Drifting into a classic sound

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Supergroup The Drifters rank up there with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Bee Gees, as one of the biggest selling acts of all time. But, unlike their chart-topping counterparts, you can still see The Drifters on stage. We spoke to current member Michael Williams about fulfilling his Drifter dream.

LIKE many American teens, the soundtrack to Michael Williams’ childhood was defined by The Drifters.

Classics such as Saturday Night at the Movies and Under the Boardwalk were regulars on the radio in the Williams’ New York home, but little did the budding singer realise that one day he too would be a Drifter.

Today, like scores before him, the 32-year-old is part of the band’s regularly changing line-up.

He and the other three members have big shoes to fill – The Drifters alumni, which features more than 60 singers includes the legendary Ben E King, Clyde McPhatter, Bill Pinkney, Charlie Thomas, Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore.

The changing face of The Drifters – though an unusual move – has proved successful.

Since the group was established in 1953 by George Treadwell, The Drifters have sold more than 214million singles and 114million albums worldwide.

To this day, the group is still controlled by the Treadwells – the only constant in the band’s history – who hand-picked Michael to be part of the line-up.

He recalls: “I’ve been in the band for about five years altogether. I started off as an understudy for about a year and then I finally got my chance in the first team.

“I was a solo artist before then touring across Europe, doing a lot of covers.

“I was doing one of the shows and little did I know that Tina Treadwell was there. I didn’t believe her when she said who she was. She asked me to come along and audition and I felt my life had changed from that point.

“They are such a legendary group. When I hear the statistics, like 214million singles sold, I still have to pinch myself that I am in something so big.”

Along with fellow Drifters, Maurice Cannon, Damion Charles and Ryan King, Michael tours the globe performing hits such as There Goes My Love, Up On The Roof and Come On Over To My Place.

This week the band released the album The Drifters – Up on the Roof – the Very Best Of.

Michael said: “The Drifters started in 1953 and even after the first year the line-up had changed. It was always about the brand, not the actual singers.

“The sounds always remains the same and we were chosen because we have the look and sound of The Drifters. We always keep the same sound, to put a new slant on that would be disrespectful.

“Particularly during the 50s and 60s, The Drifters captured the sound of young America, such as Under the Boardwalk, which represented what was going on at the time.”

Speaking about his early experiences of The Drifters sound, he said: “My parents were Drifters fans, so it was the music I listened to growing up. You’re More Than a Number In My Little Red Book is what I remember my parents playing most when I was kid. I was always asking them to play that one again. They loved Motown and the Four Tops, but mostly they played The Drifters, so it was like fate when I became part of the line-up.”

To coincide with the new album’s release, the band will be touring across the country and will play Sunderland Empire on July 2.

Michael said:“The Drifters have worked with some great songwriters and the songs never get tired or old. The fans know what the songs are just from the intros.

“We are so proud of the new album, there are some classics on there as well as a couple of new tracks recorded by the current line-up.

“We feel very proud to be carrying the baton of this amazing group.”

The Drifters will perform at the Sunderland Empire on July 2. For tickets, tel. 0844 847 2499.