Soul Serenade: Patti Drew, “Tell Him”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

Patti Drew had an indelible hit in ’67

Soul Serenade - Patti Drew

I’ve been writing the Soul Serenade column for over four years now. There have been well over 200 installments during that time. The column doesn’t have a vast readership, it’s not likely to ever go viral, but there is a solid core of people who seem to return each week, and for that I’m grateful. Last week, the column simply blew up, attracting readers in far greater numbers than I’ve ever had before.

As you may recall, last week’s column featured an album by Sam Cooke’s younger brother L.C. Cooke which has recently been released by ABKCO Records. The album was originally supposed to come out 40 years ago, but never did. I thought that the column was likely to attract even less attention than usual because L.C. Cooke, although a very talented singer, is not exactly a household name. But something wonderful happened.

At first I couldn’t figure out what was driving the numbers I was seeing. I thought it was a mistake, some technical glitch. I tried to see where the link had been reposted, and that’s how I finally found the answer. A couple of days after the column went live, the good folks at the Sam Cooke Facebook page posted it. That page has over 800,000 followers, and apparently a lot of them took a look at my column, and many of them even shared it.

So this week I want to thank those folks at the Sam Cooke page. I’m sure it’s pretty much a labor of love for them, and it’s nice to know that someone is keeping his name and music alive. And thanks to everyone who read the column, liked it, and shared it. Sometimes I begin to wonder whether anyone is reading this column I write every week out of pure love for the music. It’s good to have that validation.

Now on to this week’s column …

Patti Drew began her singing career alongside her sisters Lorraine and Erma (and bass singer Carlton Black) in a group called, what else, the Drew-Vels. Drew’s mother worked as a domestic for a Capitol Records promoter and got him to come to church to hear the Drew-Vels sing. The promoter was suitably impressed and signed the group.

Their first recording for the label was the original version of “Tell Him,” (not the Exciters hit of the same name) a song written by Carlton Black. The single made a little bit of noise in the Evanston, IL area where Drew was living at the time, and even managed to hit the Top 100 on the national charts in 1964.

Two years later Patti Drew embarked on a solo career and first signed with Quill Records before moving on to Capitol in 1967. The first single that was released by the label was a newly recorded version of “Tell Him,” and it achieved greater success than the original Drew-Vels version, making it all the way to #22 on the R&B chart, and again making the Top 100 on the pop chart.

“Tell Him” was the first of three successful singles for Drew. She followed it with “Hard to Handle,” which was Top 40 on the R&B chart in 1968. That same year Drew hit again with “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing,” a Neil Sedaka/Roger Atkins song that became a much bigger hit for the Fifth Dimension in 1969.

Drew released several more singles for Capitol including “Hundreds of Guys,” “Keep on Movin’,” and “My Lover’s Prayer.” None of them gained any chart traction however and by 1971 Drew was out of the music business. There was a largely forgotten one-off release on Innovation Records in 1975, and in the ’80s Drew reunited with Black in a band called Front Line that performed around the Evanston area.