Rudy Lewis Dies

Rudy Lewis is the odd-man-out in the history of the Drifters.

He occupied the lead singer spot from late 1960 until 1964, occasionally sharing that function with Johnny Moore later in his tenure. Lewis was featured on such songs as the hits "Some Kind Of Wonderful", "Please Stay", "On Broadway", and "Up On The Roof", as well as B-sides and outtakes such as "She Never Talked To Me That Way", "Stranger On The Shore", "Somebody New Dancing With You", and "Mexican Divorce". He had the bad fortune, however, to come in after Ben E. King redefined the group's sound, and never got the recognition that King did, despite the fact that he ended up singing most of King's repertory in concert. Like King, he had a rich, silky voice that could also express passion in an extraordinarily vivid and compelling manner, and a lot of fans of the group hold him in almost as high regard as Clyde McPhatter or King. Born in Philadelphia, Lewis had started out in gospel music had sung with the Clara Ward Singers until immediately prior to the day, late in 1960, when he auditioned for the Drifters' manager, George Treadwell, at Philadelphia's Uptown Theater. At the time, the group had been reduced to a trio with Charlie Thomas taking the lead role, and Lewis was hired on the spot. Alas, his tenure with the group ended tragically sometime on the night of May 20, 1964 -- the following morning, he was found dead in his bed; some accounts say the cause was a drug overdose, while others who knew him say that Lewis, who was a binge eater, choked to death in his sleep. The group's other lead singer, Johnny Moore, stepped into the breach that same morning on the scheduled session for "Under The Boardwalk", and was the Drifters' lead vocalist for the remainder of their tenure on Atlantic and beyond. ~ Bruce Eder