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McPhatter, Wilson played important roles

The Old Rocker

During the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, singers moved into and out of groups faster than a thunderstorm moving in and out of an area.

Two of the quick movers were Hall of Famers Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson.

McPhatter performed with Billy Ward & the Dominoes, one of the nation’s top vocal groups, from 1950 to May 1953. He then left the Dominoes to help form the original Drifters in 1954.

While with the Dominoes, the group, with McPhatter as the lead, had such hits as “Have Mercy Baby” and “Sixty Minute Man.” During McPhatter’s stay with the Dominoes, the group was considered the nation’s most popular, topping the Clovers, the Ravens and The Five Keys.

He formed the Drifters with Bill Pinckney and the Thrasher brothers, Gerhart and Andrew, who had been members of the Civitones, a gospel group.

McPhatter enjoyed early success with the Drifters in 1953 with “Money Honey,” “Honey Love” and the classic “White Christmas.” His stint with the Drifters was brief as he was drafted into the Army in April 1954.

After his release from the military in 1956, McPhatter enjoyed the first of his eight Top 40 hits as a solo artist with “Treasure of Love.”

McPhatter had two Top 10 hits: “A Lover’s Question” in 1958 and “Lover Please” in 1962.

A major force in helping shape the Doo-Wop/R&B sound, he influenced some of era’s most-renowned performers including Ben E. King, Smokey Robinson, Sammy Turner and Marv Johnson.

Due to a major rift with Ward, McPhatter announced his intent to quit the group. Ward agreed to the divorce if McPhatter would remain long enough to tutor his replacement. Auditions for a replacement were held at Detroit’s Fox Theater, where 19-year-old Jackie Wilson won and would take over as lead tenor of the Dominoes. McPhatter fulfilled his part of the agreement by teaching Wilson, who idolized McPhatter, the sound that Ward wanted.

Wilson, nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” because of his flamboyant style and operatic-type voice, managed to overcome his life as a troubled teen who was twice sentenced to a detention center. He remained with the Dominoes until 1957 when he became a solo act.

Wilson proceeded to play an important role in music’s transition from rhythm & blues to soul.

Wilson’s first single, “Reet Pettite,” was released in September 1957. It was written by Berry Gordy Jr., who later founded Motown Records, and Wilson’s cousin Billy Davis. Interestingly, Gordy and Wilson met at a boxing gym in Detroit.

Gordy and Davis wrote five other of Wilson’s hits. Gordy was very impressed with Wilson’s abilities and once said he was the greatest singer he ever heard.

Wilson’s first smash, “Lonely Teardrops,” topped the R&B charts for seven consecutive weeks beginning in December 1958. It reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts that month.

He had 25 Top 40 hits, including six in the Top 10: “Lonely Teardops” in 1958, “Night” and “Alone at Last” in 1960, “My Empty Arms” in 1961, “Baby Workout” in 1963, and “Higher and Higher” in 1967.

Wilson quickly made the transition from a rock/soul singer to a major nightclub performer, appearing regularly in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York.

Ironically, McPhatter and Wilson both died before celebrating their 50th birthdays.

McPhatter, whose career hit the skids midway through the 1960s, died of a heart attack in June 1972 at age 39.

Wilson suffered a heart attack while performing at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, N.J., in September 1975. He collapsed on stage and was revived by Cornell Gunter, lead singer of the Coasters. Wilson remained in a coma until his death in January 1984.

This is for the folk lovers:

Are you listening Tommy Coleman, the Perry Mason of Southwest Georgia?

Are you listening Jackie Ryan, one of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s top administrators?

The Chad Mitchell Trio was one of the big groups in the folk era from the late 1950s to early 1960s. Their biggest hit was “Lizzie Borden,” a song about the infamous Massachusetts ax murderer.

After Chad Mitchell left the group during the early 1960s to become a single performer, he was replaced by an unknown singer from Texas in 1965.

Mitchell’s replacement departed the group in 1968 to work as a solo performer.

He had eight Top 10 hits including four that reached the top of the charts. He died at the controls of a small airplane off the California coast in October 1997.

Who was he?

And the answer is … John Denver.

Denver’s No. 1 hits were ”Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Annie’s Song” in 1974, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “I’m Sorry” in 1975.