During the early years, Drifters session were very well thought out and the Drifters, for the most part, were used to compliment Clyde McPhatter.
Jesse Stone (who under the pen name "Charles Calhoun" writer of "Shake Rattle and Roll") was the arranger on most of the sessions. Clyde would construct the background vocal and harmonies, while Jimmy Oliver directed backup musicians on the road.
Clyde Lensey (or Lensley) McPhatter was born in Durham, North Carolina on November 15, 1932. Clyde's family was heavily-rooted in the church, with his father a minister and his mother an organist. After moving north with his family to Harlem NY in the late 1940s, Clyde began singing with a gospel group: The Mount Lebanon Singers. The Mount Lebanon singers were at that time Charlie White (second tenor), William "Chick" Anderson (tenor), Wilmer "Lover" Baldwin (tenor and guitar), David Baldwin (baritone), and James "Wrinkle" Johnson (bass). (David and Wilmer were brothers of author James Baldwin.)
In 1950, Clyde and Charlie White joined Billy Ward's newly-formed Dominoes. The other original members (Bill Brown and Joe Lamont) came from another gospel group, The 5 International Gospel Singers of South Carolina.
There would be a string of Clyde-led Dominoes tunes over the next few years:
"I Am With You," "That's What You're Doing To Me," "Have Mercy Baby,"
"These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You," "The Bells," and "I'd Be Satisfied."
The name The Drifters! From where does it come? For sure the name wasn't exclusively created for the Atlantic group of history as prior to this period Drifters circulated among a number of pre-existing acts of the times. It is said Clyde was toying with the name but no name had been selected during that first Atlantic session.
A note: That during the life of the Atlantic Drifters there were many, many other groups (both vocal and instrumental) sharing that name, both in America and abroad. Most of them seem to be Country And Western aggregations:
Make Note: It has been reported that there has been more than 65 personnel who have come through the Drifters lineup over the past 60 years of its existence. This can be further broken down into lineups as far as the Golden age periods and those that were recorded in media such as books, film, video, radio, television and historical archives. The fact remains there were members who were never recorded in such media and who were terminated for instance after doing a few shows with the lineup. (Exceptions to this were members Bill Brent who was brought in by Johnny Moore to replace Dan Dandridge who left after three months with the group. Mr. Brent recorded on the October 12, 1966, session which included the songs "My Baby Is Gone" (unknown lead) and "Baby What I Mean" (Johnny Moore). Soon after the October 1966 session, Bill Brent was asked to leave so that Bill Fredericks (a baritone/bass with a more versatile voice) could be added to the group. This group lineup was Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas, Rick Sheppard, and Bill Brent.) They for the most part in many cases signed agreements to never divulge ever being with a group called The Drifters, which was the case in the standard contracts issued by Drifters Incorporated in the early years.
The Drifters sound: It is said in particularly in the early years that the Drifters was unique in its overall sound. It has been pointed out that Bill Pinkney was the sound of the Drifters with that signature bass voice along with Clyde McPhatter's unique tenor sound. Overall this has been a hallmark with the group and many other groups to follow. The Drifters though for the most part had great lead singers which became its an overall signature. Many of the session, it was the lead singer whom you heard and background singers were brought in who weren't part of the Drifters official lineup. This was done for many reasons as Drifters Inc. wasn't very forthcoming when it came to paying royalties to its members. Management would claim that it was The Drifters and it's singers were known more than hired backup vocalist.
After the success of Money Honey which rocketed in the charts to the number 1 spot! The Drifters were back in the studio on November 12, 1953. They recorded 4 new tracks "Don't Dog Me," "Such A Night," "Warm Your Heart," and "Bip Bam." with Clyde McPhatter once again on lead.
In January 1954, Atlantic released "Such A Night," backed with "Lucille," the only song ever to be issued from Clyde's first session. "Such A Night" and "Lucille" both got excellent reviews the week of February 6. February 4th saw The Drifters back in the studio to record another four songs "Bells Of Saint Mary's," "White Christmas," "Honey Love," and a third version of "Whatcha Gonna Do."
Note: The last chart hit for the Atlantic group of Drifters composing of (Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas, Rick Sheppard, and Bill Fredericks) recorded "Ain't It The Truth" (led by Johnny) and "Up Jumped The Devil" (Bill). These two songs were released in July 1967 and "Ain't It The Truth" rose to #36 on the R&B charts.