Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I have often wondered about the different lead voices heard on songs by the Platters and the Drifters.

Various Mercury records credited to the Platters can sound so different that you'd think they are not even the same singers, and I'm not referring to the mid-'60s Musicor bunch that used the same name.

Perhaps the Drifters are an even better example. It seems like five or six groups recorded as Drifters.

Exactly who's who with regard to these groups?
—Carlton Freeman, Bartow, Fla.

DEAR CARLTON: Yes, it can be confusing, not just with these groups but with many whose vocal personnel changed surreptitiously.

Even those whose members remained constant spotlighted different singers, the Beatles being a good example.

The labels may all read “The Beatles,” but the lead may be supplied by any of the Fab Four.

The Platters are fairly easy to sort out. All but two of their first 34 hits — “Only You” through “I'll Never Smile Again” (1955-'61) — feature Tony Williams.

The exceptions are “He's Mine” and “I Wanna.”

The lead on “He's Mine” is handled by Zola Taylor, and David Lynch fronts the group on “I Wanna.”

In 1961, Tony Williams took his heavenly voice and embarked on a solo career. Sonny Turner then sang lead on “It's Magic,” the group's mediocre follow-up to “I'll Never Smile Again.”

Turner is a fine singer, but the identity of the Platters is clearly Tony Williams. Soon after he bolted, the other original members scattered and the Platters' grand epoch ended.

For the record, it is either Sonny Turner or Nate Nelson on their Musicor hits, such as “I Love You 1000 Times, With This Ring,” and “I'll Be Home.”

As for the Drifters, 35 to 45 different men made the records we find credited to that quartet, or quintet. Fortunately, your question pertains only to their lead singers.

After being fired from Billy Ward and the Dominoes (1953), Clyde McPhatter formed the Drifters, and he sings the lead on all of their early hits: “Money Honey” (1953); “Such a Night” (1954); “Lucille” (1954); “Honey Love” (1954); “Bip Bam” (1954); and “What'cha Gonna Do” (1955).

On their perennial holiday classic, “White Christmas,” Clyde shares lead time with bass man Bill Pinkney. Recorded in February 1954, theirs is the second best-selling “White Christmas” ever, after Bing Crosby of course.

Clyde departed for the army in '55, thanks to the draft, and Johnny Moore stepped in as the new voice of the Drifters. It is Moore you hear on “Adorable” (1955); “Ruby Baby” (1956); “I Got to Get Myself a Woman” (1956); “Soldier of Fortune” (1956); and “Fools Fall in Love” (1957).

The flip of “Adorable” is “Steamboat,” which features Bill Pinkney. It too charted.

McPhatter died in 1972 of a heart attack, at just 39 years of age.

Bobby Hendricks, best known for his 1958 hit “Itchy Twitchy Feeling,” fronted the Drifters briefly that year. It is Hendricks you hear on “Drip Drop.”

From the session that produced “Drip Drop,” came their mellow revival of “Moonlight Bay.” Unlike all other Drifters' hits, this one has no lead singer. It is the entire quartet harmonizing beautifully.

In mid-'59, the Drifters, then with all new faces, spotlighted the very recognizable voice of Ben E. King. The six hits featuring King are among their best: “There Goes My Baby” (1958); “Dance with Me” (1959; “This Magic Moment” (1959); “Lonely Winds” (1960); “Save the Last Dance for Me” (1960); and “I Count the Tears” (1961).

Ben E. King went solo in late 1960 (“Spanish Harlem, Stand By Me,” etc.) with great success, leaving leads to the very capable Rudy Lewis.

Making this transition seemless is the surprising similiarity between the Lewis and King sessions. Most music lovers cannot tell which of these men they are hearing.

With Rudy Lewis, the hits just kept a-coming: “Some Kind of Wonderful” (1961); “Please Stay” (1961); “Stranger on the Shore” (1962); “Up on the Roof” (1962); “On Broadway” (1963); “Rat Race” (1963); and “Vaya Con Dios.”

Though these years belonged to Rudy Lewis, three of their hits feature Charlie Thomas: “Room Full of Tears” (1961); “Sweets for My Sweet” (1961) and “When My Little Girl Is Smiling” (1962).

If “I'll Take You Home” (1964) sounds more like the late '50s Drifters, that's because Johnny Moore rejoined the group in 1963. With this track, he delivers one of their finest '60s hits.

Following the untimely death of Rudy Lewis (see below), Moore reclaimed his lead role and added several more hits to his resume: “Under the Boardwalk” (1964); “I've Got Sand in My Shoes” (1964); “Saturday Night at the Movies” (1964); “At the Club” (1965); “Come on over to My Place” (1965); “Follow Me” (1965); “I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing” (1965); “Memories Are Made of This” (1966); and “Baby What I Mean” (1966), their last U.S. hit.

In the mid-'70s, Johnny Moore's Drifters relocated to Britain, where several of their tunes became popular. Johnny died in London December 30, 1998. He was 64.

IZ ZAT SO? The Drifters' Top 5 hit, “Under the Boardwalk” (1964), was written and crafted specifically with Rudy Lewis in mind.

In an all too common showbiz disaster, Lewis overdosed the night before their “Boardwalk” session. He was found dead in his hotel room.

The musicians' union wouldn't agree to postpone or cancel the session, so Johnny Moore stepped in. The result turned out to be their second biggest hit of the '60s (after “Save the Last Dance for Me”).

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