Sunday, March 21, 2010

Richie Merritt

richie merritt
Richie Merritt photo from The Marcels

Richie Merritt is on the short list of local doo-woppers and soulmen that no one outside the industry has ever heard of.

He still sings occasionally with The Marcels, and has performed with The Clovers, The Memories, and The Drifters.

Since moving to Florida, he's put together his own show for the Sunshine State region audiences, hitting the stage as "Richie Merritt Solo" or as “Richie Merritt & The Gems,” featuring a revue that salutes Little Anthony, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, served along with classic R&B, soul, and some oldies' tunes.

Merritt got his start in his native river town of Donora, where he sang in his father's Pentecostal Church as a three-year old. Better know for churning out baseball players like Stan Musial and Ken Griffey, father and son, than singers, Donora still proved to be a fruitful launching pad for Merritt.

He formed his first group there while a grade-school kid, the El Qunitones. In 1960 and attending junior high, Merritt put together The Dragons, named after the DHS mascot. The group included Ted "Reno" Smith, still a Marcel's band-mate, and they stayed together until graduation day.

After earning his sheepskin in 1966, Merritt enrolled in the Army and sang on a USO tour in Germany, where he got the chance to perform with another GI on his way to bigger and better things, Aaron Neville.

After his discharge in 1968, Merritt joined The Electrons as lead singer (after "It Ain't No Big Thing"), remaining with the group for five years. Throughout the following decades, Merritt sang with a "Who's Who" of local groups.

After the Electrons, he moved to the Vibrators, a hot local act during the seventies. They broke up in 1979, and Merritt went on to sing for High Society, primarily a standards band, and The Laurels and The Memories, which were show bands with an emphasis on Motown and slick choreography. He also found time to open a short-lived night club.

He got a little solo love too, when in 1990 "Where Did I Go Wrong?", a song Merritt wrote and recorded, landed in the Top 10 of the Northern Soul-crazed United Kingdom. (It was later released on the 1998 CD "Richie Merritt - Then & Now").

In 1992, Merritt, then with the Memories, was approached by Johnny Mason about joining The Clovers. The wooing eventually worked when in the fall of 1993, he signed on with the band as lead tenor.

The Clovers were booked for Atlantic City six months a year, were regulars on the Carolina "shag circuit," appeared regularly in Vegas, and played in venues across the country.

The group performed on the PBS special, "Doo Wop 51," in 2000. The Clovers were inducted to the Doo Wop Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002. The VGHOF induction performance was Merritt's last as a Clover.

But Merritt didn't have to worry about filing for unemployment after he left. Walt Maddox had a spot saved for him with The Marcels, which Merritt had appeared with during prior performances as a fill-in tenor.

Now, nearly a decade later, he still does special performances with The Marcels (they just did an Erie gig in January at the Presque Isle Track & Casino), and does his own Gulf Coast thing out of his home base of Tampa.

And hey, it doesn't get much better for a sixty-ish Pittsburgh doo-wopper. A resume that runs from the Electrons to the Clovers, a regular schedule of bookings, enough to keep you busy without competing with your tee-times, and a home in the Golden State.

It's a long way from Donora.


"Where Did I Go Wrong?" - Richie Merritt

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