Rick Derringer (born Richard Zehringer in 1947) is an American singer and guitarist, specializing on classic rock and its several branches (including blues and Christian rock). He was a former member of The 1960s group The McCoys, which he was the founder and leader. The band would score a #1 hit with “Hang On Sloopy” in the summer of 1965. As a solo artist, Derringer released his debut album All American Boy during the 70s music era which spawned the Top 40 single “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” which is now a sought-after song among oldies music circles. He also gave a new rendition to “Hang On Sloopy” by his former band, ten years after the first original McCoy single came out. All in all, he has made nineteen studio albums, two compilation albums (including Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo: The Best Of Rick Derringer) and seven live albums to date.
Derringer’s early life and his stint with the McCoys
Guitarist, singer-songwriter and Grammy Award-winning producer Rick Derringer was born Richard Zehringer (or Ricky Dean Zehringer) in Fort Recovery, Ohio on August 5, 1947. In 1965 he and his band The McCoys recorded and released a song titled “Hang on Sloopy,” actually their cover of the Vibrations original. It became the #1 song on the US chart for a time just before the Beatles’ “Yesterday” dislodged it from the top chart position. “Hang on Sloopy” was released on Bang Records, whose logo featured a derringer pistol. This was where Zehringer took his stage moniker.
After trying out few more names, the band reverted back to McCoys. They later opened for The Rolling Stones in the entirety of the band’s American tour in 1966, which gave them the exposure they needed. However, they weren’t able to get past their bubblegum image.
Derringer and his hit “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”
Derringer also became a member of Johnny Winter’s band “Johnny Winter And…” as well as Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Edgar Winter Group formed by Johnny’s brother Edgar.
During that time Derringer also launched a solo career. He released a single that he wrote, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” Released on Blue Sky imprint, it reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. The single’s album All American Boy, which was also Derringer’s debut LP, peaked at #25 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
“Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” was Derringer’s big hit, but it would also be the last. His other singles only etched out minor positions on the Billboard Hot 100 – “Teenage Love Affair” (#80), his own version of “Hang on Sloopy” (#94), and “Let Me In” (#86).
Derringer also founded his own touring band, simply called Derringer.
Derringer’s later career, and the impact of “Hang on Sloopy”
Although Derringer’s record sales didn’t do quite well, Derringer remained a very popular live act. He went on to do about 200 shows a year.
Derringer’s career has also been marked by production work. Especially in the late 1970s and the 1980s he spent a large portion of his career in producing. He worked with many artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Meat Loaf, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Weird Al Yankovic, among many others.
Derringer has also played “Hang on Sloopy” a lot of times in his live shows, especially in his performance with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band in November 2011. Even when he has mellowed, Derringer is still pretty much active. He even experimented with jazz in his 2002 album Free Ride.
“Hang on Sloopy” remains the most popular song in Derringer’s recording history (as a member of The McCoys). It has been covered a lot of times by many musicians including Little Caesars and the Consuls, The Lettermen, The Sandpipers, The Ramsey Lewis Trio and Derringer himself. The Ramsey Lewis Trio’s version became a Top 20 pop hit and Top 10 R&B smash. “Hang on Sloopy” was even made as the official state song in Ohio in 1985, another testament of its popularity.