Best-known for their 1965 number one hit "Hang On Sloopy," the McCoys provided the quintessential model for garage band success. Young, fresh-faced, and sporting an audacious lead guitarist, their sound was augmented with the catchy, hook-song trappings of bubblegum pop that made them teen favorites. When the McCoys' short string of hits ran out, they were able to set the stage for the emergence of one of the great guitar heroes of the 1970s, their own Rick Derringer.
Like many 1960s garage bands, the McCoys were formed by suburban high school students who were inspired by the second wave of great rock 'n' roll to hit America. Guitarist-singer Rick Zehringer—who would one day be known as Rick Derringer—recalled the band's creation for the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul. "I was born in Ohio just across the border from Indiana. My brother Randy played drums and I played guitar when I was nine. When I was in the eighth grade, my family moved 12 miles across the state line and we lived in a town called Fort Recovery. For some time, I'd been fascinated by the electric bass. In 1958, it seemed the instrument of the future. When I was 12 or 13 in Indiana, a neighbor named Dennis Kelly said he'd like to play it and if I'd show him how, he'd buy one. He got a brand new Fender bass with amp and I showed a song from the Ventures' LP The McCoys.… While he was playing it, we arrived in wonderland because we realized with him and me and Randy we had a band."
On Board With the Strangeloves
Initially the band named itself after the aforementioned Ventures record, but quickly became the Rick Z Combo, which some promoters thought sounded too much like a jazz group. Settling on Rick & The Raiders, they performed gigs throughout the Midwest and cut a single for the small Sonic label, titled "You Know That I Love You," which benefited from some local airplay. Eventually they beefed up their sound with the addition of organist Ronnie Brandon and began tapping into the big beat sounds of early 1960s pop and soul. When Kelly left for college, Randy Hobbs took over bass chores. The group's selling point as an act was the hot scrambling guitar leads of Rick Zehringer, but as a group they were professional enough to appear on the bill with bigger name acts, whom they sometimes upstaged. One of these groups was the Strangeloves. Best-remembered for their Bo Diddley-styled smash "I Want Candy," the Strangeloves were a New York-based studio group posing as an Australian band. Their group—consisting of producer/songwriters Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Goettehrer—brought the McCoys to their label, Bang Records. Inspired by the small-caliber pistol on the label's logo, Rick Zehringer changed his professional name to Rick Derringer. The band was advised to change its name to something that sounded less like the famous band Paul Revere and the Raiders, and they quickly revived their original moniker, The McCoys.
"Hang On Sloopy" Became Classic
Bang Records was a classic 1960s songwriter label that featured the likes of singer-songwriters Neil Diamond and Van Morrison. Label co-founder Bert Berns was a top songsmith in his own right, crafting such hits as the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout," The Jarmels' "A Little Bit of Soap," and many others. Berns felt that one of his compositions had further possibilities—"My Girl Sloopy," a top 30 pop and soul hit for the Vibrations. Wisely discerning that the record could be a greater success if it was sung by four youngsters with Beatle-type haircuts, he assigned the song to the McCoys, with Feldman, Goldstein, and Goettehrer producing. Borrowing heavily from the "Louie Louie" school of rock arrangement, and featuring extra voices for the chorus, the McCoys' version of the song became an instant classic. According to co-producer Bob Feldman, the group's success signaled the end of the Strangeloves' salad days. "We went out on a tour with the McCoys," Feldman told the Both Sides Now website. He explained that "the McCoys were the Strangeloves' back-up band, and it was the Strangeloves-McCoys, but halfway through the tour, 'Hang On Sloopy' became #1, and they became the ultimate stars of the show."
"Hang On Sloopy" overtook Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction," the Dave Clark Five's "Catch Us If You Can," and the We Five's "You Were On My Mind," to reach number one in October of 1965. Overseas, "Sloopy" became the first top five hit for the British independent label Immediate Records, which was owned by Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Capitalizing on their overnight success, the band began touring the country and even appeared on the season premier of ABC-TV's Shindig! However, the band was still in high school, and toured with chaperones and tutors.
"Hang On Sloopy" spent eleven weeks on the charts and inspired a successful jazz rendition by the great Ramsey Lewis. As a followup, Bang chose to issue the group's big beat cover of Peggy Lee's 1958 classic, "Fever." Peppier and less sultry than the original, the McCoys' version rose to number seven on Billboard 's Hot 100. Attempting to avoid the dreaded one-hit wonder syndrome, the group began cutting the first of two albums for Bang—rare for any teen pop act that wasn't the Beatles.
Although they recorded prolifically for Bang, the McCoys had trouble growing as artists. Their final top 40 hit single, a go-go revamping of Ritchie Valens's 1958 hit "Come On Let's Go," found them treading the same ground as that of their first hit. Feldman, Goldstein, and Goettehrer expanded some of their LP tracks to include Beach Boys-type harmonies and various folk influences. By contrast, on their singles, only the psychedelic pop of the low-charting "Don't Worry Mother, Your Son's Heart is Pure" deviated from the early formula. In addition, Derringer's vocals sounded too youthful to attempt much else with credible grit. As a result, the band's career fizzled out with such "Sloopy" styled minor chart makers as "I Got to Go Back" and "Beat the Clock." After the death of Bert Berns in 1967, the McCoys decided to leave the teen idol world behind.
Teamed with Johnny Winter
Looking for greater artistic freedom, the McCoys signed a two-album deal with Mercury Records in 1968. Their first LP, Infinite McCoys, proved their most adventurous outing to date. Produced by Derringer and featuring the Blood, Sweat and Tears brass section, it tackled the psychedelic trend of the day. Derringer's guitar work was brilliant and expressionistic, but hit records were still the name of the game, and only "Jesse Brady" scraped the bottom of the charts. With the landscape of pop music changing rapidly and the group no longer in demand for high profile tours, the McCoys became the resident band at Steve Paul's Scene in New York City. During that time they released their second Mercury album, Human Ball. More eclectic and jazz-based than the first, it featured frequent interplay between guitar and keyboards, and lengthy Hendrix-inspired jams by Derringer. Yet like its predecessor, it couldn't find an audience, and the McCoys were looking for meaningful work for the first time since their high school days.
After keyboardist Peterson departed, help came in the form of albino blues-rock legend Johnny Winter. Nightclub owner Steve Paul, who also managed Winter, put the two acts together when Winter needed a backing band. Playing with taste and fire, the group collaborated on 1970's Johnny Winter And, a title that left the McCoys apparently uncredited. The band played behind Winter in various configurations, both live and on four albums, but in 1973 the McCoys unofficially drifted apart. Various incarnations would pop up as a country bar band and an oldies act in the decades to follow, but they would no longer reach the commercial heights of their 1960s work or the artistic integrity of their 1970s backing sessions.
For the Record …
Members have included Ronnie Brandon (group member, c. 1962-65), organ; Randy Hobbs , bass; Rick Derringer , lead guitar, vocals; Randy Zehringer , drums; Dennis Kelly , bass; Bobby Peterson (group member, 1965-70), keyboards.
Group formed in Union City, IN, 1962; became the Rick Z Combo before transforming into Rick and the Raiders; recorded "You Know I Love You" for Sonic Records, 1963; returned to billing as the McCoys, 1964; signed with Bang Records; recorded number one pop hit "Hang On Sloopy," 1965; recorded top ten cover version of Peggy Lee's "Fever," 1965; hit top 30 with their version of Ritchie Valens's "Come On, Let's Go," 1966; recorded for Mercury Records, 1968-69; various lineups backed Johnny Winter on recordings and tours, 1970-74; Derringer began solo career, effectively bringing the original group to an end, 1973.
Addresses: Record companies—Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211, website: http://www.sonymusic.com. One Way Records, website: http://www.onewayrecords.com.
It was another story for Derringer, who joined Edgar Winter's White Trash and produced his number one hit "Frankenstein." "I always enjoyed working with Rick in whatever band it was," Edgar Winter told Dan Muise in Gallagher, Marriott, Derringer, and Trower: Their Lives and Music. "I thought he was great in White Trash…. A great strength of his is his versatility." Touring with Winter and cutting records on his own, Derringer emerged as one of the 1970s' finest lead guitarists, who played with skill and abandon. He was able to blend a solid career as a solo artist—launched with the 1973 top 20 hit "Rock 'n' Roll Hootchie Koo"—with that of a successful producer and session player. He produced five of song parodist Weird Al Yankovic's most popular albums, effortlessly allowing the comedian to ape any pop or rock style he chose. He has continued to play live show dates, seldom straying very far from his roots. When the mood strikes him right, he'll play a monster rendition of "Hang On Sloopy," the song that first brought him fame.
"Hang On Sloopy," 1965
"C'Mon Let's Go" 1966.
"You Make Me Feel So Good," 1966.
"Don't Worry Mother, Your Son's Heart is Pure," 1967.
"I Got to Go Back," 1967.
"Beat the Clock," 1967.
"Jesse Brady," 1968.
Hang On Sloopy, Bang, 1965; reissued, Sony, 1993.
You Make Me Feel So Good, Bang, 1966.
The Infinite McCoys, Mercury, 1968.
Human Ball, Mercury, 1969.
Psychedelic Years, One Way, 1994.
Hang On Sloopy: The Best of the McCoys, Epic/Legacy, 1995.
Bronson, Fred, Billboard Book of Number One Hits, revised and updated 4th edition, Billboard Books, 1997.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, VH1 Music First: Rock Stars Encyclopedia, Dorling Kindersley, 1999.
Stambler, Irwin, editor, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.
Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, revised and expanded 7th edition, Billboard Books, 2000.
"The Bang Records Story," Both Sides Now, http://www.bsnpubs.com/nyc/bangstory.html (April 22, 2004).
"The McCoys," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 24, 2004).
Rick Derringer Official Website, http://www.rickderringer.com (April 24, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to the 1995 Sony release Hang On Sloopy: The Best of the McCoys.