Their True Glory Days
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Today it is the Drifters of the early 60's that are remembered by the masses and recognized by most as the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Famers, but the original group's first string of hits in the early to mid-50's was their most dominating run as well as being the most influencial put out by any aggregation using that name over the years. That's not to say the Ben E. King or Rudy Lewis editions weren't great too, but their ancestors led by Clyde McPhatter were more consistantly better and this two-disc set proves it.In 1953 McPhatter had just left the Dominoes, one of the premier R&B groups in the country, and was immediately offered the chance to form his own group for Atlantic. It was one step closer to rock 'n' roll and with their first release "Money Honey" in '53 they just might have launched the boat. At his peak no singer could touch McPhatter's tenor and they released nothing but hits in his two years at the helm before the Army and then an uneven solo career took him away from the group he founded. The first disc here is all Clyde, every master take he cut with them, six more than are found on the "Rockin' & Driftin" box set which tries to cover all the Drifters work from '53-'74 and in the process of trying to squeeze it all onto three discs (including some solo McPhatter and Ben E. King sides) it becomes a somewhat muddled and surprisingly less thorough collection.
As great as it is to hear those added Clyde-led romps here, where this set really puts the R&D box to shame is the post-McPhatter years before another group were brought in to replace them en masse in '59. The "lost years" where they had various lead singers in the McPhatter gospel tenor mold but none who could manage to keep the Drifters players in the new rock 'n' roll landscape. That doesn't mean they still weren't great though, only that times had changed around them.Their first replacement on lead, David Baughan, delivers a dead on Clyde imitation on the terrific "Honey Bee" but his volatile personality made him a short lived member. Enter Johnny Moore who would ironically become the longest standing member, the only one to serve in both stylistic versions of the Drifters - here from '55 through '57 and then returning years later in 1964 to replace Rudy Lewis, starting with "Under The Boardwalk", cut just after Lewis's death. Moore led them through the late 70's when they were scoring hits in England and was a truly versatile singer, at home with the gospelish 50's or the soulful 60's. Once he too was called into the service in late '57 his place was taken briefly by Bobby Hendricks, ex-Sparrows member and soon to be solo star with "Itchy Twitchy Feeling, who scored this edition's final big hit "Drip Drop" before the Drifters manager George Treadwell got tired of the group's demands for higher salaries amidst declining sales and canned them all before realizing he had contractual obligations to fill and brought in the Five Crowns for that purpose alone and struck gold when they were turned into the hitmaking pop-soul outfit under Leiber & Stoller's direction.Regardless of who was on lead during these mid-years, be it Baughn, Moore or Hendricks, or sometimes other original members Gerhart Thrasher or Bill Pickney, the music didn't suffer. Thanks to the consistant production of Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, good songwriting by many people including Leiber & Stoller's first efforts with them, R&B great Chuck Willis, or veteran R&B songwriters Otis Blackwell, Jesse Stone and frequently the Drifters guitarist Jimmy Oliver, the material remained first rate but for some reason no one was listening much after McPhatter left. As a result the "Rockin' & Driftin" box set snubs these years giving only seven selections from that time, whereas here you'll get twenty including some great ballads (Disc Two - cuts 4, 7-9 in particular and the magnificent "It Was A Tear" featuring a powerhouse lead from Moore, which were all inexplicably left off the box), along with storming rockers like "No Sweet Lovin" and the terrific "Sadie My Lady" which for some reason was never even released as a single back then, despite it being on par with the best sides McPhatter had done.The booklet is excellent with 6 pages of Peter Grendysa notes giving an in-depth look at McPhatter's life, his early career with the Dominoes and the formation of the Drifters, plus the many singers who accompanied him. Each song is delved into as well and it comes with a full sessionography, release dates and writing credits. There are no pictures but the contents of this album should more than convince you to grab it at all costs if it can still be found before these early years are swept aside completely.Oh, and rather than the Rockin' & Driftin' box set which is curiously both too ambitious and yet too small at just three discs to be considered completely successful, pick up the still available two-disc companion set to this "Their All-Time Greatest Hits And More" which covers the '59-'65 years in depth and you'll have a truly comprehensive look at both worlds."
The Drifters - Early Years
Ms. Sunshine | USA | 06/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Comprehensive overview, artist cited as inspiration for many Motown, Stax, Chess, etc. artists of the 50s and early 60s, a MUST HAVE for nostalgia music lovers"