His name may not be immediately recognizable but he was a key member of one of soul’s most important groups – and sadly US sources are reporting the recent death of CHARLIE THOMAS of the DRIFTERS. Reports say that Charlie was 85 and passed after a battle with hepatocarcinoma.
The history of the Drifters is complex (to say the least!) but in essence the original Drifters (formed to back Clyde McPhatter) had a bust up with manager George Treadwell in 1958. Treadwell had cleverly copyrighted the Drifters name and simply sacked the group replacing them with the Five Crowns (pictured below) who then featured Charlie Thomas and, of course, Ben E King (then known by his real name Benjamin Nelson). These “new” Drifters enjoyed a rapid series of hits including ‘There Goes My Baby’, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, ‘When My Little Girl Is Smiling’, ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ and ‘This Magic Moment.’ Thomas often took lead vocals.
The evolution of the Drifters quickly became labyrinthic. King of course soon left for a successful solo career and the more patient Charlie Thomas stayed till 1967. Thomas, like many former members, went on to form rival bands all using the “Drifters” brand leading to all kinds of litigation with the Treadwell family
Thomas was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1988 along with several other former members of The Drifters.