A Rockapaedia Obituary
Band: The Drifters.
Clyde McPhatter died aged thirty-nine of complications of heart, liver, and kidney disease on 13th June in The Bronx, New York, U.S.A.. He was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, at the time of his death and was buried at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey, Philadelphia, U.S.A.. He was survived by his son Ronald who was born in 1954.
Clyde McPhatter was born in the community of Hayti, in Durham, North Carolina, U.S.A. and was raised in a Baptist family, the son of the Rev. George Clyde McPhatter and his wife Beulah. 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, the 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.
In 1950, after winning the coveted Amateur Night at Harlem's Apollo Theater contest, Clyde 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.
Billy Ward and his Dominoes was one of the top Rythm&Blues vocal groups in the country, garnering more popularity than the Clovers, the Ravens and the Five Keys, largely due to Clyde 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 Clyde McPhatter. "Most important," he concluded, "Clyde 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."
After recording several more songs with the Dominoes, including "Have Mercy Baby", "Do Something for Me," and "The Bells", Clyde McPhatter left the Dominoes in May 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, Clyde McPhatter did not earn much money. In an interview in 1971 Clyde McPhatter told journalist Marcia Vance that whenever he'd get back on the block where everybody'd heard his records — half the time he couldn't afford a Coca-Cola.
Due to such occurrences, and, as he was frequently at odds with Ward, Clyde 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 Clyde stayed long enough to coach a replacement. Auditions for a replacement were held at Detroit's Fox Theater, and a young Jackie Wilson later took over as lead tenor for the Dominoes.
Privately, Clyde McPhatter and Ward often argued, but publicly Clyde McPhatter expressed his appreciation of Ward for giving him his start in entertainment. He said that he thought Billy Ward was a very wonderful musician and entertainer and he appreciated all he did for him in giving him his start in show business.
Ahmet Ertegün, founder of Atlantic Records and Jerry Wexler, eagerly sought Clyde 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, Clyde McPhatter was then signed to Atlantic on the condition that he form his own group. Clyde 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 Clyde 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 Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters" on the first two singles, later changed to "The Drifters featuring Clyde McPhatter".
In late 1954, Clyde 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 Clyde McPhatter was long gone by the time of their greatest successes after he left the group. The initial members of the Drifters Clyde McPhatter assembled were mostly from the Mount Lebanon Singers.
Upon his departure from The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter unwisely 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 one-hundred dollar weekly salary and paid virtually no royalties.
Just after his military discharge, Clyde McPhatter recorded his first solo hit, "Love Has Joined Us Together", with Ruth Brown. He released several Rythm&Blues recordings in the next few years, including "Rock and Cry", "Seven Days", "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. Clyde McPhatter's 1956 recording "Treasure of Love" was his first number one hit on the Rythm&Blues charts as a solo artist and spent one week in the UK Singles Chart. It reached number sixteen 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, Clyde McPhatter then signed with MGM Records and released several more songs, including "I Told Myself a Lie" and "Think Me a Kiss" 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 seven in 1962. After "Lover Please", Clyde 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 and in 1968, Clyde McPhatter moved to England, where he still had somewhat of a following and utilized the UK band ICE as his backup.
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