Clyde Lensley McPhatter (November 15, 1932 – June 13, 1972) was an American rhythm and blues, soul, and rock and roll singer. He was one of the most widely imitated R&B singers of the 1950s and early 1960s[2] and was a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B.

Clyde McPhatter
McPhatter in 1959
McPhatter in 1959
Background information
Birth nameClyde Lensley McPhatter[1]
Born(1932-11-15)November 15, 1932
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedJune 13, 1972(1972-06-13) (aged 39)
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Years active1950–1972

McPhatter's 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.[3] 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."[4][5]

McPhatter 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 solo artist and later as a member of the Drifters.[6]

Subsequent double and triple inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are said to be members of the "Clyde McPhatter Club".[7][8]

Life and career edit

Early life edit

McPhatter was born in the community of Hayti, in Durham, North Carolina on November 15, although the year is disputed. Some sources cite 1932. Author Colin Escott cites 1931, stating, "most biographies quote 1933 or 1934, although government documents cite the earlier year".[9] His grave marker cites his birth year as 1932.[10]

He was raised in a Baptist family, the son of 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 10, Clyde was the soprano-voiced soloist for the choir.[11]

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.[3] The family then relocated to New York City, where Clyde formed a gospel group, the Mount Lebanon Singers.[12]

With Billy Ward and the Dominoes (1950–53) edit

In 1950, after winning the coveted Amateur Night at Harlem's Apollo Theater contest, McPhatter returned to his job as a store manager, but was later recruited by Billy Ward and his Dominoes and was present for the recording of "Sixty Minute Man" for Federal Records, produced by Ralph Bass.[2]

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."[13]

After recording several more songs with the Dominoes, 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 Billy Ward was 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 journalist Marcia Vance, "whenever I'd get back on the block where everybody'd heard my records—half the time I couldn't afford a Coca-Cola."[14]

Due to such occurrences, and as 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 later held at Detroit's Fox Theater, and a young Jackie Wilson eventually 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.[3]

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."[14]

The Drifters (1953–54) edit

Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, and Jerry Wexler, eagerly sought McPhatter after noticing he was not present for an appearance by the Dominoes at Birdland, which was "an odd booking for the Dominoes", in Ertegun's words.[15]

After locating him, McPhatter was 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 initial members of the Drifters McPhatter assembled were mostly members of the Mount Lebanon Singers.

The revised lineup recorded and released such hits as "Money Honey", "Such a Night", "Honey Love", "White Christmas", and "What'cha Gonna Do", with the record label displaying the group name "Clyde McPhatter and 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 their greatest successes were released after he left the group.

Upon his departure from the Drifters, McPhatter sold his share of the group to the band's manager George Treadwell, a decision that he later came to regret, after realizing that he caused his fellow musicians to experience unprofitability and the group essentially became a revolving-door line-up with recycled members on a ridiculous $100 weekly salary and paid virtually no royalties.[16]

Solo career edit

McPhatter performing in 1957

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 six in 1958.

McPhatter's 1956 recording "Treasure of Love" was his first number-one 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 Recording Industry Association of America.[17]

After leaving Atlantic Records, McPhatter 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-10 hit, "Lover Please", written by country artist Billy Swan, which made it to number seven in 1962. After "Lover Please", McPhatter's career took a downward turn, as musical styles and tastes were constantly changing during the 1960s. He managed a top 30 R&B hit, "Crying Won't Help You Now", in 1964, then fell off the charts. McPhatter turned to alcohol abuse, sporadically releasing recordings that failed to chart.[18]

In 1968, McPhatter moved to England, where he still had something of a following, using the UK band ICE as backup.[18]

Death edit

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 – behavior fueled by a failed career and resentment he harbored towards the fans he felt deserted him.[14] In his interview with journalist Marcia Vance, McPhatter said, "I have no fans."[19] He died at 1165 East 229th Street, in the Bronx, New York, where he had been living with Bertha M. Reid. They were traveling together as he tried to make a comeback.

McPhatter was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, at the time of his death.[20] He was buried at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey.[21] At the time of his death, Clyde McPhatter had one daughter, Deborah L. McPhatter, born in April 1953. Ruth Brown acknowledged in her later years that McPhatter was the father of her son Ronald, born in 1954.[22] Ron now tours with his own group named after his father – Clyde McPhatter's Drifters.[23]

Legacy and honors edit

Singles edit

Titles (A-side, B-side)
(both tracks are from the same album except where indicated)
Peak Billboard
Pop position
Peak Billboard
R&B position
Year Label Album
"Money Honey"
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)
5 1954
"Honey Love"
b/w "Warm Your Heart"
21 1
"Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)"
b/w "Bip Bam" (non-album track)
"White Christmas"
b/w "The Bells of St. Mary's"
80 2
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)
8 1955 Atlantic Love Ballads
"Seven Days"
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)
16 1
"Thirty Days"
b/w "I'm Lonely Tonight" (from Clyde)
"Without Love (There Is Nothing)"
b/w "I Make Believe"
19 4 1957
"Just To Hold My Hand"
b/w "No Matter What"
26 6 Love Ballads
"Long Lonely Nights"
b/w "Heartaches"
49 1
"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)
43 3
"A Lover's Question"
b/w "I Can't Stand Up Alone"
6 1 Clyde
"Lovey Dovey"
b/w "My Island of Dreams"
49 12 1959
"Since You've Been Gone"
b/w "Try Try Baby"
39 14
"You Went Back on Your Word"
b/w "There You Go"
72 13 Non-album tracks
"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)
48 13
"Think Me a Kiss"
b/w "When the Right Time Comes Along"
66 1960
"This Is Not Goodbye"
b/w "One Right After Another"
"Just Give Me a Ring"
b/w "Don't Dog Me"
96 Atlantic Non-album tracks
"Deep Sea Ball"
b/w "Let the Boogie-Woogie Roll"
"If I Didn't Love You Like I Do"
b/w "Go! Yes Go!
"Ta Ta"
b/w "I Ain't Givin' Up Nothin'"
23 7 Mercury Ta Ta!
"I Just Want to Love You"
b/w "You're for Me"
Non-album tracks
"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"
Mercury Non-album tracks
"I Never Knew"
b/w "Happiness"
56 17
"Same Time Same Place"
b/w "Your Second Choice"
"Lover Please"
b/w "Let's Forget About the Past" (non-album track)
7 4 1962 Lover Please!
"Little Bitty Pretty One"
b/w "Next to Me"
b/w "I Do Believe"
Rhythm and Soul
"The Best Man Cried"
b/w "Stop"
"From One to One"
b/w "So Close to Being in Love"
127 1963 Non-album tracks
"Deep in the Heart of Harlem"
b/w "Happy Good Times" (non-album track)
90 10 Songs of the Big City
"Second Window, Second Floor"
b/w "In My Tenement"
"Baby Baby"
b/w "Lucille"
Non-album tracks
"Crying Won't Help You Now"
b/w "I Found My Love"
117 22 1965
"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"
1968 Deram
"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"
1970 Decca Welcome Home
"Why Can't We Get Together"
b/w "Mixed Up Cup"

Billboard Year-End performances edit

Year Song Year-End
1959 "A Lover's Question" 72
1962 "Lover Please" 41

References edit

  1. ^ "Clyde McPhatter". Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Palmer, Robert (1981). "Roy Brown, a Pioneer Rock Singer". The New York Times, May 26, 1981.
  3. ^ a b c Shaw, Arnold (1978). Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues. Reprint edition (March 1, 1986); ISBN 0020617402/ISBN 978-0020617402 New York: Crowell-Collier Press. pg. 381.
  4. ^ "Google Image Result". Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  5. ^ "Image". Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  6. ^ "Inductee Explorer – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame". Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  7. ^ "10 Most Likely Next Members of the Clyde McPhatter Club". Rock Hall Monitors, May 23, 2011.
  8. ^ "New Members of 'The Clyde McPhatter Club'". Future Rock Legends, January 17, 2009.
  9. ^ All roots lead to rock: legends of early rock 'n' roll: a Bear Family reader. Escott, Colin., Bear Family Records (Firm). New York: Schirmer Books. 1999. ISBN 0028648668. OCLC 40163451.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ "Clyde Lensley McPhatter (1932-1972) - Find A..." Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  11. ^ Arnold Shaw, Honkers And Shouters. The Golden Years Of Rhythm And Blues. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1978, pg. 381.
  12. ^ Clyde McPhatter at AllMusic; accessed March 27, 2018.
  13. ^ Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, pg. 384.
  14. ^ a b c Grendysa, Peter. "The Drifters: Let the Boogie Woogie Roll, 1953–1958". Atlantic Records 81927-1.
  15. ^ Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, pg. 382.
  16. ^ "The Drifters – Biography & History – AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  17. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London, UK: Barrie and Jenkins. p. 83. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  18. ^ a b "Clyde McPhatter". Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  19. ^ Grendysa, Peter. Album liner notes, "The Drifters: Let the Boogie Woogie Roll – 1953–1958". Atlantic Records 81927-1.
  20. ^ 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."
  21. ^ 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."
  22. ^ "Ruth Brown – Obituaries – News". The Independent. November 20, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  23. ^ "Clyde McPhatter's Drifters – Continuing the legacy of The Drifter's Founder". Archived from the original on September 30, 2015. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  24. ^ "2009 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  25. ^ "The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time". Rolling Stone. January 1, 2023. Retrieved June 13, 2023.

External links edit