Just out of high school, Ernie Bringas and Phil Stewart started singing together in 1957. In 1962, they landed a recording contract with Columbia Records and were assigned to a 20 year old, novice record producer named Terry Melcher (Doris Day's son). Calling themselves The Rip Chords, the duo released their first recording, "Here I Stand", in early 1963. The record met with moderate success, peaking nationally at #51 and paved the way for future promise.
On their second release, "Gone", Bringas and Stewart were joined by a talented singer named Bruce Johnston, a friend of Melcher. Although "Gone" also reached the national charts, it was not quite as successful as their debut single, but the Rip Chords name had been established nationally. All that was needed now was a top-notch song to record.
At this point, Erine Bringas decided to leave the music business to pursue three years of graduate studies at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Phil Stewart now found himself without a singing or touring partner, but quickly resolved the problem by recruiting Rich Rotkin and Arnie Marcus to accompany him on tour.
Now the story of The Rip Chords starts to get a little muddy. Melcher and a young songstress named Carol Conners, had written a song called "Hey Little Cobra". Recognizing the song's potential, Melcher decided to record and release the song under the Rip Chords name. Although Phil Stewart claims to have sung some vocals for the song, that has been disputed by Melcher and Johnston. It is clear however that the lead vocal of "Hey Little Cobra" is that of Terry Melcher with the high harmony added by Bruce Johnston.
In early 1964, just as The Beatles were breaking into the North American music scene, "Hey Little Cobra" shot up the national charts, peaking at #4. Soon, an album called "Hey Little Cobra And Other Hot Rod Hits" was recorded. The album featured the voices of Terry Melcher, Bruce Johnston and Phil Stewart, with a host of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew backing them. All personal appearances were by Phil, Rich and Arnie.
Another car-orientated single, "Three Window Coupe", written by Roger Christian and Jan Berry of Jan And Dean, cracked the Top 30 in the summer of 1964 and was followed with an album of the same name, which also featured Melcher and Johnston on most of the tracks. After one final chart single, "One Piece Topless Bathing Suit", Melcher had decided to turn his full attention to record production and turned down the Brian Wilson composition, "Help Me Rhonda" for the Rip Chords.
As a live act, The Rip Chords put in an appearance singing "Red Hot Roadster" in a rock & roll movie titled A Swingin' Summer, which also featured Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Donnie Brooks, the Righteous Brothers and Raquel Welch, making her movie debut. The band officially split up in late 1965.
Terry Melcher would go on to produce some of classic rock's most memorable hits for The Byrds, Paul Revere and The Raiders and Steppenwolf. Bruce Johnston would join The Beach Boys in April of 1965 and continue to tour and record with them into the next millennium. It was also Bruce Johnston who would write Barry Manilow's theme song, "I Write The Songs".
A version of The Rip Chords was still touring in 2005, consisting of Richie Rotkin (vocals and percussion), Bob Rush (bass, vocals), Mitchell Schecter (lead guitar, vocals), Fred Brog (guitar, vocals, keyboards) and Patrick Maley (drums, vocals). Arnie Marcus, (bongos, percussion, vocals) joined the rest of the boys onstage for many of the shows and television appearances.
Thanks to The Rip Chords' Bob Rush for his help with the accuracy of this biography.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Rich Rutkin