Ray Lewis, the legendary former lead singer of The Drifters, performs at PEL

In the mid-late 1970’s, a talented young singer named Ray Lewis joined one of the world’s biggest bands, The Drifters. The existing lead singer, Johnny Moore, was leaving the band, and the group’s management, the Treadwell family, decided that Ray was the ideal person to replace him. Ray was born in Los Angeles, and grew up singing in church. One of his first jobs as lead singer was to re-record all of the original Drifters’ hits, so the public would recognise him as the voice of The Drifters. He performed alongside the late Bill Fredericks and Johnny Moore as well as Ben E King and went on to become one of the longest serving members of the band, finally leaving in the late 1980’s to pursue a solo career. Since then he has performed around the world as an artist in his own right. 

Pizza Express Live is rapidly becoming my second home, and I couldn’t wait to see Ray Lewis perform there. As the above introduction says, Lewis has worked with countless musical legends – and his voice is the stuff that dreams are made of. This is the man who has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: he’s a musical legend.

I hadn’t realised that, these days, Lewis lives in the UK, having moved here “for love”. He is as charismatic and entertaining as you would hope and has clearly embraced the British sense of humour, entertaining us between songs with dryly humorous accounts of his exploits with The Drifters and, later on, the likes of Carole King, Lionel Ritchie and Paul McCartney.

As for the music, it was exactly what we were hoping for: a blend of Drifters’ classics, including ‘Come On Over To My Place’ (“This was number one all over the world…there’s a chance your parents told you about it”), ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’, ‘There Goes My Baby’, ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies’, ‘Up on the Roof’, ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ and ‘More than a Number in My Little Red Book’ interspersed with classics by The Tramps (‘Hold Back the Night’) and Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’. Crowd-pleasers, all of them.

“You sound so good!” Lewis cried cheerfully (and mendaciously). “I feel guilty. I’m going to have to pay you back your ticket money!” There was no need for him to do that: we were having a whale of a time and loving Lewis’s tales of life on the road with Ben E. King (another Drifters vocalist, pop pickers), to whom he dedicated ‘Spanish Harlem’ and, of course, ‘Stand By Me’. Apparently, so I found out tonight, Muhammad Ali covered ‘Stand By Me’: who knew?

Touring with Ben E. King was, Lewis told us, like being with your family – and he had equally warm words for Sam Cooke, treating us to beautiful versions of ‘Cupid’ and ‘Wonderful World’.

Following a charming anecdote about appearing in the pilot of ‘Moonlighting’, “With a young man by the name of Bruce Willis”, Lewis sang ‘Under the Boardwalk’ to us, bringing back memories of Willis’s ’80s cover of that song.

Sadly, that brought us to the end of the evening, with Lewis remarking, “We’ve had so much fun over the years with those songs. I love these nights, and being so close to the audience is a wonderful thing”. We agreed – and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring encore of ‘You’re the First’, ‘What’s Goin’ On’, ‘All Night Long’ and ‘Let’s Stay Together’: the perfect end to the perfect night.

6 comments

  1. I saw the Drifters in the early ‘90s so must have been after Ray had left but what a great night we had listening to those songs of my youth. Loving the sound of Pizza Express Live – what a life you lead down in “that London”!

    Liked by 1 person

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