Moore, one of the group’s principal vocalists who sang lead on many of the Drifter’s hit singles, is not to be confused with Sylvia Robinson’s brother-in-law with the same name who performed briefly with the R&B group the Moments, later known as Ray, Goodman & Brown.Raised in Cleveland, where his early singing was steeped in gospel music, Moore later began his professional career as lead singer of the Cleveland based group the Hornets in 1953, who recorded one single, “Lonesome Baby” b/w “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me,” for the States label (which is reportedly one of the rarest R&B singles in creation, commanding five-figures from collectors).In 1955, the Drifters were playing a show in Cleveland when they were approached by the 21 year-old Moore, who asked for an audition. Unbeknownst to him, the group was looking for a successor to their interim lead vocalist David Baughn, whose unstable behavior rendered him unreliable. Moore was astonished when the group took him backstage and, asked him to sing on the spot, which he did The next day, with the approval of manager George Treadwell, he received a telephone call telling him that he was a member. His first stint with the group was moderately successful, yielding the R&B hits “Adorable,” “I Gotta Get Myself a Woman,” and “Ruby Baby,” but before Moore had been there for a year, and before the group could build up any momentum, he was drafted into the US Army and spent the next two years serving in uniform in Germany.
Upon returning, he recorded as a soloist under the name Johnny Darrow in 1959. He then became a member (with original Drifters guitarist Jimmy Oliver) of the Clyde McPhatter Revue, alongside the Bobbettes and the Drifters. He wasn’t far from the group’s orbit over the next year, joining the Drapers and singing on the Gee Records single “(I Know) Your Love Has Gone Away,” which had been written by Ben E. King, Doc Green, and Lover Patterson, all of whom were associated with the post-1958 Drifters and their predecessors the Crowns. For a time, the Drapers tried without success to piggyback on their genealogical association with the Drifters by identifying themselves as successors to the 1950s version of the group.It’s a tribute to Johnny Moore’s vocal prowess that, despite his efforts to cut in on the Drifters’ action, he was invited back into the Drifters in March of 1963. At the time, lead singer Rudy Lewis had announced his intention to leave the group for a potentially much more lucrative solo career, but hadn’t found an opportune professional moment in which to do so. This five-man (six counting guitarist Billy Davis) lineup became the group’s peak incarnation, Moore sharing lead vocal responsibilities with Lewis and duetting together on record as well.
The songs that the group recorded during this period were as good as anything in their history, including “I’ll Take You Home,” “One Way Love,” “If You Don’t Come Back,” and “Didn’t It,” all featuring Moore on lead vocals.Lewis, who was due to record as lead singer on “Under the Boardwalk” was found dead in his bed one morning only one day before the scheduled session on May 20, 1964. Some accounts say the cause was a drug overdose, while others who knew him say that Lewis, who was a binge eater, choked to death in his sleep. Moore took over the lead vocals for the session and subsequently became the permanent lead. Moore had a string of hits with the group in the 1960s, most notably “Saturday Night At The Movies”, “Come On Over To My Place”, “At The Club” and “Up In The Streets Of Harlem”.Moore was the lead singer represented on the only official live sides cut by the group, and he was later given the opportunity to do an unofficial solo album (credited to the Drifters), “The Good Life”. The group continued performing for the remainder of the 1960s and stayed with Atlantic until 1972.Relocating to the UK in the early 1970s, Moore and the group scored with a string of hits, “Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies”, “There Goes My First Love”, “Can I Take You Home Little Girl”, “Hello Happiness” and “You’re More Than a Number in My Little Red Book”. Moore, who established himself as the group’s longest-serving member, eventually left the group in early 1982, and now based in London where he had settled and married, launched his own short-lived group called Slightly Adrift with Joe Blunt and Clyde Brown. Although he later periodically resurfaced fronting various groups doing Drifters repertory and was seen on British television well into the late ’90s, despite respiratory problems that left him sidelined from full-time performing in his mid-’60s. He was a 1988 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Drifters.Moore, who had been suffering from breathing difficulties, was last seen on stage in Britain when he appeared on television just before Christmas, performing “Come On Over To My Place.” He was given a posthumous Pioneer Award in 1999 by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.