I conducted this interview with Joe "Rudy" Lewis, former lead singer of the legendary Drifters and one of the original Hollywood Saxons, in 2008. I wanted to document his story for posterity, after music business politics denied him his true musical legacy for so many years. Here, Lewis speaks of his fateful encounter with Drifters' founder Clyde McPhatter.
The Marine Corps, the mid-1950s
"We got aboard a ship. We were on our way back to the States. We got as far as the international dateline, and we detoured. Instead of coming to the United States, we went to Australia, 'cause the ship had to pick up a bunch of other military GIs who had been wounded. We were there about two or three months. After we loaded up from Australia, we came on back, around the Cape, and came on into New York City.
"I don't know why the captain took the ship that route, but we were aboard that Naval ship for about three months, because of detouring and stuff, picking up people-different things, how the Navy does things. So, finally, we got to Brooklyn Naval Yard, New York City.
"We were then assigned to the hospital, for rehabilitation, 'cause [we needed to be treated for]PTSD. We were the last group of guys, at that time, who went into hand-to-hand combat. It was tough, but life had to go on. We were there almost three months. After that, they started giving us weekend passes.
"We could leave the hospital and go into town, to the USO. I didn't know anyone in New York; I'd never been there. We'd look around, every chance we [had]. We went down to the Warner Theatre, down on New Lots Ave.; around 7th and New Lots. I hope I never will forget it. This is where we ran into Clyde McPhatter.
"We went back to the base, to get our discharge papers. We said we would stop down there [where the singers were]again, and see what the guys were doing. So, Stan Beverley and I, and another guy by the name of Robert Mosely, the three of us were there. Mosely got discharged the same day we did. Then we started laughing at this one guy … [who]was with the Temptations later on. Kelsey Osbourne-that was his name. He was there, he and Clyde and some more guys standing there, singing.
"I never knew Clyde McPhatter at all. I'd never seen him in my life. I just stood there, watching this guy. This guy had on a really dapper suit, had his hat kinda pulled down over the side of his head, like the New Yorkers wear their hats.
"We started laughing at these guys. It was a simple note, we understood what that note was. Clyde McPhatter said to us, 'Marine, can you sing?' I said, 'I try to do pretty good.' My buddy Stan said, 'Yeah.' Clyde said, 'Well, I want you guys to do this song. Can you back these guys up?' I said, 'Whoever's the lead singer, we'll try to back him up.' And that's what we did-we tried to back him up. We did the same things the other guys were trying to do, but we did it right. So, Clyde said, 'Would you guys step over here?' We said, 'OK!' We went to work with the guys.