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the drifters

The Drifters

the drifters in 1953: l to r: bill pinkney, gerhart thrasher, clyde mcphatter, willie ferbee and andrew thrasher

The various incarnations of the Drifters, at various stages, comprised of:

Clyde McPhatter (b. Clyde Lensley McPhatter, 15th November 1932, Durham, North Carolina, U.S.A. d. 13th June 1972, New York City, New York, U.S.A.)

Ben E. King (b. Benjamin Earl Nelson, 28th September 1938, Henderson, North Carolina, U.S.A.)

Bill Pinkney (b. William Pinkney, 15th August 1925, Dalzell, South Carolina, U.S.A. d. 4th June 2007, Daytona Beach, Florida U.S.A.) (possible heart attack)

Gerhart Thrasher (b. U.S.A.)

Johnny Moore (b. 15th December 1934, Selma, Alabama, U.S.A. d. 30th December 1998, London, England) (Respiratory failure) 

Rudy Lewis (b. Charles Rudolph Harrell, 23rd August 1936, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. d. 20th May 1964, Harlem, New York City, New York, U.S.A.) (Drug overdose)

Charlie Thomas (b. 7th April 1937, Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.A.)

Bobby Hendricks (b. 22nd February 1938, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.)

Rudy Ivan (b. 12th March 1933, Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.A. d. 11th November 1982, Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.A.)

Eugene Pearson (a.k.a. Joshua Leviston)

Andrew Thrasher (b. U.S.A.)

Johnny Thunder (b. 15th August 1941, Leesburg, Florida, U.S.A.)

Johnny Terry (b. Winifred 'Johnny' Terry)

Michael Williams (b. U.S.A.)

Pierre Herelle (b. U.S.A.)

Charles Baskerville (b. U.S.A.)

David Baughan (b. U.S.A.)

Jimmy Oliver (b. U.S.A.)

Ryan King (b. U.S.A.)

Carlton Powell (b. U.S.A.)

Willie Ferbee (b. U.S.A.)

Walter Adams (b. U.S.A.)

Doc Green (b. U.S.A.)

Elsbeary Hobbs (b. U.S.A.)

Tommy Evans (b. U.S.A.)

Terry King (b. U.S.A.)

Jimmy Lewis (b. U.S.A.)

Ray Lewis (b. U.S.A.)

Louis Price (Louis Bernhardt Price, b. 29th March 1953, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.)


Maurice Cannon (b. U.S.A.)

The story of the Drifters, is one of many personnel changes, several versions of the group under the same name, all of whom, by and largely, were poorly rewarded for their musical endeavours.

Two main incarnations of the Drifters comprise of, one group fronted by Clyde McPhatter, the other having Ben E. King at the helm.

The original Drifters were created to form a vocal embellishment for the singer Clyde McPhatter in 1953.

The second incarnation of The Drifters, featuring Ben E. King, were recognised as a separate entity.

The ‘original’ Drifters were born following the departure of Clyde McPhatter from the group Billy Ward and the Dominoes.

In 1953, Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic Records) sought out Clyde after he learned of the singers departure from the Dominoes, offering the singer a group of his own, who became the Drifters.

Clyde was given free reign to cherry pick his own group members, initially choosing William ‘Chick’ Anderson (tenor), David Baldwin (baritone), James ‘Wrinkle’ Johnson (bass), and David ‘Little Dave’ Baughan (tenor).

This incarnation released one single, which met with little success, so a re-organisation took place within the group.

The Drifters

the drifters in 1953: l to r: bill pinkney, willie ferbee, clyde mcphatter, andrew thrasher and gerhart thrasher

This line up featured Bill Pinkney (first tenor), Andrew Thrasher (second tenor), Gerhart Thrasher (baritone), Willie Ferbee (bass), and Walter Adams on guitar.

The Drifters

money honey b/w the way i feel - 1953

This set up realised the hit single ‘Money Honey', in 1953, released under the name of Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters.

The changes continued within the group with Willie Ferbee departing after being involved in an accident, and Walter Adams sadly died.

Jimmy Oliver was Walters replacement, although Willie was not.

This led to various group members taking the lead vocal chores.

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bip bam b/w someday you'll want me to want you - 1954 / steamboat b/w adorable - 1955

The Drifters released further hits, including ‘Such A Night’, later that year, ‘Honey Love’ (in 1954), ‘Bip Bam’ (in 1954), ‘White Christmas’ (in 1954), and ‘What'cha Gonna Do’ (in 1955).

Clyde was called up for military service in 1954, leaving ‘What'cha Gonna Do’ as his last official record as a member of the Drifters.

After completing his military service, Clyde pursued a solo career with varying degrees of success.

The Drifters

george treadwell and sarah vaughan

Clyde sold his share of the Drifters name to George Treadwell, a manager, former jazz trumpeter, and husband of singer Sarah Vaughan, demanding payments which had been neglected whilst he was a member of Billy Ward and the Dominoes.

The resulting legal confusion led to many varying members of the Drifters coming and going, all of whom were poorly rewarded for their efforts.

The Drifters

the drifters in 1955: l to r: andrew thrasher, gerhart thrasher, bill pinkney, jimmy oliver (top) and david baughan (below)

Initially, Clyde was first replaced David Baughn, who soon left the group to form the Harps (in 1955).

He was later to reappear in Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters in 1958.

David was replaced by Johnny Moore, and in 1955 the group achieved an R&B hit with the double sided single ‘Adorable’ “b/w ‘Steamboat’.

‘Ruby Baby’ followed in 1956, followed in turn by ‘I Got To Get Myself A Woman’.

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clyde mcphatter and the drifters - 1956 / rockin' and driftin' - 1959 / save the last dance for me - 1962 / under the boardwalk - 1964

Financial disputes within the group led to Bill Pinkney being fired after asking Treadwell for more money, with Andrew Thrasher leaving as well.

Bill Pinkney was replaced by Tommy Evans, whilst Charlie Hughes replaced Andrew Thrasher.

Johnny Moore, Gerhart Thrasher, Charlie Hughes, and Tommy Evans achieved a top ten hit, entitled ‘Fools Fall In Love’ in 1957 (number 69 Pop and number 10 R&B).

Johnny Moore and Charlie Hughes were called up for national service in 1957 and were replaced by Bobby Hendricks and Jimmy Millender.

The 1958 lineup comprised of: Bobby Hendricks (lead tenor), Gerhart Thrasher (first tenor), Jimmy Millender (baritone), Tommy Evans (bass), and Jimmy Oliver (guitar).

In 1958, this line-up had a hit with the song ‘Drip Drop’ (number 58 Pop).

The group saw less and less success, with disputes and members departing (even fights breaking out at the Apollo Theatre), George Treadwell ended up firing the complete ensemble in 1958.

George Treadwell at this time, owned the Drifters brand per se, although various group members disputed this ownership, and, a new version of the group entitled ‘The Original Drifters’ came into fruition.

The Drifters

the drifters circa 1960: l to r: dock green, elsbeary hobbs, rudy lewis and charlie thomas

The group members varied several times during the group’s existence, although success became elusive to this incarnation.

George Treadwell owned the rights to the name ‘The Drifters’, and still had a year's worth of bookings for the Apollo, so he approached Lover Patterson, the manager of the Five Crowns featuring lead singer Ben E. Nelson (a.k.a. Ben E. King), turning this group into a new version of the Drifters.

The new line-up consisted of Ben E. King (lead tenor), Charlie Thomas (tenor), Dock Green (baritone), and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass).

Atlantic Records took this ensemble into the studio’s, teaming the group up with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

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saturday night at the movies - 1964 / i'll take you where the music's playing - 1965 / good life with the drifters - 1965 / souvenirs - 1967

This arrangement took the drifters to a new level of success, with hit singles following , including ‘There Goes My Baby’, ‘Dance with Me’, ‘This Magic Moment’ (number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960), and ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ which reached number 1 on the U.S. pop charts and number 2 in the UK.

This Drifters incarnation were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 as Ben E. King and the Drifters.

Trouble was never far away from the group, and Lover Patterson (now the Drifters' road manager) got into a fight with George Treadwell.

The ensuing political situation between the two meant Ben E. King was only able to record with the group for about a year, but not tour.

Johnny Lee Williams took over the touring lead vocals position with Charlie Thomas.

Ben E. King asked George Treadwell for a raise and a fair share of royalties, this did not transpire, resulting in Ben E. King leaving the group.

Rudy Lewis (of The Clara Ward Singers) was then recruited.

Rudy sang leads on the hits ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’, ‘Up On The Roof’, ‘Please Stay’ and ‘On Broadway’, which reached number 5 on the U.S. pop singles chart and number 4 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1963.

The Drifters

the drifters in 1964: l to r: gene pearson, johnny terry, billy davis, charles thomas and johnny moore

Various other personnel changes followed, however, when the group were about to record ‘Under the Boardwalk’, Rudy Lewis died the night before the session.

Johnny Moore took over as the sole lead singer.

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their greatest recordings - 1971 / saturday night at the club - 1972 / now - 1973 / love games - 1975

Further changes in line-up followed, however, in 1972 the Drifters departed Atlantic Records.

The Drifters reloacted to England and continued with the usual erratic personnel changes.

The U.S. style of R&B became evolved into a more European MOR style, showcased in the songs ‘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’.

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their goes my first love - 1975 / 24 original hits - 1975 / every nights a saturday night - 1976 / too hot - 1982

The 1976 line-up featured, Johnny Moore, Clyde Brown, Joe Blunt, and Billy Lewis.

Johnny Moore left in 1978 and was replaced by Ray Lewis.

Joe Blunt and Billy Lewis left in 1979 and were replaced by the returning Johnny Moore and former Temptations lead singer Louis Price.

When Johnny Moore and Clyde Brown departed, they were replaced by two returning members, Benjamin Earl Nelson (a.k.a. Ben E. King) and Bill Fredricks.

The DriftersThe Drifters

remember - 1994 / ronnie mcdowell with bill pinckneys original drifters - 2002

The ‘revolving personnel doors’ continued within the group, however tragedy struck in 1998, when Johnny Moore died in London.

Faye Treadwell, who had been running the group’s affairs in the U.K., decided to end her association with the group.

Two of her colleagues, Mark Lundquist and Phil Lunderman, started a new management company called Drifters UK Limited, to run the group’s affairs.

This arrangement was later challenged, with the duo ordered no discontinue any association with the group.

The Drifters

2004 event with tony blair

In 2007, the Drifters performed at Prime Minister Tony Blair's Farewell Party in London.

In 2008, Faye Treadwell won her case in a U.K. court establishing her ownership of the Treadwell Drifters franchise.

Other line-up’s of the Drifters (including groups with ex original members) were all successfully contested by Faye Treadwell.

Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters continue to tour and record, however.

Charlie Thomas leads another group under the name of the Drifters, as do Rick Sheppard, Ray Lewis, Roy Hemmings, Bobby Hendricks, Billy Lewis and Don Thomas!

Faye Treadwell

faye treadwell

Faye Treadwell died of breast cancer, aged 84, in May 2011.

The Vocal Group Hall of Fame has inducted both The Original Drifters (in 1998) and Ben E. King and the Drifters (in 2000).

In 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Drifters.

The named members included were: Clyde McPhatter, Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, Rudy Lewis, and the late Johnny Moore.

Real Player


Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters (Atlantic Records 1956)

Rockin' and Driftin' (Atlantic Records 1959)

Save The Last Dance For Me (Atlantic Records 1961)

The Good Life With The Drifters (Atlantic Records 1964)

Under The Boardwalk (Atlantic Records 1964)

Saturday Night At The Movies (Atlantic Records 1964)

The Drifters (Clarion Records 1964)

I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing (Atlantic Records 1965)

Good Life With The Drifters (Atlantic Records 1965)

Souvenirs (Bell Records 1967)

Their Greatest Recordings (ATCO Records 1971)

Saturday Night At The Club (Atlantic Records 1972)

Now (Bell Records 1973)

Love Games (Bell Records 1975)

There Goes My First Love (Bell Records 1975)

Every Night's A Saturday Night (Bell Records 1976)

Too Hot (51 West Records 1982)

Greatest Hits Live (Astan Records 1984)

Live At Havard University (Showcase Records 1986)

Remember (Eclipse Music Group Records 1994)

Ronnie McDowell with Bill Pinkneys Original Drifters (Curb Records 2002)

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