Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: You once wrote about the Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters' 1954 recording of "Three Thirty-Three," and mentioned "it is a song about a house of prostitution whose street address is 333."

Oddly enough, in the 1930s there was indeed a house of prostitution whose address was 333 N.W. First St., right here in Evansville. It's name was The Three Treys.

Is there any conceivable connection between the song and the real brothel at 333?

Please don't use my name. I wouldn't want people asking how I knew about such things.
—Anonymous in Evansville, Ind.

DEAR ANONYMOUS: Unfortunately there is no one still living with first-hand knowledge of what inspired "Three Thirty-Three," but there isn't a shred of evidence that points to anything other than it being a coincidence — albeit an enthralling one.

The early years of Clyde McPhatter, who wrote "Three Thirty-Three," are fairly well documented: born in Durham, N.C. in Nov. 1932, moved to Teaneck, N.J. in 1945, then circa-1949 to N.Y.C.

Unless he somehow learned of the Three Treys long distance, and was thus inspired to write a song about a joint named after their address, I'd call it happenstance.

As for whether it's conceivable, of course it is. A friend of Clyde's could have called him from Evansville to suggest an original idea for a song.

Based on its salacious content, "Three Thirty-Three" remained on the shelf for 17 years. It first saw the light of day on the 1971 LP, "The Drifters: Their Greatest Recordings (The Early Years)" (Atco 373).

DEAR JERRY: One of your ancient columns is still on my bulletin board, and I refer to it often.

It's the one where you went through all of the Beatles hits and identified who sang lead (since they all did at one time or another).

Have you ever thought about doing the same analysis of the Drifters' hits?

It's definitely more complicated but if you do, I have a spot on my board for it.
—Herb Avery, Chillicothe, Ohio

DEAR HERB: No, I had not thought about dissecting the Drifters, but then again I rarely think about what to do next. Readers like you send me down these diverse and entertaining trails.

Just four singers account for nearly all of the Beatles hits; however, from the time Clyde McPhatter formed the Drifters (1954), approximately 60 different men have been singing members of the group.

Of those, 12 were a featured lead vocalist on one or more of their single releases.

Chronologically, these are the lead singers along with a selection of their more memorable hits:

Clyde McPhatter (1954-1955): "Money Honey"; "Such a Night"; "Lucille"; "Honey Love"; "Bip Bam"; "What'cha Gonna Do"; "Someday You'll Want Me to Want You" (with Bill Pinkney); "White Christmas" (with Bill Pinkney)

Bill Pinkney (1954-1956): "Steamboat"; "Someday You'll Want Me to Want You" (with Clyde McPhatter); "White Christmas" (with Clyde McPhatter); "I Gotta Get Myself a Woman" (with Johnny Moore)

Johnny Moore (1955-1976): "Adorable"; "Ruby Baby"; "I Gotta Get Myself a Woman" (with Bill Pinkney); "Fools Fall in Love"; "Hypnotized"; "I'll Take You Home"; "One Way Love"; "Under the Boardwalk"; "I've Got Sand in My Shoes"; "Saturday Night at the Movies"; "At the Club"; "Come on Over to My Place"; "Follow Me"; "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing"; "Memories Are Made of This"; "Baby What I Mean"

Gerhart Thrasher (1955-1957): "Your Promise to Be Mine"; "Drifting Away From You"

Bobby Hendricks (1958): "Drip Drop"

Johnny Lee Williams (1959): "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love"

Ben E. King (1959-1962) "There Goes My Baby"; "Dance with Me"; "This Magic Moment"; "Lonely Winds"; "Save the Last Dance for Me"; "I Count the Tears"; "Sometimes I Wonder"

Charlie Thomas (1960): "Baltimore" (with Elsbeary Hobbs); "Sweets for My Sweet"; "Room Full of Tears"; "When My Little Girl Is Smiling"

Elsbeary Hobbs (1960): "Baltimore" (with Charlie Thomas)

Rudy Lewis (1961-1964): "Some Kind of Wonderful"; "Please Stay"; "Stranger on the Shore"; "Up on the Roof"; "On Broadway"; "Vaya Con Dios"

Bill Fredericks (1973): "Like Sister and Brother"

Michael Williams (2013): "The Whole World"

Has any singing group, routinely numbering either four or five members, had more different lead singers, and every one with charted hits?

Not likely.

IZ ZAT SO? Of all the talented singers who drifted in and out of the Drifters, only Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King crafted successful careers as a solo act.

Here are all of the Top 20 Pop and/or R&B hits by former Drifters:

Clyde McPhatter (1955-1962): "Love Has Joined Us Together" (with Ruth Brown); "Seven Days"; "Treasure of Love"; "Without Love (There Is Nothing)"; "Just to Hold My Hand"; "Long Lonely Nights"; "Come What May"; "A Lover's Question"; "Lovey Dovey"; "Since You've Been Gone"; "You Went Back on Your Word"; "Let's Try Again"; "Ta Ta"; "I Never Knew"; "Deep in the Heart of Harlem"; "Lover Please"

Bobby Hendricks (1958): "Itchy Twitchy Feeling"

Ben E. King (1960-1986): "Spanish Harlem"; "Stand By Me"; "Amor"; "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)"; "I (Who Have Nothing)"; "That's When It Hurts"; "Seven Letters"; "Supernatural Thing, Part 1"; "Do It in the Name of Love"; "Stand By Me" (reissue)

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