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75 Years after D Day - remembering Normandy hero Bill Pinkney who played the Ritz Ballroom with The Original Drifters

Graham Reay writes:

75 years ago this month 18 year old Bill Pinkney from South Carolina was a GI in General Patton's army. He earned a Presidential Citation with 4 Bronze Service stars for heroism including Normandy, Saint-Lo, Bastogne and the Rhine. Later in the 1960's he played at the Ritz Ballroom and other clubs on the Regan circuit as part of The Original Drifters.

Although he was a War Hero he said in a 2004 interview "Never could I say I liked the military. I was in service in a segregated army. Overseas fighiting for your country and some of the white soldiers were telling people that we were animals".

Returning from the war Bill began to sing in gospel choirs where he met Clyde McPhatter and brothers Andrew and Gerhart Thrasher who became the original members of The Drifters. Their first and second records "Money Money" and "Such A Night" were big hits on the American rhythm and blues charts in 1953. Then Clyde got drafted and Bill and the brothers were sacked from the group. He needed work so he quickly registered the name "Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters" as a trademark.

British promoter Ray Tempest signed up The Original Drifters bringing them to the UK in January 1966. The line up was Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Bobby Hollis and  Bobbby Hendricks lead singer on The Drifters second UK single release "Drip Drop".

Joe and Mary Regan booked them to play at the Brum Kavern in Small Heath on 16 January. They must have gone down so well that they re-booked them for their summer tour playing at the two Plazas in Handsworth and Old Hill on 8 May and back in Handsworth coupled with King's Heath's Ritz Ballroom on 8 June. That makes them it is believed the only American act to play all four Regan venues.

The Regans booked two more shows from Roy Tempest in 1967. On 15 October Clyde McPhatter, The Drifters' original lead singer, appeared at the Handsworth Plaza and Kings Heath's Ritz Ballroom and on 22 November Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters played the same venues.

He would stay in the music business for the next 50 years, dying in a Florida hotel hours before he was due to go on Indepenence Day in 2007. In 2004 he said "I like the music music world so much. music has done more for for the country than any civil rights law ever could".

(Sources: Tour Dates from Ian Wallis's book "American rock'n'roll - the UK Tours 1957-72 Music Mentor Books York.2003.

Quotes from Bill Pinkney interview in Now Dig This magaazine number 255 June 2004.

Life story from Wikipedia)

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