On Monday night you can see The Coasters at the
Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.
Or you could see The Coasters at the Georgia National
Fair in Perry, Ga., or at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in
How can one band be in three places on the same date?
Have members mastered time travel or perfected cloning?
If you ask Veta Gardner it's actually much less
scientific than that, more of a good old-fashioned
There's actually only one "true" Coasters show,
according to the Coasters manager and wife of Coasters'
founder, Carl Gardner. And it isn't any of the above.
"We're going to be in Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Oct. 6, but
(there's no show) Oct. 8," Gardner said in a phone
interview from her Florida home.
But producers of the Fort Collins and Las Vegas shows
say their productions are just as legitimate.
By law, New York promoter Larry Marshak owns the
rights to "Cornell Gunter's Coasters" and has for almost
20 years, said Mick Scully, with the show's agent
Capitol International Productions.
And in a business that's often a game of musical
chairs of current and former group members (and their
surviving family members), there's usually no one person
who can make that claim, Scully said.
"I'm sure you've heard of the Glenn Miller
Orchestra?" he asked. "They still perform and he's been
dead for more than 50 years."
Scully also refers to groups such as the Beach Boys,
which he represents, that has only one original member,
"When we send (an information) sheet to our buyers
recommending the show we say, 'The names have changed
but the music is the same.' Nobody cares because it's
about the music," he said.
But it's not quite the same, said Gardner, who, along
with her husband, has been fighting, what she calls
"fraud Coasters" since 1990.
They get around the trademark name by billing
themselves as "Billy Guy's Coasters" or "Cornell
Gunter's Coasters" - the group performing in Fort
Collins along with The Platters and The Temptations,
Playing by the law
But legally, at least in Gardner’s case, the law is
on the promoter’s side.
Cornell Gunter, who was a member of The Coasters from
1958 to 1961, was shot and killed in 1990 in Las Vegas.
Gunter’s sister sold the rights to the name Cornell
Gunter’s Coasters soon after his death. Now the vocal
groups — there are several that perform under the same
name at the same time — play hundreds of shows each year
around the nation.
According to a 2001 federal court decision, Carl and
Veta Gardner are the sole shareholders of The Original
Coasters name. But the ruling also stipulated that they
hold no rights to the trademark “Cornell Gunter’s
Gardner, who has spent hundreds of thousands of
dollars fighting fake Coasters, asserts that the
agreement, which bears her signature and Carl’s, was
made through error and bad advice and, as is also stated
in the decision, the couple did not have an attorney at
that time to aid in their case.
Diluting the name
Gardner, and several members of the Vocal Hall of
Fame’s Truth in Music Committee, argues diluted groups
like this only dupe fans into thinking they are buying
tickets for the real deal.
Gardner admitted, however, that their Coasters also
no longer contain any original Coasters. Carl Gardner
retired after suffering a stroke in 2004. His son, Carl
Gardner Jr., now sings in his father’s place, as do two
former members who recorded with the group and help
maintain the group’s original style.
“What’s often done is these companies look for a
member of the group from 50 years ago who died 30 years
ago, and then they buy a so-called license to the name,”
said Jon Bauman, better known as “Bowzer” formerly of
the vocal group Sha Na Na, and chairman of the Vocal
Music Hall of Fame’s Truth in Music Committee. “What
they’re going to have to do under the Truth in Music Act
is prove that their license is worth the paper it’s
The Truth in Music bill states that band names cannot
be used unless the group on stage contains at least one
recording member, or has a valid, federally registered
trademark for the group name. Barring these things, a
performance must be clearly advertised as a tribute or a
The bill has passed in 18 states, including New York
and Florida, and the committee is seeking sponsorship of
the bill in Colorado.
“Events like this emphasize the need for the Truth in
Music law in Colorado,” said Bauman, adding that the act
is not out to get the venues that host the shows, but to
stop fraudulent groups and the promoters who are
knowingly sponsoring them. “The venue itself is often a
victim,” he added.
Susan Herlihy, public relations coordinator for the
Lincoln Center, said the center always checks the acts
before booking them.
“We are very careful to only bring in licensed acts
from promoters that we have a good history with,” she
And at the time the show was booked by the Lincoln
Center, all of the acts had licenses — until last month.
Originally the Fort Collins and Greeley shows — the
tour heads to the Union Colony Civic Center on Oct. 13 —
included the Elsbeary Hobbs Drifters.
But recently agent Capitol International Productions
pulled the Elsbeary Hobbs Drifters from the bill after
promoter Larry Marshak, who laid claim to the trademark,
was found in contempt of a 2001 court order barring him
from using the name.
Hobbs was a member of The Drifters from 1958 to 1960
and died from lung cancer in 1996. Marshak’s attorneys
are challenging the judgment.
To fill the slot, the promoters brought in The
Temptations Reunion Show — featuring former Temptations
lead singers Glen Leonard and Ali Woodson, but not
original member Otis Williams, who also still performs
with his group, “The Temptations.”
The venues love the shows because they are cheap and
bring in tons of people, Scully said. Audiences and
critics love the shows because they are entertaining.
The shows are cheap, Gardner agreed. That’s the
problem, she said adding: Why pay The Coasters $10,000
when a venue can get a knock-off version for $3,500?
“Agents love these kinds of shows because many of
them are really tribute shows in sheep’s clothing,”
Bauman said. “They can charge outrageous prices for them
as they pretend to be the original group. … Tribute
shows are a much lesser commodity. There’s nothing wrong
with them but they need to be clearly advertised.”
That doesn’t give audiences much credit, Scully said.
It’s just like a production of “The Producers,” which
is playing in dozens of cities at the same time with
different actors other than the Broadway cast, he said.
These audiences know they aren’t seeing the original
band members; they’re there for the music.
But Bauman isn’t buying that and he’s willing to bet
consumers aren’t either.
“The audience is outraged once they know,” he said.
“The authentic performers are outraged and destitute,
and it’s their jobs being taken away. They want to work
and can’t because their prices are being undercut.
“Truth in Music is finally ending the impostor group
nightmare in which consumers are duped out of their
hard-earned entertainment dollars and the authentic
pioneers whose music changed the world are cheated of
their just remuneration and, what’s worse, their
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