The fact that the original Drifters’ music has survived decades of legal turmoil and personnel turnover could be chalked up to both a miracle and destiny. Beautiful songs are meant to be shared and heard by every generation, no matter the struggle to deliver it, and the Drifters’ music is proof of that.
The doo-wop, R&B soul group was formed as a backing group for Clyde McPhatter of Billy Ward and his Dominoes in 1953. They were hired by George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters’ name. While the group was hugely successful, the vocal lineups themselves saw very little of the profits, which resulted in one of the most unstable stable of singers in music history.
Everyone knew this vocal sound they created was something special, setting musical trends. Their songs gave the world 13 chart hits of legendary, timeless musical memories. Vocal lineup changes in their history included several splinter groups and off-shoots by former Drifters members (not under Treadwell’s management). The most notable of those were “Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters,” and “Charlie Thomas’ Drifters” for example. (Bill Pinkney was recruited for the second lineup by Clyde McPhatter, since that first incarnation didn’t work out so well).
Paying tribute to that legacy and those songs is a show coming to the Riverside Resort Wednesday-Sunday, March 20-24, for the first time titled, The Drifters Revue.
These guys focus on the one thing the Drifters should have gotten to do — singing love songs that have transcended all ages simply for the joy of it — hits such as “Save the Last Dance For Me,” “Up on the Roof,” and their timeless signature piece, “Stand By Me.” The beautiful lament, “There Goes My Baby,” is a must, but a show isn’t complete without “Under the Boardwalk,” the most played R&B disc of all time.
It’s no wonder the Drifters, along with Pinkney, were the first group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Two of the Drifters Revue members have the distinction of touring with Pinkney before his passing in July of 2007. We talked with the group’s co-manager, David Bishop about the guys, the music and the show they bring to the Riverside. Here’s his take...
Talk about the distinction of this group vs. the many other similar groups touring the country.
As you know, there have been, golly, a lot of groups out there performing, right? And so, elements of the first groups have been performing together for the last 20-25 years — members come and members go. But we’ve got two members in the group who performed with Bill Pinkney — “Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters” when Mr. Pinkney was still alive. They traveled the world performing with an original Drifter. As you know, there are really two incarnations of the original group, there’s the Drifters that existed with Clyde McPhatter and Bill Pinkney was in that original group and then there’s the group that became “Charlie Thomas’ Drifters” with Elsbeary Hobbs and that group, that came in the late ’50s. So our guys have been performing together for a decade or so, and we do shows all across the country, fairs, casinos, theaters, car shows, we do it all.
How many guys are singing? Is there a band?
Four guys are singing, and we have a full band with a rhythm section, we don’t do tracks. We think the band is necessary to make the show effective, and so we’ll have a full band there as well. There’s a little more room for spontaneity.
Which of the guys toured with Pinkney?
Mike Rogers, and Reggie is a guy who performed with Bill Pinkney the longest, more than 20 years.
People appreciate you letting them know by the title of the show these aren’t original guys. The honesty is so important. We want to be honest with our audience. There are no original members of the Drifters in this group, but we honor the legacy of not only the members, but the music.
One of the things that really distinguishes us from other Drifters groups, I think, is this — we perform the music of both eras of the Drifters, so the ’50s Drifters songs like “Drip Drop,” “Fools Fall in Love,” “Money Honey,” we do those songs, and we do the songs that people may know better like “Under the Boardwalk,” “Save the Last Dance For Me,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Up on the Roof,” “This Magic Moment,” “On Broadway,” we cover both eras of the Drifters.
Is there a song or segment that has become a signature piece that no matter where they go they have to perform it?
People want to hear the mainstays. You can’t leave the stage without performing “Under the Boardwalk.” That’s a song that has to be heard, and all the standards of the ’60s that they do. They also do a song that is a favorite of the group called “Count the Tears,” and it was released by the Drifters in 1961. I think it reached as high as No. 17 on the charts, but it’s a real favorite of the group, they enjoy performing it. It’s one you don’t hear a lot of, but it’s one we have in the show that the guys really like doing.
Challenges in putting the group together? And what do you think it is that sets these guys apart from the other groups?
Some of the challenges are to make sure that you’re really true to the complete Drifters’ legacy and that’s what we strive to do here, is to have the sound from both eras. And when we were putting this group together, we wanted to make sure we weren’t tarnishing the Drifters’ legacy in any way. So that’s the main goal, to make sure that the legacy of the Drifters is honored during the shows and our group feels really strongly about that. They can tell you as much about the history of the Drifters as anyone else because they know the music, they love the music, and I think that comes out on stage. You can see they have a real passion for what they do.
Where is the group based?
They’re all based in the Carolinas, North Carolina and South Carolina. Mr. Pinkney lived in South Carolina, so that’s one of the main reasons they’re all from South Carolina because they had that close working relationship with Bill Pinkney.
Talk a little more about the show you’re bringing to Laughlin.
If you’re looking for an entertaining show, where you know all the lyrics to every song and you can understand all the lyrics to every song, it’s a fun show and people will get a kick out of it. It really is a trip down memory lane.
Audiences probably remember where they were and what car they were necking in when they first heard these songs.
That’s exactly right. We all go back to our teenage years and what we were doing — and the music is what keeps that memory alive.