THE DRIFTERS / “This Magic Moment”

MP3 04 This Magic Moment.mp3 (5.97 MB)

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Back in the day time, in fact, this is from almost half a century ago. The Drifters are one of the most popular and long-lasting of the pre-sixties vocal groups. Indeed, a full run down of The Drifters requires an encyclopedia and an auditing team. Over the course of their life time—yeah, they’re still performing—over sixty singers have been members of The Drifters.
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The Drifters were founded in 1953 by Clyde McPhatter, who was one of the visionaries of early soul. McPhatter figured out how to cross over gospel quartet stylings into popular music. The pop of that period was called rock and roll. This was before the rise of the solo star, a la Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.

McPhatter’s idea was to keep the basic line up, lead with tenor, baritone and bass backing. Of course what was really needed was not the singers but the songs, songs that appealed to secular sensibilities but which gospel trained singers could adopt and to which they could adapt their emotional vocalizations. The founding members who joined McPhatter were Gerhart Thrasher, Andrew Thrasher and Bill Pinkney.

This was the first incarnation of The Drifters and the songs of that era sound raw when compared to the Ben E. King era, which is the era we’re considering roughly 1959 to 1964. As is often the case, it’s not the pioneer who becomes famous but rather the settler who followed the pioneer and successfully set up a homestead.

The second era of The Drifters happened when McPhatter was inducted into the military in 1954. A number of vocalists came and went, including lead tenor Johnny Moore who would end up being the longest lasting member of The Drifters. In 1958 the manager George Treadwell, who had copyrighted the group name, decided that major changes were needed. He fired the whole group and hired a new group. When the new lead singer, Ellsbury Hobbs was also drafted, Ben E. King was hired as Hobbs’ replacement.
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The new Ben E. King-lead group hit it big time with “There Goes My Baby,” a song written by Leiber and Stoller and featuring both strings and Latin rhythms, which was a first for R&B songs at that time period. Most of the major hits associated with The Drifters are from the Ben E. King era.

When King left the group in 1960 he was followed by Rudy Lewis, who joined in 1964. Johnny Moore, who had left the group, rejoined around 1963 and assumed the lead vocals when Lewis left. By 1965, The Drifters were no longer producing hits atop the Billboard charts but the group continued to enjoy success touring. In fact, the group name became a point of contention, including court cases and splits.

What is of interest to me is the music rather than the controversies. I am particularly fond of “This Magic Moment.” The Drifters selections and the lead singer are:
1. “There Goes My Baby” (1959) – Ben E. King
2. “Dance With Me” (1959) – Ben E. King
3. “Save The Last Dance For Me” (1960) – Ben E. King
4. “This Magic Moment” (1960) – Ben E. King
5. “Up On the Roof” (1962) – Rudy Lewis
6. “Under The Boardwalk” (1964) – Johnny Moore
7. “On Broadway” (1963) – Rudy Lewis

All of the selections are available on The Very Best of The Drifters.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, March 9th, 2009 at 1:06 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “THE DRIFTERS / “This Magic Moment””

Q Says:
March 9th, 2009 at 11:43 am

Thanks for this BRIEF history of the Drifters. For a new school cat like me, I only knew of McPhatter and Ben E. King, didn’t know of the 60 personnel changes. I thought the Temptations and Menudo had lots of changes. That’s nothing compared to the Drifters.

Musicwise, this is great music. From your listing alone, you have enough material for the COVER section for months. Most of these songs (which were good as originals) were redone and remixed with good success.

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