The Inside Story of Hang on Sloopy


On October 9, 1965 Hang On Sloopy was a number one hit for the McCoys and it was the first rock-n-roll song played by the OSU Marching Band.  OSUMB was the first Big Ten band to play rock music, and on November 20, 1985 Hang On Sloopy became the Official State Rock Song of the State of Ohio.


In 1962 five high school kids from the town of Union City, Ohio started a band called the McCoys.  Sixteen year old guitarist, Rick Zehringer (who later changed his name to Derringer), bassist Randy Hobbs, keyboardist Ronnie Brandon, and drummer Randy Zehringer were contacted by FGG productions in New York City and asked to come in and record some songs.  The third song they recorded was released on August 14, 1965 – Hang On Sloopy and it reached number one in America on October 2, 1965.  American sales alone were over one million copies. 


After more than two weeks of pestering his former percussion instructor and close friend OSUMB Director Dr. Charles Spohn, arranger John Tatgenhorst got a call one Thursday evening.  Dr. Spohn talked to John and John felt Hang on Sloopy exploited basic rock-n-roll chord patterns.  Dr. Spohn agreed and asked John to arrange the tune.  He began at 9:30 PM and after four hours of work, he was finished. The next morning he changed only one detail; he added modulation for the ending to be in the key of G flat major, while the rest of the song was in F major.  “It would only make it better,” John said, “and I figured they would only use the thing once anyway.”  The very same arrangement has been a tradition ever since.


On Saturday, October 9 at the OSU/Illinois game, the halftime show and about-to-be tradition were almost rained out.  During the second quarter, such a heavy downpour drenched the fans and the field that the band considered canceling its performance to avoid making an even muddier mess of the gridiron, which was grass.  But, Head Coach Woody  Hayes had grown to appreciate the band more than he did ten years earlier when he ordered the marchers off a soaked field during the 1955 Rose Bowl.  So the 120 band members performed before a drenched but enthusiastic crowd.  The OSUMB, in the form of a giant ballerina, stepped gracefully in the mud to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers – then suddenly began to gyrate in a wild Watusi as it played Hang On Sloopy.  The crowd went crazy. 


Before the next game, against an unbeaten Michigan State up north, a nervous Coach Hayes took an unprecedented walk to speak to the band.  With only 38 players on the bench and a mere 3,500 Buckeye fans in the Spartan stands, Hayes needed all the help he could get.  When the Buckeyes fell behind by 18 points in the second half, the band, from its seats, played Hang On Sloopy.  The call-to-rally role had been cast.  From then on, Hang On Sloopy would be a catalyst for comeback, a starting gun to celebrate a foreseeable victory, or a summons to change the status quo for the better.  Sad to say, the Buckeyes didn’t come back that afternoon, losing 32 – 7.  But they were undefeated the rest of the season.