The McCoys, "Hang On Sloopy"

The McCoys, "Hang On Sloopy"

Surely you know “Hang On Sloopy.”

A few moments after it comes on the radio, you’re probably bobbing your head and singing, “Haaaaaaaaang on, Sloopy! Sloopy, hang on!”

It’s a fun song. It’s full of hooks, grabbing your ears time after time with infectious choruses, an unstoppable beat and that frantic guitar solo. It’s played by marching bands and on classic rock radio and in some of the Midwest’s most iconic stadiums.

And everywhere, everyone hollers the chorus.

But the story of “Hang On Sloopy” is a curious one.

On its face, it seems fairly simple. An Indiana teenage band, The McCoys, cut a record, and it became a No. 1 hit.

They became famous. For a time. But the 1960s were an era pretty much owned by another group of boys with shaggy haircuts named The Beatles. “Yesterday” came along a week later and knocked it off the chart’s top spot.

But there’s more to “Sloopy” than that. The McCoys didn’t write the song. They didn’t even have the idea for it. It was, well, kind of a fluke.

The McCoys didn’t even last much longer after their big hit, but members of the band went on to do big things.

Rick Zehringer changed his name to Rick Derringer. He had a hit with “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” produced Grammy-winning records for Weird Al Yankovic and wrote Hulk Hogan’s theme song.

Derringer has quite a lengthy résumé, and he’ll play a career-spanning set at Taste of Omaha this weekend. He’s playing the main stage at Heartland of American Park at 9 p.m. Friday.

Before he came to Omaha, Derringer told us his version of the “Hang On Sloopy” story.

Back in 1965, he was a 17-year-old kid playing in a little band called Rick and the Raiders.

At an Indiana show, Derringer’s band opened for another band called The Strangeloves, and acted as their backing band, too.

“My band was into all kinds of music,” Derringer told The World-Herald. “We just wanted to be a good band. We played soul music and blues and all kinds of stuff.”

The Strangeloves were Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer, three songwriters who had a No. 1 hit with The Angels’ 1963 song “My Boyfriend’s Back.” They wanted more, so they formed The Strangeloves and claimed they were really shepherds from Australia. They scored another hit with “I Want Candy,” but they wanted more.

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They started toying around with The Vibrations’ song “My Girl Sloopy,” rearranging it, altering the lyrics and adding a new verse.

The Strangeloves played the song at a show they headlined with the Dave Clark Five, who heard the song and loved it. They told The Strangeloves they were going to record it and release it as a single.

The Strangeloves didn’t write the song, didn’t own the song and couldn’t do anything about it.

They also couldn’t cut the single before the Dave Clark Five because “I Want Candy” was still a hit.

And that’s where the McCoys came in. The Strangeloves realized they could nab another hit by getting these kids to record the rearranged song.

“ ‘Would you guys be able to learn it?’ ” Derringer remembers being asked. “We said, ‘We already know that song.’ Not only did we have our Beatle suits on, we also knew ‘Hang On Sloopy.’ It was a fabulous thing.”

The Strangeloves brought the band to New York — after asking their parents’ permission, of course.

“The next day, my parents and the rest of the McCoys, who were all younger than me, drove to New York City, and within a couple days recorded that song,” Derringer said.

When you consider that Derringer was only a teenager when he recorded “Hang On Sloopy,” his performance seems masterful. On the first verse, Derringer delivers a smooth vocal, but as the song evolves, he hits it so earnestly, his voice seems to strain, turning the track from a bubblegum pop track into something approaching garage rock.

It was a massive hit, and their version of the song has been covered numerous times. Derringer still plays it in his live show.

It was the beginning of a long music career for Derringer.

He had planned to become an architect, and he was prepared to stay in Ohio for school.

“My parents never thought that I’d be able to make a living playing music,” Derringer said. “But instead of going to school, I went to New York City to do what my parents dreamed was impossible.”

The McCoys continued to cut records, but they broke up in 1969. Derringer played with Johnny Winter and then his brother Edgar. Then Steely Dan, Weird Al, Barbra Streisand and Cyndi Lauper. Few music fans probably know that Derringer played guitar parts on numerous songs, including “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

But “Hang On Sloopy” has endured, in part, due to its connection to Ohio State University, whose bands have been performing the song at Buckeye sporting events since 1965.

Derringer, who is from Ohio, is proud of the connection.

“It’s the official state rock ’n’ roll song,” he said.