Born Corinthian Johnson, 16 May 1933, Cambridge, Maryland
The story of the Dell-Vikings vocal group is a complicated one and was told in some detail when I featured Clarence Quick in February 2002. The Pittsburgh group The Dell-Vikings, formed in 1956, are usually referred to as the first racially integrated group to have a Top 10 hit. However, the five original members were all black: Clarence Quick (bass), Kripp Johnson (lead and tenor), Samuel Patterson (lead and tenor), Bernard Robertson (second tenor) and Don Jackson (baritone). Before their first recording session, Patterson and Robertson were assigned to an airbase in Germany and were replaced by Norman Wright and the group's first white member, Dave Lerchey. Their first record, "Come Go With Me", was a smash hit, peaking at # 4 on the pop charts and # 2 on the R&B charts. It was originally released on the small Fee Bee label in December 1956, but immediately leased to national distributor Dot Records. Fee Bee then quickly released two singles in which Dot was not interested (Down in Bermuda, What Made Maggie Run), but "Whispering Bells", with Kripp Johnson as lead singer, was picked up by Dot and also went Top 10 (# 9), in the summer of 1957. A second white member, Donald "Gus" Backus, had replaced Don Jackson. Meanwhile, the group's new manager, Al Berman, was negotiating behind the scenes and saw greener pastures at Mercury Records. Apparently the group members had been under age when they signed with Fee Bee, but Kripp Johnson had been over 21 and therefore had to stay at Fee Bee / Dot. The Del-Vikings on Mercury (now spelled with one l) - Wright, Lerchey, Backus, Quick and Quick's friend William Blakely - scored a big hit with their first release on the label, "Cool Shake" (# 12), but it turned out to be their last hit. Not to be left out in the cold, Kripp Johnson formed a new Del-Vikings that included Chuck Jackson among its five members. Fee Bee put the new group in the studio; the yield was sides like "Willette" and "I Want To Marry You", with Chuck singing lead. In December 1957, Mercury gained legal authority over the name the Del-Vikings and the Kripp Johnson-led group became the Versatiles or had their records credited to Chuck Jackson. Kripp's contract with Fee Bee terminated in 1958 and he rejoined his original Del-Vikings friends at Mercury, thus disbanding the second group. Gus Backus had been sent to Germany, compliments of the air force (he would stay there and become a big star with novelties sung in German) and Chuck Jackson went on to a successful solo career. Kripp sang on the last two Dell-Vikings Mercury singles, "You Cheated" and "How Could You". After an unsuccessful stint at ABC-Paramount, the group worked the college circuit, disbanded, but in 1970 they were back again with Johnson, Lerchey, Blakely, Wright and Quick as the membership. In November 1972 the quintet recorded a contemporary version of "Come Go With Me" for Scepter. It became their last single for almost twenty years. They went international via the London Palladium and England's "Top of the Pops" TV show, then toured the Far East. By 1980, Kripp Johnson had reformed his own "Dell-Vikings" (the Mercury contract having long since ended, there was no party to lay final claim to the name) with Norman Wright, Ritzy Lee, John Byas, and David Lerchey, and his and Quick's Del-Vikings hovered around each other, avoiding direct confrontation by staying out of each other's way on tours through different parts of the country, until Quick's death in 1985 and Johnson's death in 1990. The juggling of the group membership, name, and label affiliation makes collecting the Del-Vikings (or Dell-Vikings) very complicated.
More info: http://www.destinationdoowop.com/delvikings.htm Further reading: Jay Warner, The Billboard book of American singing groups: a history 1940-1990. New York : Billboard Books, 1992. Recommended listening: The Del-Vikings, For Collectors Only (Collectables, 2-CD) (Dot recordings). Best of the Del-Vikings : The Mercury Years (Uni/Mercury/Polygram).
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