Clyde McPhatter, The Drifters an Chris Kenner Reissues to hit Sept. 18

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    From the Atlantic Vaults Come Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters’ Rock & Roll, The Drifters’ I’ll Take You Where the Music’s Playing and Chris Kenner’s Land of 1,000 Dances

    From the Atlantic Vaults Come Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters’ Rock & Roll, The Drifters’ I’ll Take You Where the Music’s Playing and Chris Kenner’s Land of 1,000 Dances

    LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A choice triumvirate of vintage Atlantic R&B albums will spotlight the earliest and latest work of pivotal vocal group Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, and New Orleans R&B hitmaker Chris Kenner. Collectors’ Choice Music is preparing the September 18 release of Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters’ earliest album, Rock & Roll; The Drifters’ final proper album release for Atlantic, I’ll Take You Where the Music’s Playing; and Chris Kenner’s Land of 1,000 Dances album.
    North Carolina-born, New York-bred high tenor Clyde McPhatter has been said to be the successor to Ray Charles and precursor to Sam Cooke. At the urging of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, he formed The Drifters, initially with members, well, drifting in and out. Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, the group’s 14-track debut album, was originally issued in 1958, produced by the impressive triumvirate of Ertegun, Jerry Wexler (under pseudonym J. Gerald) and Tom Dowd. The album contained no fewer than four major Drifters hits: “Money Honey,” “Such a Night,” “White Christmas” and “What ‘cha Gonna Do.” But the album goes deeper: “Treasure of Love” is pure sock-hop soul, “Seven Days” is a big beat ballad, and “Someday You’ll Wany Me To Want You” is a swamp-pop tune along the lines of Chuck Willis. The album even includes a McPhatter composition, “I’m Not Worthy of You,” with the lead vocalist singing far out in front of the group.
    For The Drifters, the hits kept coming through 1966, though McPhatter departed for a lower profile solo career at MGM. However, the remaining Drifters — always recipients of great material from the songwriters of New York’s Brill Building — recorded a who’s who of the fabled writer hub in what became the core group’s final Atlantic recording, I’ll Take You Where the Music’s Playing. Produced by Bert Berns, whose own songwriting credits include Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My heart” and Them’s “Here Comes The Night,” the set includes compositions by Berns, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Mort Shuman, Doc Pomus, Artie Resnick and even Southern soul tunesmith Dan Penn. The Drifters left the charts after this album, and left Atlantic in 1972. A subsequent version of the group enjoyed some success in the U.K. But the group’s mid-‘60s work stands as their uncontested high point.
    Chris Kenner is largely remembered as a one-hit wonder, but in fact he had two national hits: the original version of “Land of 1000 Dances” and “I Like It Like That.” The former song became a bigger hit for East L.A.’s Cannibal & the Headhunters, who in turn were outcharted by Wilson Pickett’s version (and the song was later channeled by Patti Smith on “Land” from her debut LP). “I Like It Like That,” charting at No. 2, was covered by the Dave Clark Five at the height of the British Invasion. But the album Land of 1000 Dances, originally issued on Atlantic and of late a major collectible, houses Kenner’s many regional hits (which were originally on Joe Banashak’s Instant label). He also recorded for other regional indies: Baton, Pontchartrain and Ron, as well as the better known Imperial. Kenner, however, was never able to capitalize on his hits by touring, largely due to an excessive drinking problem. He also signed away 50 per cent of the publishing of “Land of 1000 Dances” to Fats Domino in exchange for the Fat Man covering the song. At one point, however, Kenner’s version of the song enjoyed a second wind at radio, peaking at No. 77 and earning him a distribution deal with Atlantic. The good fortune was not to last: Kenner soon after served a three-year jail sentence at Louisiana’s storied Angola prison (where Leadbelly had done time) on a charge of statutory rape. He died of cardiac arrest in 1976. The Land of 1000 Dances album, soon to be available on Collectors’ Choice, captures the heartbeat of New Orleans’ vibrant R&B/rock ’n’ roll scene in the early ‘60s.

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