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The Drifters
Origin New York City
Genres R&B, Doo wop
Years active 1953 – present
Labels Atlantic, Bell Records
Associated acts Ben E. King
Clyde McPhatter
Website (Drifters UK) (Charlie Thomas' Drifters)
Steve V King
Maurice Cannon
Michael Williams
Damian Charles
Former members
The first Drifters
Clyde McPhatter
Gerhart Thrasher
Andrew Thrasher
Bill Pinkney
Willie Ferbee
Walter Adams
The second Drifters
Ben E. Nelson (King)
Charlie Thomas
Doc Green
Beary Hobbs
Rudy Lewis
Charlie Thomas
Tommy Evans
Eugene Pearson
Johnny Terry
Johnny Moore

The Drifters are a long-lived African-American doo wop/R&B vocal group with a peak in popularity from 1953 to 1962, though several splinter Drifters continue to perform today. They were originally formed by Clyde McPhatter (of Billy Ward & the Dominoes) in 1953. Rolling Stone magazine states that The Drifters were the least stable of the vocal groups due to being low-paid hired musicians of The Drifters' management.[1] The Treadwell Drifters website states that there have been 60 vocalists in the history of the Treadwell Drifters line.[2] Several splinter groups by former Drifters members add to the count. Only one splinter Drifters group features a classic Drifters member, Charlie Thomas' Drifters. Nevertheless, there are two iterations of The Drifters which are notable. The first classic Drifters formed by Clyde McPhatter was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as The Drifters or The Original Drifters.[3] The second Drifters formed by Treadwell featuring Ben E. King was separately inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as Ben E. King and The Drifters.[4] In their induction, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame eclectically selected four members from the classic Drifters, two from the second Drifters, and one from the post-King Treadwell Drifters[5]. According to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, "Through turmoil and changes the (original) Drifters managed to set musical trends and give the public 13 chart hits, most of which are legendary recordings today."[3]



The classic first Drifters and Clyde McPhatter

After hearing that McPhatter had left the Dominoes, on May 7, 1953 Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic Records signed him to form a new group. Wanting to blend gospel and secular sounds, his first effort was to get 4 out of 5 members of his old church group, the Mount Lebanon Singers. They were William “Chick” Anderson (tenor), David Baldwin (baritone), James “Wrinkle” Johnson (bass), and David “Little Dave” Baughan (tenor). After a single recording session of four songs on June 29, 1953, McPhatter saw this combination didn't work and recruited another lineup.

This second effort also comprised gospel vocalists in second tenor Gerhart Thrasher, baritone Andrew Thrasher (both formerly of the gospel group the "Thrasher Wonders"), Bill Pinkney (of the Jerusalem Stars) on high tenor, Willie Ferbee as bass, and Walter Adams on guitar.

This is the group on the second session, which produced the group's first major hit, "Money Honey", released September 1953. "Lucille" from the first session was put on the B side, making a recording industry rarity as a single released with songs from two essentially separate groups of the same name on the A and B sides. "Money Honey" was a huge success and propelled The Drifters to immediate fame.

More lineup changes followed after the session when Ferbee was involved in an accident and left the group, and then Adams died to be replaced by Jimmy Oliver. Ferbee was not replaced and the voice parts were shifted around. Gerhart Thrasher became first tenor, Andrew Thrasher was now the baritone, and Bill Pinkney shifted down to bass. This group released several more hits ("Such A Night" - Nov '53,[6][7] "Honey Love" - Jun '54, "Bip Bam" Oct '54, "White Christmas" - Nov '54, and "What'cha Gonna Do" Mar '55) before McPhatter received his draft letter in May 1954. Initially stationed in Buffalo, New York, he was able to continue for a time, with "What'cha Gonna Do" being Clyde's last recording, (after which he pursued a successful solo career charting 16 R&B and 21 Pop records).

McPhatter had demanded a large share of the group's profits, which he had been denied in the Dominoes, but, upon his departure, did not ensure that this would continue for his successor. He sold his share of the group to George Treadwell, manager, former jazz trumpeter, and husband of singer Sarah Vaughan. As a result, the Drifters cycled through many members, none of whom made much money. McPhatter later expressed regret at this action, recognizing that it doomed his fellow musicians to unprofitability.

McPhatter was first replaced by David Baughn, who was on the new group's first session. While his voice was similar to McPhatter's, his erratic behavior made him unsuitable in the eyes of Atlantic Records executives. Baughn soon left the group to form the Harps (1955) (finding his way back into Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters in 1958), and was replaced by Cleveland native Johnny Moore (formerly of The Hornets). September 1955 saw this lineup record a major double-sided R&B hit with the A side's "Adorable", reaching number one and the B side, "Steamboat," going to number five. These were followed by "Ruby Baby - Feb '56," and "I Got To Get Myself A Woman".

Low salaries contributed to burnout among the members, particularly Bill Pinkney, who was fired after asking Treadwell for more money. In protest, Andrew Thrasher left as well. Pinkney formed another group, called The Flyers, with lead singer Bobby Hendricks, who would leave to join the Drifters the next year. Bill Pinkney was replaced by Tommy Evans (who had replaced Jimmy Ricks in The Ravens). Charlie Hughes, a baritone, replaced Andrew Thrasher. Moore, G. Thrasher, C. Hughes, and Evans were the last quality lineup with top ten hit, "Fools Fall in Love", 1957, (number 69 Pop and number 10 R&B).

Moore and Hughes were drafted in 1957 and replaced by Bobby Hendricks and Jimmy Millender. By early 1958, the lineup was: Bobby Hendricks (lead tenor), Gerhart Thrasher (first tenor), Jimmy Millender (baritone), Tommy Evans (bass), and Jimmy Oliver (guitar). This lineup had one moderate hit, the original version of "Drip Drop" (number 58 Pop), released in April 1958.

With declining popularity, the last of the original Drifters were reduced to working the club scene and doing double duty with gigs under The Coasters and the Ravens names.[3] By May 1958, both Hendricks and Oliver had quit, returning only for a week's appearance at the Apollo Theater. During that week, one of the members got into a fight with the owner of the Apollo. That was the last straw for manager George Treadwell, who fired the entire group.

Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters

Though Treadwell owned The Drifters brand, original members felt they were the real Drifters and tried to keep the group alive. Bill Pinkney was the first and joined with the Thrashers and David Baughan to begin touring as "The Original Drifters" (although their first recordings, for End in 1959, were as the "Harmony Grits"). Several original Drifters came in and out of this group over time, as well as other new artists, but these Drifters never had the success of the earlier Drifters. Baughan left after a short time, leaving the group a trio. Billy Stewart's younger brother, Johnny Stewart, joined the group in 1963. He sang lead on the song "Up On The Roof" Bobby Lee Hollis joined in 1964 and took over the lead spot. Later that year, Andrew Thrasher was out and Jimmy Lewis was in. Bobby Hendricks returned, making the group a quintet for a short time, before Lewis left. Andrew Thrasher returned, replacing Hollis. Hollis and Baughan bounced in and out through the 1960s. By 1968, the group was Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Hollis, Hendricks and Stewart. At this point, the group split up.

Pinkney then met with an existing group, The Tears, and recruited them to perform as part of his group on a short tour. The Tears were Benny Anderson, George Wallace, Albert Fortson, and Mark Williams. Shortly after that, they broke away from Pinkney. Learning they continued touring as the Original Drifters, Pinkney later filed suit and successfully stopped them from using his name/mark The Original Drifters.

Pinkney then brought in new members Bruce Caesar, Clarence Tex Walker, and Bruce Richardson, but the lineup changed rapidly. In 1979 the group was Pinkney, Andrew Lawyer, Chuck Cockerham, Harriel Jackson, and Tony Cook. Their 1995 album Peace in the Valley, on Blackberry Records, credited vocals to Pinkney, Cockerham, Richard Knight Dunbar, Johnny Stewart, ((Vernon Young)), and Greg Johnson.[8] They appeared on the 2001 PBS special, Doo Wop 51 with Pinkney, Dunbar, Johnson, and Bobby Hendricks. The lineup in the early 2000s was Pinkney, Cockerham, Dunbar, Young, and Clyde McPhatter's son, Ron McPhatter. Young died in 2005[9] and Pinkney in 2007. The other members continued performing under the auspicies of Original Drifters, Inc. The present Original Drifters lineup is Chuck Cockerham, Richard Knight Dunbar, Reginald Funderburke, and Joe Turner. The Vocal Group Hall of Fame links to Bill Pinkney's The Original Drifters as "The Original Drifters Official and Authentic Website".[3]

The New Drifters

Treadwell owned the rights to the name "Drifters", and still had a year's worth of bookings for the Apollo when he fired the group. In the summer of 1958, he approached Lover Patterson, the manager of The Five Crowns featuring lead singer Ben E. Nelson, better known by his later stage name of Ben E. King. The new line-up consisted of King (lead tenor), Charlie Thomas (tenor), Doc Green (baritone), and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass). James "Poppa" Clark was the fifth "crown"; he was not included due to an alcohol problem, which Treadwell had considered to be a problem with the first group.[10] The group went out on the road to tour for almost a year. Since this new group had no connection to the prior Drifters, they often played to hostile audiences.[4]

This new lineup, widely considered the "true" golden age of the group, released several singles with King on lead that became chart hits. "There Goes My Baby" was the first commercial rock-and-roll recording to include a string orchestra, a Top 10 hit, and number 193 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "Dance With Me" followed, and then "This Magic Moment" (number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960). "Save the Last Dance for Me" reached # 1 on the U.S. pop charts and #2 in the UK. This was followed by "I Count The Tears." This version of The Drifters was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 as Ben E. King and the Drifters. The writeup indicates an award primarily as a tribute to Ben E. King with a nod to his time in The Drifters, with only one of five paragraphs exclusively devoted to The Drifters, though Charlie Thomas was also cited by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame's induction of the original Drifters, which technically was only through 1958).

With this brief golden age lasting only two years, personnel changes quickly followed. Lover Patterson (now the Drifters' road manager) got into a fight with George Treadwell. Since Patterson had King under personal contract, he refused to let him tour with the group. Thus King was only able to record with the group for about a year. (Johnny Lee Williams did the touring, and sang lead on "True Love, True Love", the flipside of "There Goes My Baby"). When King asked Treadwell for a raise and a fair share of royalties, a request that wasn't honored, he left and began a successful solo career. Williams left at the same time, and new lead Rudy Lewis (of The Clara Ward Singers) was recruited.[10] Lewis led the Drifters on hits such as "Some Kind Of Wonderful," "Please Stay,", "Up On The Roof", and "On Broadway", which reached #5 on the U.S. pop singles chart and #4 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1962. Lewis was also named in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Drifters induction.

Hobbs was drafted for military service and eventually replaced by the returning Tommy Evans (from the first group). Green left in 1962 and was replaced by Eugene Pearson (of The Rivileers and The Cleftones). Evans left again in 1963 and was replaced by Johnny Terry,an original member of James Brown's singing group, The Famous Flames ,(who was co-writer of their first hit, Please Please Please ).[1] After his military service and a failed solo career, Johnny Moore returned in 1964, making the group a quintet of Moore, Thomas, Lewis, Pearson, and Terry.

Later that year, the group was scheduled to record "Under the Boardwalk" on May 21. However, Rudy Lewis died the night before the session, and Johnny Moore took over as the sole lead (he and Lewis had been alternating). Terry was replaced in 1966 by Dan Dandridge for a couple of months, then by William Brent, who had been with Johnny Moore in the Hornets in 1954. Gene Pearson was replaced by Rick Sheppard that same year. By late 1966, baritone/bass Bill Fredricks replaced William Brent. Charlie Thomas, the group's last member from the Five Crowns, left in mid-1967 and was replaced by Charles Baskerville, a former member of The Limelites. Baskerville stayed only a short time.

Post-Atlantic career

After this, the Drifters moved to England and continued with unstable personnel lineups. Although early lineups included golden era singers Moore and Lewis, and later Ben E. King, having left the US, they virtually fell off the radar, but continued to have UK chart successes, notably "Like Sister & Brother", "Kissing in the Back Row of the Movies", "There Goes My First Love" and "You're More Than a Number in My Little Red Book". Butch Leake and former Ink Spot Grant Kitchings replaced Sheppard and Thomas. Fredricks was replaced by Clyde Brown the next year, and Kitchings by Billy Lewis the year after. Leake was replaced by Joe Blunt in 1976, making the lineup Johnny Moore, Clyde Brown, Joe Blunt, and Billy Lewis. This year, Faye Treadwell renamed the group's management company Treadwell Drifters Inc.

Moore left in 1978 and was replaced by Ray Lewis. Blunt and Billy Lewis left in 1979 and were replaced by the returning Johnny Moore and former Temptations lead Louis Price. Moore left again in late 1982, along with Clyde Brown. They were replaced by two returning members, Benjamin Earl Nelson (a.k.a. Ben E. King) and Bill Fredricks.

Fredricks, Lewis, and Price all left in 1983, and were replaced by the returning Johnny Moore, Joe Blunt, and Clyde Brown. In 1986, the group split up, and the a new lineup was constructed by Treadwell, consisting of new member Jonah Ellis and former members Ray Lewis, Billy Lewis, and Louis Price. The next year, more former members came in as replacements, making the group Moore, Billy and Ray Lewis, and Gene Jenkins (replaced shortly after by George Chandler, then John Thurston). Ray Lewis was out in 1988, and was replaced by Joe Cofie. In 1989, Billy Lewis left, and replaced by the returning George Chandler, then Tony Jackson, Keith John, and finally Peter Lamarr in 1990.

Thurston was out at the end of the year and was replaced by Roy Hemmings. Patrick Alan was in for Peter Lamaar briefly, before Lamaar left in 1991, and was permanently replaced by Rohan Delano Turney. Johnny Stewart also left in the early 1990s. He later joined The Platters and continued his singing career. This lineup lasted until 1996, when Cofie was out and Jason Leigh was in. Leigh was replaced after two years by the returning Peter Lamarr.

Tragedy struck on December 30, 1998 when the group's longest serving member, Johnny Moore, died in London. Patrick Alan returned to the group, keeping it a quartet.

In 2001 Faye Treadwell left the United Kingdom and apparently abandoned the Treadwell Drifters franchise (even though in January 2000 a US court had previously overturned a 1999 jury verdict declaring that it was abandoned.)[11] In this evironment, two members of her company, Mark Lundquist and Phil Lunderman, started a new management company, Drifters UK Limited, to run the group. Their new duties included stopping a patent by a UK group calling themselves American Drifters.[12][13] Lamarr left again in 2003, and was replaced by Victor Bynoe. Hemmings left in 2004 and was replaced by the again-returning Peter Lamarr. The group's lineup as of 2007 was Peter Lamarr, Rohan Delano Turney, Patrick Alan, and Victor Bynoe.[14] On June 20, 2007 this lineup performed at Prime Minister Tony Blair's Farewell Party in London.[15] In 2008 Tina Treadwell won her case in a UK court establishing her ownership of the Treadwell Drifters franchise, so this lineup lost the right to use the Drifters name (see "Court Case", below).

Court Case

In December 2006, having seen a market for The Drifters in the UK, writs were served in the London High Court by Tina Treadwell, daughter of George and Faye, against Mark Lundquist and Philip Luderman Drifters UK Ltd, alleging they are not the rightful controllers of The Drifters.

In July 2008, The Treadwell family and Prism Music Group Ltd won their legal battle.[16] The court order prohibited Phil Luderman, Mark Lundquist, Rohan Delano Turney, Peter Lamar, Patrick Alan or Victor Bynoe from using the Drifters name.[17][18]

Ownership of The Drifters name continues with The Treadwell family in the form of George Treadwell’s daughter, Tina, and the UK based company, Prism Music Group Ltd. Their line-up features Steve V. King, Maurice Cannon, Michael Williams and Damian Charles. None of the current members had ever even been in the Drifters before.


In the early 1970s, promoter Larry Marshak decided to reunite the Drifters (not realizing that they were still performing with a newer lineup). He found Doc Green, Charlie Thomas, and Elsbeary Hobbs, and began to promote them as "The Drifters". This brought swift legal action from Faye Treadwell, wife of George Treadwell, who was managing the Drifters. In an attempt to grant his group the sole rights to the name, Marshak convinced Hobbs, Thomas, and Green to apply for a trademark on the Drifters name in 1976. The trademark was granted but due to Treadwell's legal action it was revoked in 2000 in US Federal Court. The trio of original Drifters split afterward into separate groups.

Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters continue to tour and record. Charlie Thomas leads another group billed as "Charlie Thomas' Drifters."[19]

Rick Sheppard also tours with a group. Sheppard owns the Canadian Trademark for the Drifters name and has recently won a lawsuit in Canada, so that no other Drifters are permitted to perform there. Ray Lewis and Roy Hemmings have led a Drifters group. Bobby Hendricks leads a group, as does Billy Lewis (Trademark battle between him and Faye Treadwell). Don Thomas leads a group, Don Thomas and the Drifters Review.

Aside from the official post-2008 lineup, Treadwell manages a second group, The Drifters Legends, composed of former members Bobby Hendricks, Butch Leake, and Joe Blunt, and new member Wolf Johnson.[20]


The Vocal Group Hall of Fame has inducted both 'The Original Drifters' (1998) and 'Ben E. King and The Drifters'(2000). In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked The Drifters #81 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[1] In 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted The Drifters; naming members Clyde McPhatter, Bill Pinkney, Gerhardt Thrasher, Johnny Moore, Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, and Rudy Lewis. Bill Pinkney, Charlie Thomas, and Johnny Moore (posthumously) received Pioneer Awards from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1999.[3]

Singles discography

Year A-Side Lead singer Label Chart positions
US Hot 100 US R&B UK
1953 "Money Honey" Clyde McPhatter Atlantic 1
1954 "Lucille"
"Honey Love" 21 1
"Someday You'll Want Me to Want You" Bill Pinkney
"White Christmas" Bill Pinkney and Clyde McPhatter 80 5
"Such A Night" 2
1955 "Whatcha Gonna Do" Clyde McPhatter Atlantic 2
"Everyone's Laughing"
"Adorable"/ Johnny Moore 1
1956 →"Steamboat" (B-Side) Bill Pinkney 5
"Ruby Baby" Johnny Moore Atlantic 10
"I Gotta Get Myself a Woman" Johnny Moore and Bill Pinkney 11
1957 "Fools Fall in Love" Johnny Moore 10
"Hypnotized" 79
"I Know"
"Drip Drop"/ Bobby Hendricks 58
→ "Moonlight Bay" (B-Side) 72
1959 "There Goes My Baby" Ben E. King 2 1
"(If You Cry) True Love, True Love"/ Johnny Lee Williams 33 5
"Dance With Me" (B-Side) Ben E. King 1 2 17 (as A-side)
1960 "This Magic Moment" 16 4
"Lonely Winds" 54 9
"Save The Last Dance For Me" 1 1 2
"I Count the Tears" 17 28
1961 "Some Kind of Wonderful" Rudy Lewis 32 6
"Sweets for My Sweet" Charlie Thomas 16 10
"Please Stay" Rudy Lewis 14 13
"Room Full of Tears" Charlie Thomas 72
1962 "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" 28 31
"Stranger on the Shore" 73
"Sometimes I Wonder" Ben E. King
1963 "Up on the Roof" Johnny Stewart 5 4
"On Broadway" Rudy Lewis 9 7
"If You Don't Come Back" /
→ "Rat Race" (B-Side) 71
"I'll Take You Home" Johnny Moore 25 24 37
1964 "Vaya Con Dios" 43
"One-Way Love" Johnny Moore 56
"Under the Boardwalk" 4 45 45
"I've Got Sand in My Shoes" 33
"Saturday Night at the Movies" 18 3
"The Christmas Song /I Remember Christmas"
1965 "At the Club" Johnny Moore 43 10 35
"Come On Over to My Place" 60 9
"Follow Me"
"I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing" Johnny Moore 51
1966 "Memories Are Made of This" 48
"Baby What I Mean" 49
1967 "Ain't It the Truth" 36
1972 "Something Tells Me" Bell
1973 "You've Got Your Troubles"
"Like Sister and Brother" 7
1974 "Kissin' in the Back Row of the Movies" Johnny Moore 83 2
"Down on the Beach Tonight" 7
1975 "Love Games" 33
"There Goes My First Love" Johnny Moore 3
"Can I Take You Home Little Girl" 10
1976 "Hello Happiness" 12
"Every Night's a Saturday Night With You" 29
"You're More than a Number in My Little Red Book" Johnny Moore Arista 5

Covers of singles by The Drifters

Music samples

Money Honey:

Drifters & McPhatter - Money Honey.ogg


External links

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