Pinkney was bridge between R&B, rock 'n' roll, says fans

COLUMBIA -- Ask Marion Carter, the co-owner of Ripete Records, what Bill Pinkney meant to beach music and he'll tell you something like this:

Pinkney was a member of the Carolina Beach Music Association Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

That, Carter said, should answer any questions about Pinkney's significance.

"The Drifters were key to bridging the gap between R&B and creating the sound that became rock 'n roll," Carter said.

Pinkney, 81, the last surviving original member of the Drifters, died on the Fourth of July before a scheduled performance in Daytona Beach, Fla. His son, Terry Pinkney, said Friday the cause of death was a heart attack.

A public viewing and memorial service for Pinkney will begin at 11 today at the Sumter Convention Center.

Beach music luminaries and rock 'n' roll revivalists from all over the country are expected to attend, including Jon 'Bowzer' Bauman of Sha Na Na and Billy Scott of Billy Scott and the Prophets.

Scott, who had known Pinkney since 1966, said Pinkney always gave advice to aspiring groups.

But it was Pinkney's stage presence, impeccable dress and his showman's attitude that never became arrogance that set the greatest example -- even in death.

"All the performers wish that they could go that way," Scott said. "I know I do."

Pinkney's career with the Drifters began in 1953. The group had R&B hits such as "Money Honey," "Honey Love" and "I Got Myself a Woman." Their doo-wop version of "White Christmas," with Pinkney singing lead, was used in the 1991 movie "Home Alone."

Pinkney left the Drifters before their best-known hits, such as "Under the Boardwalk," "Save the Last Dance For Me" and "Up on the Roof," but Carter said his position in music history was already secure.

Ripete Records, which compiles beach and old R&B music, will soon reissue a rare Pinkney recording, "Don't Call Me." It was produced by James Brown in the mid-1960s and features Brown's band, the Famous Flames, backing Pinkney.

"They were doing rock 'n' roll years before Elvis exploded in 1956," Carter said.

Russell Henry, who performed with Pinkney for almost 30 years, said he learned important show business lessons from his years with the Drifters. Such as?

"How to put on a show and how to dance," he said. "Just being a trouper and knowing how to act on the road, keeping yourself looking good like an entertainer should."

Pinkney's performance contract didn't ask for extras, said his longtime agent, Jackie Mills.

"People who didn't have his credentials have 15 to 20 pages, down to what color M&M's and grapes with no seeds," Mills said. "But not Bill."