It’s likely that most fans of oldies music remember a California-based group known as the Rip Chords, a combo that epitomized a sub-genre of rock and roll known as ‘hot rod music’ with a big hit on “Hey Little Cobra” in 1964. You might also recall that the group seemed to go through a lot of changes in a relatively short time, but did you know about the Doris Day connection?
It’s a little tricky to dig through the mangled history of the Rip Chords and try to determine exactly who performed on tour or in the studio (or even who posed for pictures), but it seems that the story started around 1957 when Ernie Bringas and Phil Stewart began singing as a duo they called the Opposites. Over the next few years a lot of changes occurred, including Bringas departing and various others coming and going, along with the adoption of a new name — the Rip Chords. The combo did some touring and made a couple of records during this period, but still didn’t really click until Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston began to take charge.
Melcher was the son of superstar Doris Day and would later work as a producer for the Byrds and many others, and Johnston was a talented musician who would later perform with the Beach Boys. At this early point in their careers, they’d already made their mark in the world of pop music by producing and performing as the duo of Bruce and Terry. Joining up with the remnants of the Rip Chords, they became part of a new and improved version of the group, one that generated the million-seller, “Hey Little Cobra.”
Unfortunately, that record would mark the high point for the Rip Chords, although the group would make a number of additional records. Most of them — like “Three Window Coupe” — sounded a lot like “Hey Little Cobra,” but that’s always been a pretty common practice in pop music, and it did turn out to be the group’s second biggest hit. But things soon slowed, and after the Rip Chords’ last charted record — a little something called “One Piece Topless Bathing Suit” — the group dissolved. (Like many others, it has been revived in recent years to entertain the nostalgia fans.)