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The Hornets

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Biography

They only had a few releases, and no hits, but the Hornets were one of Cleveland, OH's most talked about groups of the '50s and 60's. The original Hornets were Ben Iverson, Johnny Moore, James "Sonny" Long, and Gus Miller, but except for Iverson, the lineup wasn't etched in stone. Bill Brent, Carl Brown, Bobby Woods, and Eddie Woods (unrelated to Bobby) also stake claims as one-time Hornets. The group opened doors and provided hope for local hopefuls when they landed a deal with Chicago's States Records in 1953, making them one of Chicago's first recording groups. Originally the Mellotones, they formed in 1951 at Central High School where they spent more time using the hallways and restrooms' echo effects than studying. State was the sister label to United Records, owned by Lew Simpkins, one of the first minority owned recording company's in America; Excelsior and Exclusive Records (Los Angeles, CA) owned by the Rene Brothers may be the first. Johnny Moore led both sides of "Lonesome Baby" b/w "I Can't Believe You're in Love With Me" in 1953. Other recordings such as "Big City Bounce," "Ridin' and Rockin'," and "You Played the Game" stayed shelved until 1981 when P-Vine Records, a Japanese company, released the tracks on an album with the Five C's entitled Chicago Doo-Wops: Black Music in the 50's, Vol. 3. They took a hit when the Drifters snatched Johnny Moore in 1954. Drifters' Bill Pinkney discovered Moore in Cleveland at a concert both groups were playing. Moore was singing so good in the men's room that Pinkney extended an invitation to join the Drifters, which he accepted. The contract with States wasn't an issue, Simpkins passed May 27, 1953. The Hornets sole single appeared six months later, but Simpkins' untimely demise voided the deal. Ironically, both the Hornets and the the Drifters debuted on record in 1953. Moore didn't give a two-week notice, he left after the Cleveland gig with the Drifters, which left the Hornets in a lurch in the middle of promoting their single. Moore made his presence known immediately; his tenor was featured on "Adorable," which aced the R&B chart in 1955. He also led "Ruby Baby," which soared to number two pop and number five R&B. In 1958, manager George Treadwell fired most of the Drifters and recruited new guys. Uncle Sam drafted Moore shortly afterwards and temporarily halted his drifting. In 1961 after fulfilling his obligation, he rejoined the Drifters who now featured Rudy Lewis on most leads. Lewis, unfortunately, died a year later making, Moore the primary lead; he stayed with the group until 1971. He distinguished himself the second time around by leading many hits, including their last pop Top Ten record, "Under the Boardwalk." When the hits dried in the '70s, Moore took a crew of the Drifters to England and performed as Johnny Moore & the Drifters until 1980; they scored a few European hits, "Kissing in the Back Row of the Movies" and "Down on the Beach Tonight," and played the clubs, cabarets, and parties. Moore was the Drifters' most prolific lead singer; he's featured on 51 A and B sides exceeding numbers by more touted leads: Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, and Rudy Lewis. The Hornets continued as Ben Iverson & the Hornets; though Iverson rarely led a song, he was the group's driving force. For a minute, according to Ike Perry, Iverson sang with Ike Perry & the Lyrics, a Cleveland group who traveled the United States recording for little recording companies. Iverson reunited a group of Hornets for three releases on Lester Johnson and Bill Branch's Way Out Records -- "I'm Not Ashamed," "Jamaica Farewell," and "Fools Rush In" b/w "Love Me" -- around 1962. They didn't go and the group disbanded. Iverson moved to New York City and gave it one last stab as Ben Iverson & the Nue Day Express on Britne Records with "I Tried My Best" b/w "Look What You're Doing to Me"; it did nothing and Ben Iverson gave up his dream. Bill Brent served as a six-month temp in the Drifters. The rest of the Hornets, except for Eddie Woods who recorded with other locals and cut some solo tracks on Boddie Records, are reportedly deceased. Johnny Moore died in London en route to the hospital January 1, 1999. He was 64 years old, and he is survived by his wife Jennifer and three sons. ~ Andrew Hamilton

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