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McPhatter in 1959
|Birth name||Clyde Lensley McPhatter|
November 15, 1932|
Durham, North Carolina, United States
|Died||June 13, 1972
The Bronx, New York, United States
|Genres||Rock and roll, R&B, soul, pop|
|Associated acts||The Mount Lebanon Singers, Billy Ward & the Dominoes, The Drifters|
Clyde Lensley McPhatter (November 15, 1932 – June 13, 1972) was an American rhythm-and-blues, soul and rock-and-roll singer. He was perhaps the most widely imitated R&B singer of the 1950s and early 1960s and was a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B. He is best known for his solo hit "A Lover's Question".
His high-pitched tenor voice was steeped in the gospel music he sang in much of his early life. He was the lead tenor of the Mount Lebanon Singers, a gospel group he formed as a teenager. He was later the lead tenor of Billy Ward and His Dominoes and was largely responsible for the initial success of the group. After his tenure with the Dominoes, McPhatter formed his own group, the Drifters, and later worked as a solo performer. Only 39 at the time of his death, he had struggled for years with alcoholism and depression and was, according to Jay Warner’s On This Day in Music History, "broke and despondent over a mismanaged career that made him a legend but hardly a success."
He left a legacy of over 22 years of recording history. He was the first artist to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a member of the Drifters and later as a solo artist. Subsequent double and triple inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are said to be members of the "Clyde McPhatter Club."
Life and career
McPhatter was born in the community of Hayti, in Durham, North Carolina, on November 15, 1932. He was raised in a Baptist family, as the son of the Rev. George McPhatter and his wife Beulah (some accounts refer to her as Eva). Starting at the age of five, he sang in his father's church gospel choir along with his three brothers and three sisters. When he was ten, Clyde was the soprano-voiced soloist for the choir. In 1945, Rev. McPhatter moved his family to Teaneck, New Jersey, where Clyde attended Chelsior High School. He worked part-time as a grocery store clerk and was promoted to shift manager upon graduating high school. The family then relocated to New York City, where Clyde formed a gospel group, the Mount Lebanon Singers.
With Billy Ward & the Dominoes (1950–53)
In 1950, after winning the covetous Amateur Night at Harlem's Apollo Theater, McPhatter returned to his job as a store manager but was later recruited by Billy Ward & the Dominoes and was present for the recording of "Sixty Minute Man" for Federal Records, produced by Ralph Bass.
Billy Ward and his Dominoes was one of the top R&B vocal groups in the country, garnering more popularity than the Clovers, the Ravens and the Five Keys, largely due to McPhatter's fervent, high-pitched tenor. In his book The Drifters, Bill Millar named Ben E. King, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles, Sammy Turner, and Marv Johnson among the many vocalists who patterned themselves after McPhatter. "Most important," he concluded, "McPhatter took hold of the Ink Spots' simple major chord harmonies, drenched them in call-and-response patterns and sang as if he were back in church. In doing so, he created a revolutionary musical style from which—thankfully—popular music will never recover." Strangely enough, McPhatter didn't think much of his own singing abilities.
After recording several more songs, including "Have Mercy Baby", "Do Something for Me," and "The Bells", McPhatter left the Dominoes on May 7, 1953. He was sometimes passed off as "Clyde Ward, Billy's little brother." Others assumed it was Billy Ward doing the lead singing. As a member of the Dominoes, McPhatter did not earn much money; Ward paid him $100 a week, minus deductions for food, taxes, motel bills, etc. In an interview in 1971 McPhatter told the journalist Marcia Vance that "whenever I'd get back on the block where everybody'd heard my records—half the time I couldn't afford a Coca-Cola." Because of such occurrences, and because he was frequently at odds with Ward, McPhatter decided he would quit the Dominoes, intent on making a name for himself. He announced his intention to quit the group, and Ward agreed to his leaving provided that McPhatter stayed long enough to coach a replacement. Auditions for a replacement were held at Detroit's Fox Theater, and a young Jackie Wilson took over as lead tenor for the Dominoes. The position influenced Wilson's singing style and stage presence. "I fell in love with the man's voice. I toured with the group and watched Clyde and listened..."—and apparently learned. Privately, McPhatter and Ward often argued, but publicly McPhatter expressed his appreciation of Ward for giving him his start in entertainment. "I think Billy Ward is a very wonderful musician and entertainer. I appreciate all he did for me in giving me my start in show business."
The Drifters (1953–1954)
Ahmet Ertegün, founder of Atlantic Records and Jerry Wexler, eagerly sought McPhatter after noticing he was not present for an appearance the Dominoes once made at Birdland, which was "an odd booking for the Dominoes", in Ertegün's words. After locating him, McPhatter was then signed to Atlantic on the condition that he form his own group. McPhatter promptly assembled a group and called them the Drifters. They recorded a few tracks in June 1953, including a song called "Lucille," written by McPhatter himself. This group of Drifters did not have the sound Atlantic executives were looking for however, and Clyde was prompted to assemble another group of singers. The revised lineup recorded and released such hits as "Money Honey," "Such a Night," "Honey Love," "White Christmas" and "Whatcha Gonna Do," with the record label displaying the group name "Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters" on the first two singles, later changed to "The Drifters featuring Clyde McPhatter".
In late 1954, McPhatter was inducted into the U.S. Army and assigned to Special Services in the continental United States, which allowed him to continue recording. After his tour of duty, he left the Drifters and launched a solo career. The Drifters continued as a successful group, but with many changes in personnel, and the group assembled by McPhatter was long gone by the time of their greatest successes after he left the group. The original members of the Drifters were mostly from the Mount Lebanon Singers.
Just after his military discharge, McPhatter recorded his first solo hit, "Love Has Joined Us Together", with Ruth Brown. He released several R&B recordings in the next few years, including "Rock and Cry", "Seven Days" (later a bigger hit for Tom Jones), "Treasure of Love," "Let Me Know", "Just to Hold My Hand", and his biggest solo hit, "A Lover's Question," written by Brook Benton and Jimmy T. Williams, which peaked at number 6 in 1958. The song "Lover Please," written by the country artist Billy Swan, was released in 1962. McPhatter's 1956 recording "Treasure of Love" was his first number 1 hit on the R&B charts as a solo artist and spent one week in the UK Singles Chart. It reached number 16 on the U.S. pop charts, sold over two million copies in the United States alone, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
After leaving Atlantic Records, McPhatter then signed with MGM Records and released several more songs, including "I Told Myself a Lie" and "Think Me a Kiss" (1960) and his first single for Mercury Records, "Ta Ta." His tenure on these labels proved to be less fruitful than his time with Atlantic. He moved to other record labels and recorded more singles, including "I Never Knew" and his final Top Ten hit, "Lover Please," which made it to number 7 in 1962. After "Lover Please", McPhatter's career took a downward turn, as musical styles and tastes were constantly changing during the 1960s. He turned to alcohol abuse, sporadically releasing recordings that failed to chart.
In 1968, McPhatter moved to England, where he still had something of a following, utilizing the UK band ICE as backup.
McPhatter returned to the U.S. in 1970, making a few appearances in rock-and-roll revival tours, but lived mostly as a recluse. Hopes for a major comeback with a Decca album were crushed on June 13, 1972, when he died in his sleep at the age of 39, of complications of heart, liver, and kidney disease, brought on by alcohol abuse, fueled by a failed career and resentment he harbored towards the fans he felt had deserted him. In an interview with the journalist Marcia Vance, McPhatter said, "I have no fans." He died at 1165 East 229th Street, Bronx, New York, where he had been living with Bertha M. Reid; they were traveling together as he tried to make a comeback.
Ruth Brown acknowledged in her later years that McPhatter was the actual father of her son Ronald, born in 1954. Ron now tours with his own group named after his father - Clyde McPhatter's Drifters.
Legacy and honors
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame recognized his pioneering efforts.
The Original Drifters were inducted in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.
The United States Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor in 1993.
|Titles (A-side, B-side)
(both tracks are from the same album except where indicated)
b/w "The Way I Feel" (non-album track)
|—||1||1953||Atlantic||Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters|
|"Such a Night"
b/w "Lucille" (non-album track)
b/w "Warm Your Heart"
|"Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)"
b/w "Bip Bam" (non-album track)
b/w "The Bells of St. Mary's"
|The preceding titles are credited to Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters.|
|"Love Has Joined Us Together"
b/w "I Gotta Have You"
(both tracks with Ruth Brown)
b/w "I'm Not Worthy"
|44||2||1956||Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters|
|"Treasure of Love"
b/w "When You're Sincere" (from Love Ballads)
b/w "I'm Lonely Tonight" (from Clyde)
|"Without Love (There Is Nothing)"
b/w "I Make Believe"
|"Just To Hold My Hand"
b/w "No Matter What"
|"Long Lonely Nights"
|"Rock and Cry"
b/w "You'll Be There"
|"That's Enough for Me"
b/w "No Love Like Her Love"
|"Come What May"
b/w "Let Me Know" (from Clyde)
|"A Lover's Question"
b/w "I Can't Stand Up Alone"
b/w "My Island of Dreams"
|"Since You've Been Gone"
b/w "Try Try Baby"
|"You Went Back on Your Word"
b/w "There You Go"
|"I Told Myself a Lie"
b/w "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over"
|70||—||MGM||Clyde McPhatter's Greatest Hits|
|"Twice As Nice"
b/w "Where Did I Make My Mistake"
|"Let's Try Again"
b/w "Bless You" (from Let's Start Over Again)
|"Think Me a Kiss"
b/w "When the Right Time Comes Along"
|"This Is Not Goodbye"
b/w "One Right After Another"
|"Just Give Me a Ring"
b/w "Don't Dog Me"
|"Deep Sea Ball"
b/w "Let the Boogie-Woogie Roll"
|"If I Didn't Love You Like I Do"
b/w "Go! Yes Go!
b/w "I Ain't Givin' Up Nothin'"
|"I Just Want to Love You"
b/w "You're for Me"
|"One More Chance"
b/w "Before I Fall in Love Again"
|"Tomorrow Is a-Comin'" /||103||—||1961|
|"I'll Love You Til the Cows Come Home"||110||—|
|"The Glory of Love"
b/w "Take a Step" (from Clyde McPhatter's Greatest Hits)
|—||—||MGM||Let's Start Over Again|
|"A Whole Heap of Love"
b/w "You're Movin' Me"
|"I Never Knew"
|"Same Time Same Place"
b/w "Your Second Choice"
b/w "Let's Forget About the Past" (non-album track)
|"Little Bitty Pretty One"
b/w "Next to Me"
b/w "I Do Believe"
|—||—||Rhythm and Soul|
|"The Best Man Cried"
|"From One to One"
b/w "So Close to Being in Love"
|"Deep in the Heart of Harlem"
b/w "Happy Good Times" (non-album track)
|90||90||Songs of the Big City|
|"Second Window, Second Floor"
b/w "In My Tenement"
|"Crying Won't Help You Now"
b/w "I Found My Love"
|"Everybody's Somebody's Fool"
b/w "I Belong to You"
|"Little Bit of Sunshine"
b/w "Everybody Loves a Good Time"
|"A Shot of Rhythm and Blues"
b/w "I'm Not Going to Work Today"
|"Sweet and Innocent"
b/w "Lavender Lace"
|"I Dreamt I Died"
b/w "Lonely People Can't Afford to Cry"
|"Thank You Love"
b/w "Only a Fool"
|"Baby You Got It"
b/w "Baby I Could Be So Good At Loving You"
b/w "Tell Me"
|—||—||B & C|
|"I'll Belong to You"
b/w "Book of Memories"
|"Why Can't We Get Together"
b/w "Mixed Up Cup"
- "Clyde McPhatter". Oldies.com. Retrieved 2012-12-16.
- Palmer, Robert (1981). "Roy Brown, a Pioneer Rock Singer". New York Times, May 26, 1981.
- Shaw, Arnold (1978). Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Crowell-Collier Press. p. 381.
- "Google Image Result". Google.com. Retrieved 2012-12-16.
- "Image". Google.com. Retrieved 2012-12-16.
- "10 Most Likely Next Members of the Clyde McPhatter Club". Rock Hall Monitors, May 23, 2011.
- "New Members of 'The Clyde McPhatter Club'". Future Rock Legends, January 17, 2009.
- Clyde McPhatter at AllMusic
- Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, p. 384.
- Grendysa, Peter. "The Drifters: Let the Boogie Woogie Roll, 1953–1958". Atlantic Records 81927-1.
- Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, p. 382.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. p. 83. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Grendysa, Peter. Album liner notes, "The Drifters: Let the Boogie Woogie Roll – 1953–1958". Atlantic Records 81927-1.
- via Associated Press. "Death Claims Hit Singer at Age of 41". Merced Sun-Star, June 16, 1972. Accessed September 13, 2011. "Clyde McPhatter, rhythm and blues singer in the early days of rock 'n' roll, died Tuesday in the Bronx of an apparent heart attack. He was 41 years old and lived in Teaneck, N.J."
- Browse by Cemetery: George Washington Memorial Park, Find A Grave. Accessed April 6, 2007.
- Strauss, Robert. "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place". New York Times, March 28, 2004. Accessed September 13, 2011. "A decade before the Shirelles became famous, Clyde McPhatter started the Drifters. He had a heart attack and died at the age of 39 in 1972; he is buried in George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus."
- "Ruth Brown - Obituaries - News". The Independent. 2006-11-20. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
- "Clyde McPhatter's Drifters - Continuing the legacy of The Drifter's Founder". Cmdrifters.com. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
- "2009 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.