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Del Vikings

Del Vikings

The Del-Vikings were formed in 1955 by members of the United States Air Force stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with Clarence Quick, Kripp Johnson, Don Jackson, Samuel Paterson, and Bernard Robertson. Because all of the members were in the armed forces, the group constantly ran the risk of being disrupted by members being stationed in other places. This happened soon after the group's forming when Paterson and Robertson were sent to Germany. They were replaced by baritone David Lerchey, the group's first white member, and tenor Norman Wright. Norman Wright had started a group with Lawrence "Prince" Lloyd called The Valverteens from Amarillo Air Force Base,Texas before joining The Del-Vikings.

The origin of the band's name is unclear. Some sources say that the band members had read about Vikings with the prefix "Del" being "added to give the group name an air of mystery."(2) Another suggestion is that Clarence Quick had known of a basketball team in Brooklyn, New York, called the Vikings and had suggested the name. The name may also have originated from the popular Viking Press, publisher of paperbacks that group members liked to read.

Originally signed to Fee Bee Records, their first hit came in 1957 with "Ultra High Fidelity" followed by the Wright-led "Come Go with Me". The group quickly found itself in greater demand following the release of "Come Go with Me", which propelled the group into the Top 10 on Billboard's pop chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.(3) Soon after, Jackson left and was replaced by Gus Backus, the group's second white member.

All of the group members, other than Kripp Johnson, had been under 21 when they had signed their recording contract with Fee Bee (a tiny Pittsburgh label, which was later distributed by Dot Records). Having signed the contract as minors, they had the right to be released from it. In 1957, under the direction of their manager, Alan Strauss, they left to record at Mercury Records. Johnson, who was still bound to Fee Bee/Dot, stayed, thus creating two Del Viking groups. The original group replaced Johnson with Quick's friend William Blakely and recorded the Backus-led song "Cool Shake". Kripp Johnson constructed a new group with the returning Don Jackson, Chuck Jackson, Arthur Budd, and Ed Everette. This group recorded the Kripp Johnson-led "I'm Spinning", billing themselves as the Dell Vikings. Dot also released "Whispering Bells", with Kripp Johnson again featured on lead. Interestingly, the Dot label added an 's' to his name which read "featuring 'Krips' Johnson". It reached number nine on Billboard's Top 100 chart. Around this time, some old Fee Bee demo tracks had been sold to an up-and-coming record company, Luniverse, who overdubbed a backing track on these accapella songs, which included an early version of "Come Go with Me". The overdubbed demo was included as a track on an 8 song album subsequently released by Luniverse. Only one single was released from these Luniverse overdubs - #106 - "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"/ "Hey Senorita".

Johnson's Dot group had an extra advantage - he had been discharged from the USAF and his group could tour freely, while the original group needed to seek military leave in order to tour. Mercury sued, claiming it had sole rights to any spelling of the group's name, and the Dell-Vikings briefly became The Versatiles, with singles being billed to "Kripp Johnson and the Versatiles" or "Chuck Jackson and the Versatiles". The group broke up, with Chuck Jackson going on to a successful solo career. Meanwhile, the original group had begun to fall apart. Gus Backus was re-stationed, leaving the group a quartet. They broke up soon after. Quick restructured the group with new talent from the Pittsburgh area-lead tenor, Billie Woodruff, Willie Green, Douglass White,and Ritzy Lee. By the end of 1957, with the breakup of the "Dell" Vikings, Kripp Johnson returned to the original group, making them a sextet. They signed to ABC-Paramount. While the nucleus of the group was back, they weren't able to chart any more hits, and the group split up in 1965.

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