Soul singer Archie Bell of Archie Bell and The Drells had the #1 song in the country this week (May, 1968), with their classic single “Tighten Up.”
Unfortunately, Archie Bell had been drafted to serve in the Vietnam war the same week we would eventually honor our Veterans (Memorial Day), but exactly one year earlier, in 1967.
The draft interrupted his burgeoning singing career, which began in 1966 when he formed The Drells with four high school friends in Houston, Texas.
Archie Bell and The Drells were enjoying regional success with the single “She’s My Woman, She’s My Girl,” which was released on the East West label. But, in 1967, Uncle Sam called upon Archie Bell to serve his country.
“I went down to the draft board to take my physical and the next thing I knew I was on a bus to boot camp in Louisiana,” Archie Bell reminisced in the book “All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music.”
“I didn’t even have time to call my mother,” Archie Bell said.
During a short leave in 1967, Bell continued to focus on music. That is when he recorded the classic single “Tighten Up,” which was released in December 1967. The song quickly rose the charts and was picked up by Atlantic Records for distribution.
By May 27, 1968, “Tighten Up” was #1 on both the Pop and R&B charts, moving an astounding 3 million copies.
Amazingly, Archie Bell had been shot in the leg on the battlefield during the 1968 Tet Offensive, while the song was #1 on the charts.
“I said, ‘Hey everybody! That’s me singing’ but nobody believed me,” Archie Bell said. “They figured I was shell-shocked, crazy. The next time the song came on the radio they heard me say, ‘Hi everybody. I’m Archie Bell of The Drells of Houston, Texas,’ and then some of them went, ‘hmmm, maybe it is him.'”
Although The Drells toured without him, when Archie Bell returned home for another leave, he did a series of spot dates with The Drells. It was in New Jersey that the group’s fate would change for the better.
While performing in Longside, New Jersey, at a venue named Loretta’s Hat, Archie Bell and The Drells were introduced to Philadelphia-based producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
They went into the Atlantic studios in New York, where they cut three classics singles: “I Can’t Stop Dancing,” “Do the Choo-Choo,” and “There’s Going to Be a Showdown.”
On April 19, 1969 Archie Bell was discharged from the army and returned to the United States. He continued with singing, resulting in a career that stretched well into the 1980’s when The Drells finally called it quits.
Waxfact: The spoken word intro on “Tighten Up,” was inspired by a local DJ who claimed nothing good came out of Texas, after President John F Kennedy was assassinated. “We knew we knew we were from Texas and we were good, so we just let everybody know up front,” Archie Bell said.
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