The classic Coasters in 1959
THE ORIGINAL COASTERS
The Coasters deserve their place in music history. They have existed for more than 50 years. The men who constituted the original foursome, and those who joined those hoodlum friends during the illustrious and adventurous career of the group, were all hand-chosen professional performers, who debuted during the early years of rhythm & blues. All of them contributed to the emerging of original rock´n´roll. Each and every member is (or was) an exciting individual, despite the fact that many of their hit records were sung in unison. The Coasters are probably the most qualitative vocal group in modern music. Alongside the Platters and the Drifters they certainly were the most famous "harmonizers" during the original era of rock´n´roll. At times, they even outsold their colleagues. The Coasters - with the guidance of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller - waxed some of the best rock ´n´ roll records ever produced; the lyrics, the music, the rhythm, the sound, the technique, the fun....
Shaw summarized the Coasters´ enormous prominence in his book "The
Rockin´ 50s" (Plenum Publ., 1974):
"If rock´n´roll had produced nothing but the Coasters and Leiber and Stoller, it would still have commanded attention as the sound embodiment of a time and generation. They reflected the world of the young with understanding, good humor, and social insight. This was rock´n´roll at its best - ebullient, energizing, entertaining, expressive, and danceable..."
"You are about to read how two Jewish teenagers
from the North-East and a number of black singers from the South met up in Los Angeles and
began to change the world of music beyond recognition.... "Searchin´"
.. was on the popular best-selling record charts for over six months, a term which, among
rock ´n´ roll hits, was surpassed by less than half a dozen records. Incredibly, "Young
Blood", the reverse of "Searchin´" was among
them. ... The world wide popularity of "Yakety Yak" and "Charlie
Brown" guaranteed The Coasters a permanent shrine in rock ´n´ roll´s Hall
of Fame. Had they never entered a recording studio again they would have remained an
institution on the strength of these two enormous hits. Any other vocal group would have
followed a couple of timeless classics with a slew of records whose artistic qualities
gradually diminished. The Coasters made a number of subsequent records at least as good as
"Yakety Yak" including three, "Poison Ivy",
"Shoppin´ For Clothes", and "Little Egypt",
which brought vocal group productions to increasingly dazzling new heights."
Bill Millar, 1975 ("The Coasters", Star Books).
Lester Sill... took us back to Modern and this time made sure we met the Bihari
brothers, who also invited their ace singing group, the Robins, to hear our
stuff. We let loose with something we had just written, a different take on the
Bible than what I'd studied at Hebrew shool... The Robins dug our new creation
myth and cut ' That's What The Good Book Says' a month later. It came out in
early 1951. A real record. Our very first, with our names on it, although
misspelled... Stoller: We had our first record and, believe it or not, within a
month we had our second (Jimmy Witherspoon's live-recorded 'Real Ugly Woman';
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (with David Ritz), 2009 ("Hound Dog - The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography").
"Atco Records, subsidiary label of Atlantic Records, added to its talent roster this week with the signing of a new vocal group, the Coasters. Deal was made by Lester Sill as a result of the recently negotiated lease arrangement between the now defunct Spark label and Atlantic. Group is composed of two members formerly with the Robins, Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn, in addition to Billy Guy and Leon Hughes. First record ... is being rushed into release...."
"...Atco 6064 -
Here´s a new and definitely swinging crew and they deliver a couple of highly recommended
sides. "Down in Mexico" is a fetching ditty which is very close
to "Smokey Joe´s Cafe". This group carries the lead and bass
singer from the Robins unit which recorded the "Smoke" side. On
the flip the boys score again with a catchy rhythm side. Both have plenty of staying power
and should move well (the record became a minor R&B hit and a so called ´sleeper´, -
the follow-up, "One Kiss Led To Another", became the Coasters´
first Pop charter. The group hit the road during most of 1956 and didn´t return to a
recording studio for thirteen months; ed.mark)."
The Billboard, February 25, 1956.
"...Atco 6087 - The
group has a swingy, attractive side in "Young Blood" which is
bound to pull considerable jockey attention. The rhythm-ballad has powerful lyric appeal
for teen-agers, and standout trick-voicing effects. Flip is "Searchin´"..."
The Billboard, March 27, 1957.
".. "Searchin´" had a pounding rhythm
from an ´alley´ piano style - essentially two bass notes, played alternately on every
second beat - and with a raw vocal from the group´s baritone, Billy Guy, and suitably
rough support from the rest of the group, was one of the greatest of all rock ´n ´roll
hits... "Young Blood", a view of street corner society,...
introduced in its arrangement a technique that Leiber and Stoller subsequently used in
most of the Coasters´ songs, one of breaking up the rhythm by having the music stop and
the bass singer speak a line in a deep, ´fool´ voice."
Charlie Gillett, 1970 ("The Sound of the City").
was the No. 1 Rhythm & Blues record of 1957, according to the Cash Box end-of-year
recap, with its wonderful flip. In fact "Young Blood" was the
original A-side and a hit in the first months of issue and also a juke box favorite. This
double-sider was Atlantic Records´ first million-seller ever and established the firm as
the most important independent record company in America
(Theresa made it possible for me
to publish my first Coasters´ discography in 1963 in New Musical Express or was it New
Theresa Garthson, Atlantic Recording Corp., 1963 (letter to the editor).
celebrated their tenth anniversary (1957) in grand style, as the Coasters brought the
label its biggest hit to date... (The Coasters were awarded a double-golden record for
"Searchin" / "Young Blood" on the Steve Allen TV show in August; ed.
Big Al Pavlow, 1983 ("The R&B Book - A Disc History of Rhythm & Blues").
"The Coasters always call to mind a
tag line from a record of theirs: "There´s A Riot Going On".
They certainly are a riot: on stage or on records they are one of the most amusing acts in
show-business. The originality of their handling of folk humor has no present-day
parallel.... Lester Sill, the group´s manager, formed The Coasters in October, 1955. The
members of the quartet then ....: Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Bobby Nunn and Leon Hughes.
Their guitarist, Adolph Jacobs, was added a little later. Sill baptized the foursome The
Coasters to give them some identification with the West Coast, where all of them had their
homes.... An important factor in the success of The Coasters is their close association
with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the songwriting team responsible for so many of the
biggest hits in the "big beat" idiom... From the beginning, almost all of The
Coasters´ material has been written especially for them by Leiber and Stoller, who also
mapped out arrangements for The Coasters´ record dates and provided general artistic
Gary Kramer, 1957 (from the cover of Atco LP 33-101).
"Stationed in New York, The Coasters´ most famous line-up still consisted of west-coasters: Gardner, Guy, Cornell Gunter, second tenor, and Will "Dub" Jones, bass (Leiber-Stoller decided to bring the group to the "Big Apple", where "it´s at"; later members were recruited from New York; ed. mark)."
Billy Guy was the comic. He had great timing and loved to play the country yokel.
In real life, he was city-sharp and super-hip. Leiber: Carl Gardner,.. had an
exquisite tenor voice.. Stoller: a great lead singer ... Dub had one of the
great bass voices... Some bass singers have mer volume; but Dub had both
resonance and subtlety. He was an artist... In 1958, we developed a new approach
to the Coasters' records. A duet lead featuring Carl and Billy."
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (with David Ritz), 2009 ("Hound Dog - The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography").
"All the trade journals have referred to the quartet as one of the most amusing acts in the business. Each of The Coasters is a good entertainer and a good musician, and together they have earned one of the brightest spots in the pop music picture in the last three years... "I knew that in order to create a first-rate foursome", (Lester) Sill reports, "I´d have to enlist four first-rate singers... As far as I´m concerned, the group turned out better than I ever hoped or thought possible!".."
"Leiber-Stoller.. used every individual singers´ voice at the maximum effect, when recording the Coasters.."
"When The Coasters moved to New York in 1958 their music changed from heavy ghetto blues to teenage rock and roll, still maintaining the highest quality, with outstanding lyrical humor.... The well-trained stage shows influenced all further groups. ... they became favorites all over the world with several hits on all continents."
"... the spirit of high comedy with which Leiber and Stoller imbued Coasters recordings remained. R & B was seldom more artful (referring to the move to N.Y.; ed. mark)."
"The Coasters, who had a tremendous year in ´58, as evidenced by their Cash Box award winning "Yakety Yak", start off ´59 with what looks like another two-market chart topper. Tagged "Charlie Brown", it´s a tantalizing, two-tempo (alternating between a slow thump and a quick beat) that the crew works over in hilarious fashion....."
"No other rhythm and blues act of the 1950s better captured the rebellious spirit of teenaged America, with the possible exception of Chuck Berry."
"The arrangements of
these records (the Coasters´ Atco recordings; ed. mark) used the differing character of
each singer´s voice to full effect around a catchy guitar figure.. or a fruity sax break
(mostly by King Curtis, born in Forth Worth, Texas in 1934; ed. mark). The production...
was far superior to any contemporary group efforts; and the lyrics, humorous cameos, each
neatly deriding an aspect of teenage and/or black ghetto life, were more adventurous than
most other popular songs. In short, they were a unique series of statements influencing
many other groups... and yet never bettered. Hilarious stage routines worked out for each
song ensured that they were as entertaining in person as on record..."
Phil Hardy & Dave Laing, editors, 1977 ("Encyclopedia of Rock").
".. the best of the records produced by
Leiber and Stoller in their "playlet" style... by the Coasters... were as
tightly plotted and paced, and as relentlessly rehearsed, as any evening in the
theater... were making rock and roll records with the most sophisticated and
Robert Palmer, 1995 ("Rock & Roll - an unruly history").
Coasters, that legendary vocal quartet who added a large dose of fun to the classic era of
rock ´n ´ roll... Hits poured forth combining the magical ingredients: group vocals led
by Gardner´s earthy good-humored tenor, contrasted by Jones´ rumbling bass, on inventive
Leiber/Stoller lyrics punctuated by King Curtis´s raunchy tenorsax solos and embellished
by Mickey Baker´s catchy guitar phrases."
Mike Clifford, consultant, 1982 ("The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black Music").
received their first gold record for a national million seller, "Searchin´",
at the Steve Allen TV-show in August of 1957. Dick Clark, on his TV-show, presented them
their second million seller award for "Yakety Yak" in 1958.
"Charlie Brown" and "Poison Ivy"
were national million sellers in 1959. Since the revival of original rock ´n´ roll, the
Coasters have received two further gold records for "Along Came Jones"
and "Young Blood". (The award for "Searchin´" was a
double golden record with "Young Blood" and "Seartchin´" on a
double-platter; ed. mark). In 1987 the Coasters were the first vocal group to be inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
Veta Gardner, 1992 (unpublished interview with the editor).
"Showbusiness hasn´t ever seen a vocal group
quite like The Coasters. True other groups have had million-record sellers, have commanded
big fees for TV and nightclub appearances, and have built up a devoted following of fans.
The Coasters occupy a special niche, however. Their style and approach are really not in
competition with anyone else. They are in a class all their own."
Ira Howard, 1959 (from the cover of Atco LP 33-111).
wisdom has it that rock´n´roll was dying on its feet during the period between Buddy
Holly´s death and The Beatles´ invasion of the USA. However, the music that came out
during this time the first rumblings of Berry Gordy and Motown, the infectious New
Orleans rhythms of The Showmen and Huey ´Piano´ Smith, and especially the comedy of The
Coasters was perhaps more joyous and more intensely rhythmic than anything by
Elvis, Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly. The neglect of this music is perhaps down to
subconscious racism, but probably has more to do with the fact that this music was
producer´s music par excellence, lacking an even remotely iconic presence. Nowhere is
this more apparent than with the remarkable Coasters
. "Yakety Yak"
(1958) justly went straight to the top of the American charts on its release and has since
become one of the classic rock´n´roll songs. The lyric itself was hilarious but it was
Nunn´s basso (in fact Jones´, ed..mark) profundo ´Don´t talk back´
and King Curtis´ sax solo that made the song. This sax embodied the rock´n´ roll horn
sound and would reappear on "Charlie Brown" (1959), the utterly
bizarre "Along Came Jones" (1959), whose rhythm was based on a
banjo riff, and "That Is Rock & Roll" (1959), which was
also based on a banjo (Leiber-Stoller used banjo rhythms on several more of the Coasters´
successful titles, ed. mark)."
Peter Shapiro, 1996 ("The Rough Guide to Rock").
fierce drilling, the Coasters sang as if they could scarcely contain their glee
and might at any moment burst, like George Barnes, into gales of laughter... ´Next
time this group is in town, you got to let me know. I don't want to ever miss
one of their dates'. Barnes phoned (Tom) Dowd monthly, asking when he could play
with the Coasters again."
Ken Emerson, 2005 ("Always Magic in The Air").
will have the unusual experience of discovering that each of The Coasters is a highly
individual stylist - each different from the other."
Paul Ackerman, 1960 (from the cover of Atco LP 33-123).
"In Carl Gardner and Will ´Dub´ Jones the Coasters had two of the most dominant vocal personalities of the early R&B groups. Gardner in particular always rose to the occasion - he could be swinging, loose and bemused, or he could be brooding, and deliver his vocals in a tremulous voice that suggested anything but good times ahead (in the last remark probably unknowingly referring to Billy Guy, ed. mark)."
"Yakety Yak", "Along Came Jones" and
"Idol With The Golden Head" are as entertaining today as
Barry Hansen (Jim Miller,ed.), 1976 ("The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll").
" "We used humor to take off the edge," explains Leiber. "We´d have the Coasters in hysterics. After reading the lyrics, Billy Guy would predict, ´Man, they´re gonna hang us in Mississippi from the highest tree.´ The material was potent, the matphors sometimes hidden, but the hook always dramatic. As actors the Coasters should have won Oscars." Leiber had a flair for theatrics. In fact, in another era, he could have made some fantastic white-boy rhythm and blues on his own. The demos, on which he sang lead, were terrific (just listen to "Shake ´Em Up And Let ´Em Roll"; ed. mark). He had a great growl of a voice, and it´s clear that Billy Guy, his black surrogate, was his musical alter ego."
"Too old, even then,
to be considered a rock ´n´ roll group and yet with too many white, teenage fans to be
considered an R&B outfit, The Coasters fall into the rather small category of
vaudevillians who also made rock ´n´ roll records. They were the cast of Leiber &
Stoller´s self-described ´playlets´, hand-chosen because of their individual abilities
as comedians. To play guitar for them as I did dozens of times 30 years ago, was like a
post-graduate course in show biz. Their impeccable comic timing, their use of costumes,
and their ability to create and commit to characters set them apart in an era when
so-called ´acts´ were becoming little more than people who happened to make a hit
Billy Vera, 1994 (from the booklet of Rhino 6-CD-set R2 71808 "The R&B Box").
"They were among
the first black singing groups to truly cross over and be considered a rock &
roll act, and their catalogue includes not only their famous humorous hit
singles, but social protest, one of the first great rock anthems... and a wealth
of future cover hits..."
Holly George-Warren & Patricia Romanowski (editors), 1983, 1995, 2001 ("The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll").
"The Coasters are still cooking. You can´t keep a good group down."
"... the subtle
interplay between the four voices supported by the superfine instrumental tracks can yield
something new at every listening. The group may have been Leiber and Stoller´s brainchild
but they brought a genuine flair for timeless comedy to their work which has helped it to
survive these many years."
Colin Escott, 1985 (on the cover of Edsel LP ED 156).
THE RESURRECTION COASTERS
found that it had been long enough for the public to still easily remember the Coasters´
group name and songs, but not the faces. This made it extremely easy for fake groups of
Coasters to work rather steadily. So Veta wisely decided to place large full page ads with
photos in all the major trade magazines, to just let people know that we were not at all
dead. That we were very alive, available, and able to perform. Suddenly the phone started
to ring off the hook. Veta further launched a huge written publicity campaign to revive
our singing career..."
Carl Gardner, remembering 1986 - and Veta Gardner´s entrance in his life in Mount Vernon, north of the Bronx
(from the manuscript of chapter 9 of his biography "Yakety Yak - I Fought Back"; the book is published in July, 2007).
The Coasters in Texas in 1993 - Photo: Veta
Ronnie Bright, Carl Gardner, and Jimmy Norman in
1988 and in 1994 (Florida and Georgia).
Stoller reached their early zeniths with the Coasters. They charted twenty-four
times with their pet project, which personified the playlets -
two-and-a-half-minute musical radio plays. The Coasters were a group of
vaudevillians, tummlers, comedians to boot, and comedians receive sustenance in
delicatessens. 'They ate white food, pastrami sandwiches, never ribs and
cornbread,' says Jerry (Leiber, ed.note). 'In fact, ordering pastrami was the
secret of their success'. Fifty years later, the following songs are still on
the tip of everyones tounge: 'Charlie Brown', 'Yakety Yak', 'Little Egypt', 'Poison
Ivy', 'Along Came Jones', 'Searchin' ', and 'Young Blood'. Even though the
brilliant 'Down Home Girl' and 'D.W. Washburn' were covered by the Stones and
the Monkees, respectively, it's the lesser-known tracks that are the most
fascinating today: 'Shopping for Clothes', 'The Slime', 'Idol with the Golden Head', 'Run Red Run', 'The Shadow Knows', 'Three Cool Cats', 'Bad Blood', ' Wake
Me, Shake Me', 'Down in Mexico', 'Turtle Dovin' ', and 'Soul Pad' ".
Josh Alan Friedman interviewing Jerry Leiber in 2007 ("Tell The Truth Until They Bleed", 2008).
"They were great comedians, but they were also the most musically accomplished vocal group
of the '50s. Their ensemble precision cuts the Moonglows, even the Clovers, obviating the
need for a takeover guy like Frankie Lymon or James Brown. Credit tenor Carl Gardner,
baritone Billy Guy, and bass men Dub Jones and Bobby Nunn, but grant authorship to Jerry
Leiber and Mike Stoller, control freaks among Atlantic's mere perfectionists--Stoller used
to write King Curtis's sax breaks, for God's sake. Leiber takes off from Louis Jordan no
less than Chuck Berry does; though his hyperrealism is more calculated, he brings the same
bemused, admiring outsider's eye to the details and universals of black urban life that
Berry brought to bobbysoxers. And Stoller's piano is invariably the best thing on records
that get the most out of musicians as diverse as Barney Kessel, Mickey Baker, Willie
Dixon, Panama Francis, and a young guitarist named Phil Spector, who would live to take
what he learned here too far. A+"
Robert Christgau, review of "50 Coastin' Classics" (Rhino), 1992.
"Will "Dub" Jones, the floor-rumbling bass voice of The Coasters, whose
deadpan reading of the immortal line "Why's everybody always pickin' on me"
enlivened the group's 1959 Jerry Leiber/MikeStollerpenned and produced smash
"Charlie Brown," died Jan. 16, 2000, in Long Beach, Calif., at age
71." (Jones, who left The Coasters in the late 1960s, had sporadically acted
with off-shoot Coasters groups featuring Billy Guy in California during the late
1970s and early 1980s; ed.mark).
Bill Dahl, Goldmine magazine, 2000 (obituary).
"... But there were just
four hitmaking Coasters from 1957 (1958; ed.note) to 1961: Carl
Gardner, Billy Guy, Cornel Gunter, and Dub Jones. Only Gardner is still
alive, and only Gardner has left a substantial record--an unpublished
autobiography. But the others are clear enough in outline. Bass man
Jones was shy and religious yet made for comedy. He first displayed his
depth with the Cadets, who anticipated the Coasters' shtick with the
1956 novelty "Stranded in the Jungle," a James Johnson-Ernestine Smith
composition recommended to students of racial stereotyping. Jones quit
in 1967 after he contracted fear of flying and was replaced by the title
character in Johnny Cymbal's "Mr. Bass Man," Ronnie Bright. Texan-born
Guy teamed with a Chicano partner in a successful L.A. comic duo called
Bip and Bop when he was just 18, and was enlisted by Gardner, who knew
him from the block. Endowed with timing and imagination as well as that
baritone, he often devised his own deliveries, adapting or overruling
Leiber. By the time he got spooked by the same airplane incident as
Jones, he'd made several solo stabs, and for a while he reportedly
earned a living doing blue material in Vegas lounges. Cornel Gunter was
an out gay who was built like a prize fighter and served as the Coasters'
muscle when things got rough on the road. As the group's best-trained
singer, he often corrected the others when they forgot their harmonies,
and eventually wrote some voicings himself--on "Shoppin' for Clothes,"
for instance. He left to back Dinah Washington in 1961 and after she
fired him formed the first fake Coasters. Gunter was a notorious liar.
No one knows why he was shot to death in Las Vegas in 1990. As with most
musicians, the bulk of the Coasters' niggardly income came in on the
road, where their comic polish was hell to follow. Leiber and Stoller
never witnessed a Coasters show until well into the '60s and contributed
nothing to their routines, which Guy and Gunter usually invented. Not
very puppetlike. This wasn't a George Martin-Beatles or Quincy
Jones-Michael Jackson situation where the operator with the educated
line of patter gets credit for the genius of his social inferiors.
Leiber and Stoller were the creators here. The group was their concept,
the members their material; Stoller's piano was the lynchpin of the
Coasters' superb interracial bands. But even in the studio Guy and
Gunter were collaborators, not stooges. And Guy and Gunter weren't the
guys with the big ideas--Carl Gardner was."
as told by Carl Gardner, leader and founder - written by Veta Gardner.
Those Hoodlum Friends - The Coasters
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