1961 The Drifters – Please Stay
When Clyde McPhatter left Billy Ward and the Dominoes, Atlantic Records promised to sign him if he fronted a new group. Clyde recruited five more singers and created The Drifters in 1953. The group had a series of hits that were interrupted when Clyde was drafted into the military. When he left the army, Clyde began a solo career and sold his share of the Drifters to George Treadwell in 1955. George would control the name “Drifters” and use that ownership to pay low wages to the members of the group.
Johnny Moore became the new lead singer. The Drifters had four more top ten R&B singles before Johnny got drafted in 1957. The group’s fortunes waned, and in 1958, George hired The Five Crowns as the Drifters. The lead singer of the new group was Earl Nelson, who was using the stage name Ben E. King. The group became even more successful, scoring six top ten records on the Hot 100 including one #1 record. The last single that featured Ben was I Count The Tears, which reached #17 in 1960.
The group’s new lead singer became Rudy Lewis. He first sang lead on Some Kind Of Wonderful. The song was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and peaked at only #32 on the Hot 100 but reached #6 on the R&B chart in 1961.
Rudy’s second lead vocal came on the single Please Stay. Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard wrote the song, and Doris Troy and Dee Dee Warwick (Dionne’s sister) sang backup vocals. The single got up to #14 on the Hot 100 and #13 on the R&B chart in 1961.
In 1962 and 1963, Rudy sang lead on two of the biggest hits The Drifters had, Up On The Roof and On Broadway. They scheduled Rudy to record Under The Boardwalk, but died in his hotel the night before, possibly from complications of drug use. Rudy was only 27 years-old, making him one of the earliest members of the 27 Club.
Johnny had returned from the military and begun a solo career, but George quickly hired him to rejoin the group as their new lead singer. He sang lead on Under The Boardwalk and a few more minor hits in 1964. He continued to sing lead for The Drifters through the seventies, but they did not reach the top forty on the US Hot 100 again.
While The Drifters faded in the US, their career reignited in the UK in the mid-seventies thanks to the Northern soul music craze. The result: Johnny sang lead on nine new songs on the UK top forty chart, including six top ten records!
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