one of the smoothest voices around and was definitely the biggest part of the Dominoes. However, the group was being billed as Billy Ward and his Dominoes. Billy Ward was the manager of the group and had originally organized the group, no doubt, this didnít go over well with Clyde since he was the main attraction and felt his name should be part of the group. So, McPhatter left the Dominoes and signed up with the Drifters, who at that time were just starting out.

Ahmet Ertegun, the owner of Atlantic signed the Drifters to his record company and their manager became Jerry Wexler. Once the group signed on with Ahmet Ertegunís successful Atlantic records, the Drifters finally hit it big with the lead vocals of McPhatter and the direction of Jerry Wexler.
Eventually McPhatter left the group to pursue a solo career and was replaced with Johnny Moore. The group had a successful hit with Johnny Moore but ran into problems, they started complaining about wages or the lack of, so the groupís manager at the time, George Treadwell, fired all of them and he could do this because he owned the groupís name.
Jerry Wexler then convinced Treadwell to hire Ben E. King and his group, the Crows, and rename them the Drifters. Treadwell agreed and with Ben E. King as the lead singer the group became more successful then the original group, with several hits on the Top Ten R&B charts. After Ben E. King left the group in1960 to pursue a solo career, which seems to be the natural thing for lead singers to do, Rudy Lewis became the groupís lead singer.
With Lewis, the group saw their biggest success with hits on the Pop and R&B charts. The Drifters remained successful throughout the early 70ís. Beginning in the 70ís, there were a number of groups performing as the Drifters mostly because many of the ex-lead singers of the original group formed new Drifters groups.
However, Bill Pinkney has been able to continue to use the original name of the Drifters. The members using the name of the original Drifters consist of Bill Pinkney, Vernon Young, Ron McPhatter (Clydeís son), Chuck Cockerham, and Richard Knight Dunbar.
The original group consisting of McPhatter, Lewis, Pinkney, Thrasher, King, and Moore were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. The Drifters have remained one of the important R&B groups in history.







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