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The Coasters  -   Printer-Friendly
Summary   |  Biography  |  Singles & LPs   |  CD Discography  |  Session Discography
Chart Hits  |  Singles with leads  |  Time-Line  |  Line-Ups   |  The Robins  |  Coasters Off-Shots

The Golden ´50s
  |  The Coasters Web Site 


The classic Coasters (1958).

Download the Best Parts of
The Coasters in the recording studios 1960. Billy Guy, Willl Jones, Carl Gardner, and Cornell Gunter.
with lots of images and quick-search

Please note that the pdf-file is
re-edited and up-dated
with all the latest known information!
All you need is Adobe Reader (free download 8.1)

New! pdf, The Clown Princes  supplement to above

The Coasters Web Site      The classic Coasters: Billy Guy, Will Jones, Carl Gardner, and Cornell Guntrer (1960).
The Coasters - A Summary

The Coasters are one of the few artists in rock history to successfully straddle the line between music and comedy. Their undeniably funny lyrics and on-stage antics might have suggested a simple troupe of clowns, but Coasters records are no mere novelties -- their material, supplied by the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, is too witty, their arrangements too well-crafted, and the group itself too musically proficient. That engaging and infectious combination made them one of the most popular early R&B/rock & roll acts, as well as one of the most consistently entertaining doo wop/vocal groups of all time.

The Coasters grew out of a successful Los Angeles doo wop group called the Robins, which had been recording since 1949 and working with Leiber & Stoller since 1953. Atlantic Records acquired the Robins in 1955, when the Leiber & Stoller composition "Smokey Joe's Cafe" was becoming too big a hit for their small Spark label to handle; its success scored the duo an independent contract with Atlantic as producers and composers. Amid uncertainties over their new major-label arrangement, the Robins split up that fall; lead tenor Carl Gardner (a more recent addition) and bass Bobby Nunn formed a new group, the Coasters (named for their West Coast base), which maintained the Leiber & Stoller association -- an extremely wise move. The initial Coasters lineup was completed by baritone Billy Guy (a gifted comic vocalist) and second tenor Leon Hughes, with guitarist Adolph Jacobs figuring prominently on their recordings through 1959. Their first single, "Down in Mexico," became a Top Ten R&B hit in 1956, epitomizing the sort of humorous story-song Leiber & Stoller were perfecting. The Coasters hit again in 1957 with the double-sided smash "Young Blood"/"Searchin'," both sides of which reached the pop Top Ten. The follow-ups weren't as successful, and it was decided that both the group and Leiber & Stoller would move their operations to New York, where Atlantic was based. As a result, Nunn and Hughes left the group in late 1957, to be replaced respectively by bass Will "Dub" Jones (ex-Cadets, of "Stranded in the Jungle" fame) and second tenor Obie Jessie (who only substituted for Hughes on the "Young Blood" session), then Cornell Gunter (ex-Flairs).

The Coasters' first recording in New York was 1958's "Yakety Yak," which featured King Curtis on tenor sax. Its witty, slice-of-life lyrics about a teenager being hassled by his parents struck a resounding chord, and "Yakety Yak" became the Coasters' first number-one pop hit that summer, topping the R&B charts as well. "Charlie Brown," which cast Jones in the title role of class clown (and immortalized him with the catch-phrase, "why's everybody always pickin' on me?"), hit number two on both the pop and R&B charts in 1959, firmly establishing the Coasters' widespread crossover appeal. More hits followed: the Western-themed "Along Came Jones," "Poison Ivy," "Shoppin' for Clothes," and the group's final Top 30 hit, 1961's burlesque-dancer tribute "Little Egypt."

Following "Little Egypt," Gunter departed, to be replaced by Earl "Speedo" Carroll (of the Cadillacs). Other personnel shifts ensued over the next few years, especially as the hits dried up; even more discouragingly, Leiber & Stoller left Atlantic in 1963. The Coasters parted ways with Atlantic in early 1966, signing with Columbia's Date subsidiary and reuniting with Leiber & Stoller for a time (recording among others "D.W. Washburn"). Although they charted several times, no more hits were forthcoming, given the radically different musical climate; their last chart single was a 1971 cover of "Love Potion Number Nine" (by which time Gardner was the only remaining original member, now supplemented by Jimmy Norman, Earl Carroll, new bass Ronnie Bright, and guitarist Thomas "Curley" Palmer). Since then, numerous different Coasters lineups have toured the oldies circuit (and also have recorded revivals as "The Coasters"); Gardner's holds the legal claim to legitimacy, but Gunter, Guy, Jones, Nunn, and Hughes all led differing lineups at one point or another (as did remnants of their groups after Nunn´s and Gunter´s deaths). Nunn died of a heart attack in 1986, one year before the Coasters became the first vocal group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gunter was murdered in Las Vegas in 1990. Jones passed away in early 2000 and Billy Guy died in November 2002.
All Music Guide, Steve Huey
- slightly edited by Claus Röhnisch (April 18, 2003).

The Coasters of Today. Frl:  Bright, Morse, Lance, Palmer and center front Gardner,


    presented by Claus Röhnisch

"Those Hoodlum Friends"
- "
The Clown Princes of Rock ´N´ Roll" - the pre-eminent vocal group of the original rock ´n´ roll era, and the first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Originated from the Robins - an R&B vocal group from Los Angeles, who had conquered California since 1949 - and had worked with the young composing/producing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during 1954-55 -  when Leiber-Stoller together with manager Lester Sill in September of 1955 decided to launch a professional group in L.A. for Atlantic´s new subsidiary Atco. The two fore-most lead singers (tenor and bass of the Robins) were completed with two new hand-chosen vocalists on the first Coasters records, but the original Coasters line-up only lasted for a couple of years until they re-formed (still with Californians) and moved to New York. They used the best musicians on recordings (especially King Curtis on sax from 1958) and reached international fame in 1959. The group was Leiber-Stoller´s favorite vehicle for their 2-minute play-lets and the group worked with them 1954 - 1963, 1966-1968 and 1971-1972.

Carl Gardner´s debut with the Robins:
Los Angeles, Febr-March, 1954   If Teardrops Were Kisses
- Spark 110, released in February, 1955.
The Coasters recording debut:
Los Angeles,  January 11, 1956   Down In Mexico / Turtle Dovin´
- Atco 6064, released in February, 1956.
Records for: Spark 54-55 (Robins), Atco 56-66, Date 66-68, King 71-73.

All of the early members have launched their off-shoot Coasters’ recording groups during later years. Billy Guy has issued records as Billy Guy & The Coasters. There was Bobby Nunn´s Coasters, Mark II - nowadays acting as Billy Richards’ Coasters. Grady Chapman (of the Robins) toured with a "Coasters" group. Leon Hughes called a group The World Famous Coasters. Cornell Gunter’s Fabulous Coasters - still acting with off-spring members as the “original” Cornell Gunter’s Coasters. And if that isn't enough former members of those off-shoots have embarked new bogus Coasters groups. There also was Will Jones’ World Famous Coasters (which often featured Billy Guy). Guy later semi-coached promoter Larry Marshak’s fake group, nowadays touring in several versions as Cornell Gunter’s Coasters. The true Coasters, though,  are still coached by Carl Gardner (from 2008 touring as Carl Gardner's Coasters with Carl's son Jr as lead singer).

The Robins lineup on Spark 1954-55:
Carl Gardner, lead - debuting with the Robins in Los Angeles February-March, 1954 (Spark); Bobby Nunn, bass (who sang with Little Esther on the Robins’ "Double Crossing Blues" from December, 1949 and was lead of the Robins); "Ty" Terrell Leonard, tenor; Billy and Roy Richards, baritones; and in early 1954 Grady Chapman, second lead.

Original Coasters lineup 1956-57:
Carl Gardner, lead and spokesman for 50 years - still coaching the group (born in Tyler, Texas April 29, 1928); Leon Hughes, tenor (born August 26, 1932); Billy Guy, baritone and recording with the group up to 1972 (born June 20, 1936; died November 5, 2002); Bobby Nunn, bass (born September 20, 1925; died November 5, 1986); and Adolph Jacobs, guitar up into early 1959 (born April 15, 1939).

Famous classic lineup 1958-1961: Gardner; Guy; Cornell Gunter, tenor up to mid 1961 (former lead with the Flairs; born November 14, 1936 in Coffeyville, Kansas. He died from an unknown gun shot in Las Vegas in his car February 26, 1990); Will "Dub" Jones, bass up to 1968 (former lead with the Cadets, born in Shreveport, Louisiana May 14, 1928; died in Long Beach, California on January 16, 2000).

Later recording members:
Earl "Speedo" Carroll, tenor 1961-1979 (born November 2, 1937; leaving from and to the Cadillacs); Ronnie Bright, bass from 1968 (born October 18, 1938; formerly with the Valentines); Jimmy Norman, baritone, first substituting for Guy, then replacing him from 1973 (born August 12, 1937; formerly with Jesse Belvin and acting as solo artist); Thomas "Curley" Palmer, guitar from 1962 (born August 15, 1929).

Lineup 1980-1997:
Gardner, Bright, Norman, Palmer.
Current lineup from 1998:
Gardner, Bright, Palmer; and Alvin Morse, baritone (born February 1951, member up to September 2008; replaced by Primotivo Candelara in October); Carl Gardner Jr, tenor (born April 29, 1955 - absent July 2001 - November 2004); J.W. Lance, tenor from 2001 (born June 16, 1949). In November, 2005 Gardner Jr officially took over from his father as lead singer of the Coasters, with all staying.

Essential CD:  The Very Best of... - Rhino R2 71597.
Reading: “Yakety Yak I Fought Back: My Life With The Coasters” by Carl Gardner with Veta Gardner (AuthorHouse 2007).
“The Coasters” by Bill Millar (Star Books, UK 1975).


( Million Sellers / Golden Records )






# 8
# 3
# 1
# 2
# 9
# 7


- on either of the following national R&B charts -
( Best Seller / Juke Box / Disc Jockey / Hot R&B )

Note: "Smokey Joe´s Cafe" is by The Robins (featuring Carl Gardner, lead).






# 8
# 1
# 1
# 1
# 2
# 1

All the Charted Hits  The Singles with leads

The Coasters CD Collection

- On December 12, 2007 a 4CD-set on Rhino Handmade with the Complete Atco Recordings,
"The Coasters On Atco – There’s A Riot Goin’ On” (Limited Edition)
was issued, featuring 113 recordings in sessionography order 1954-1966 (
Rhino RHM2 7740).
Compilation is produced by James Ritz with annotation by Claus Röhnisch.

- On August 28, 2007 Varèse Vintage issued the Coasters' Date/King sides (the "On Broadway" LP),
the tracks now chronological and with a new title, "Down Home" (Varèse Sarabande CD 302 066 844-2).
Collection is produced by Cary E. Mansfield with annotation and liner notes by Claus Röhnisch.

"The Coasters On Atco".
"There's A Riot Goin' On"
Rhino Handmade RHM2 7740 (2007)
113 tracks 1954-1966 Mono & Stereo (issued in December 2007)

"Down Home"
DOWN HOME (The Date/King Recordings)
Varese Vintage (Varese Sarabande)
 CD 302066844-2 (2007)
 12 tracks 1966-1972 Stereo (Issued in August 2007) 


the Atco and Date/King racks in doc-format)

to find tracks - click on image!

chronological Rhino/WEA 2CD 132092

The Definitive Soul Collection
- Rhino 2007  (Atco 1955-1964, 30 chronological tracks, issue delayed)

essential  Rhino Europe R2 32656 (9548-32656-2)

The Very Best of The Coasters
- Rhino 1994  (Atco 1955-1961 - 16US/17UK tracks, mono)
- US version reissued 2008

best buy  Rhino US 2-set  R2 71090 (8122-71090-2)

50 Coastin´ Classics
- Rhino 1992  (Atco 1955-1966 plus; 51 tracks, mono incl the above)

Sequel RSA CD 868 (023224-086822)

The Coasters
- Sequel 1997  (Atco 1955-1957, 25 tracks incl bonus, mono)

Sequel RSA CD 869 (023224-086921)

The Coasters Greatest Hits
- Sequel 1997  (Atco 1958-1966, 24 tracks incl bonus, stereo)

Sequel RSA CD 870 (923224-087027)

The Coasters - One By One
- Sequel 1997  (Atco 1958-1965, 25 tracks incl bonus, stereo)

  collector's choices  Sequel RSA CD 871 (023224-087126)

Coast Along with The Coasters
- Sequel 1997  (Atco 1958-1965, 24 tracks incl bonus, stereo)

quality-must-have  Highland DeLuxe DCD-7786 (112676-77862)

20 Greatest Hits
- DeLuxe 1987 
(12 Date/King 1966-1972; stereo; plus 8 Guy-Jones 1977)

    MR. R&B CD-102 (5267-65275-1B+)

Charlie Brown
- MR. R&B/Rv 2000  (Atco uniss 1958, 24 tracks, true stereo)

  the true gems  "50 Golden Years with The Coasters" CD issued October 2005.

50 Golden Years with The Coasters
- CeeVee 2005  (anthology with rare and unissed recordings

24 tracks, different labels with recordings 1954-2005, mono and stereo)

real live show-time  Time Machine Records CD 1001 featuring Gardner, Guy, Carroll, Bright, and Palmer  (GREAT!)..

The Coasters´ Greatest Hits In Concert
- TimeMachine 2001  (Boston 1969, 11 live tracks)

revival time  "Golden Hits" - the ten Gardner Coasters re-recordings of 1973.

Golden Hits
- Masters 1996  (Trip 1973, 10 tracks stereo)

 2LPs on 1CD   Collectables CD "The Coasters & One By One".

The Coasters & One By One
- Collectables 2004  (Atco 1954-1957 & 1960, 26 tracks, mono and stereo)

Atco US 33111-2 (7567-90386-2)

The Coasters´ Greatest Hits
- Atco 1989  (Atco 1956-1959, 12 tracks stereo)

  classic albums "Coast Along with The Coasters" on Collectables COL-CD-6523.

Coast Along with The Coasters
- Collectables 2005  (Atco 1957-1961, 12 tracks stereo)

  rare recs  Mr R&B RBD 102 (013727-010202)

What Is The Secret Of Your Success?
- Mr R&B 1990  (Atco 1957-1965, 16 tracks, mono)

   ultimate sample  Warner Special Products 9-27604-2 (7599-27604-2)

The Ultimate Coasters
- Warner 1986  (Atco 1955-1961, 20 tracks, feat. alternate stereo)

The Coasters - presented by Jay Warner
("American Singing Groups". Billboard Books, US 1992)
Gardner, Nunn, Hughes, and Guy in late 1955.

The Coasters were the clown princes of late ‘50s rock and roll.  Formed by the ace songwriting/producing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as an extension of the ROBINS, the Coasters were lead Carl Gardner and bass Bobby Nunn (both formerly of the Robins), along with second tenor Leon Hughes (founder of THE HOLLYWOOD FOUR FLAMES in 1950 and member of THE LAMPLIGHTERS in 1953), and Billy Guy (of Bip and Bop on Aladdin in 1955). The Coasters really came about because of the achievements of the L.A. based Robins.  In 1954 Leiber and Stoller, buoyed by their songwriting success on such records as “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, started their own Spark label, taking the Robins with them from RCA.  Their November 1955 release of “Smokey Joe’s Café” grabbed the attention of Atlantic Records and a unique pact (for 1956) was arranged.  Jerry and Mike would sell their Robins masters to Atlantic’s new Atco subsidiary and would act as outside producers on the Robins’ new recordings. Since various members of the Robins were opposed to going to the new East Coast label, the two who weren’t (Gardner and Nunn) became half of the newly christened Coasters, so named because they were all from the West Coast. Leiber and Stoller now had a tailor made group to promulgate their unusual perceptions of real life scenarios as expressed in semi-comic songs. Instead of dealing with the out-of-the-ordinary, as in the Robins’ “Riot in Cell Block #9,” the Coasters sang about everyday events, like the trials and tribulations of youth in “Yakety Yak.”

The first Coasters single, “Down in Mexico,” was set in a dingy bar.  Billboard’s February 25th review enthusiastically proclaimed, “Here’s a new and definitely swinging crew and they deliver a couple of highly commendable sides.  ‘Down in Mexico’ is a fetching ditty which is very close to ‘Smokey Joe’s Café.’  This group carries the lead and bass singer from the Robins unit which recorded the ‘Smokey’ side.”  The March 17th issue of Billboard listed it as a “best buy,” stating, “This record is getting excellent R&B and pop reaction.  Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Durham and St. Louis are among the areas in which it has found broad acceptance.” By April it was number eight on the R&B Juke Box listings and number nine on Billboard’s R&B Best Sellers and Disc Jockey chart.  From “Down in Mexico,” the quartet took its next musical journey to “Brazil,” although it was the B side (“One Kiss Led to Another”) that made the Coasters’ first impression on the pop charts, reaching number 73 in September 1956 (#11 R&B). The L.A. based group was now two-for-two on the charts but did not record again for a year due to an increased schedule of touring. But the wait was worth it.  When the Coasters emerged from the studio on February 12, 1957, they had completed two of the finest recordings of their career.  “Young Blood” shot to number eight (#2 R&B - actually Juke Box #1; ed.note); the flip side, “Searchin’,” passed it at number three (#1 R&B).  Their first of four million-sellers was the first two-sider to go top 10 Pop for a black group since THE MILLS BROTHERS did it in 1949 with “I Love You So Much It Hurts” (#8) b/w “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (#9). Around this same time the Coasters ghosted behind LaVern Baker on “Jim Dandy Got Married” (#7 R&B), giving them three records on the R&B top 10.  Both “Jim Dandy Got Married” and “Searchin’” hit the charts the same day (May 13, 1957).

The Coasters were unique in more ways than one.  While most ‘50s groups sang love songs, the Coasters sang about the real lives of teenagers (thanks to Leiber and Stoller), often with a comic touch and a bit of sarcasm, as in “Charlie Brown.” Additionally, while most of the other ‘50s acts were smoothing out their “oohs” and “ahs” behind the lead vocal, the Coasters were often singing in a raunchy unison or backing up the lead with more of a call-and-response than a doo wop or blow harmony accompaniment.  With the help of the lyrics, they got away with some pretty primitive blues and R&B under the guise of novelty rock and roll.  One such recording was “Idol with the Golden Head,” and August 1957 release that had a slowed-down Bo Diddley rhythm and only rose to number 64 Pop in the losing months of the year.  The opposite side, “My Baby Comes to Me,” should have done better; it was a lyrical forerunner of “example” songs like THE TEMPTATIONS’ 1964 hit “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and THE MIRACLES’ “I’ll Try Something New” from 1962. A quick January 1958 failure, ("Gee, Golly" plus...; ed.note) a draggy, funky, blues rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and the group was set for its first changes. Nunn and Hughes quit for the domestic life, with Hughes replaced by tenor and lead Cornell Gunter of the early PLATTERS on Federal and the Flairs (Flair).  Nunn’s replacement was Will “Dub” Jones of THE CADETS (Modern). 

The new Coasters’ first recording session (from now on in New York; ed.mark) on March 17, 1958, brought forth two more immortal tracks.  Today’s pop fans young and old know that when they hear that intro of “take out the papers and the trash, or you don’t get no spending cash,” they’re listening to a comical parody of ‘50s parenthood called “Yakety Yak.”  By the summer it was number one Pop and R&B and number twelve in England, their second charter in the British Isles (“Searchin’” was the first). The flip of “Yakety” was a departure for the group, and infectious mid-tempo doo wop version of the old Judy Garland tune (#22, 1943) “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.” Though eclipsed by the success of “Yakety Yak” it has since become one of the favorites of Coasters fans. While “Georgia Brown” bombed in 1957 her brother “Charlie” was an instant success in 1959.  By March, “Charlie Brown,” with it’s “why is everybody always pickin’ on me” hook, had reached number two Pop (kept from the top spot by Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” three weeks running) and number two R&B while becoming their biggest British blockbuster at number six. For teens it was practically the national anthem, honking sax solos and all.  Now that the Coasters and company had successfully taken on parenthood and teen angst, they decided to tackle the current craze, TV westerns (seven out of 10 top-rated 1959 shows were shoot ‘em ups).  The result was the hilarious “Along Came Jones,” with the same kind of infectious rhythm, honking sax solo, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and contagious Coasters chanting that made “Charlie” and “Yakety” immortal.  In the spring the kids were singing about “Brown” and in the summer they were singing about “Jones” as he peaked at number nine (#14 R&B).  It’s a strong possibility that Leiber and Stoller’s concept for “Jones” had been influenced by the OLYMPICS summer 1958 hit “Western Movies” (#8), but since the Olympics were self-confessed admirers of the Coasters, any borrowing by L&S was from an extension of their own original creation.  The group’s July 16, 1959, session yielded the memorable “Poison Ivy,” which went to number seven (#1 R&B) while escalating to number 15 in the U.K. (The flip track "I'm A Hog For You" hit #38 Pop; ed.note). The Coasters’ year-end release was “What About Us,” a biting social statement that managed to slip by the programming arbiters.  With lyrics like “he’s got a house made of glass, got his own swimming pool (what a gas), we’ve got a one-room shack, a pile of sticks by the railroad tracks, what about us, what about us, don’t wanna cause no fuss but what about us,” it’s a wonder 1959 white radio played it at all.  Perhaps they were more distressed by its flip “Run Red Run,” which depicted a beer guzzling poker-playing monkey trying to shoot his owner for cheating at cards.  Either way, the decision was split: “What About Us” went to number 47 (#17 R&B) while “Run Red Run” reached number 36 (#29 R&B), denying “What About Us” the chance to be recognized as a Coasters classic and a telling commentary on the times.

A throw-away recording of Jimmy Dorsey’s “Besame Mucho” reached number 70 in May 1960, and the first Coasters-written charter (Billy Guy) followed in the form of “Wake Me Shake Me,” a Leiber-Stoller-style romp through life from a garbageman’s perspective (#51 Pop, #14 R&B). The Coasters had increased their following not only with hit records but with a sizzling stage routine that invited comparison with THE CADILLACS.  On one tour the Coasters added a temporary replacement for lead Carl Gardner by the name of Lou Rawls. The young former gospel vocalist (and member of THE PILGRIM TRAVELERS from 1957 to 1959) was still more than five years from his first solo hit, “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing” (#13, 1966). The Coasters’ next four singles (“Shoppin’ for Clothes” [#83], “Wait a Minute” [#37], “Little Egypt” [#23], and “Girls, Girls, Girls Part II” [#96] ) did more pop charting than R&B.  Only “Little Egypt” broached the R&B lists and it’s no coincidence that it was the most imaginative and zany of the crop of Coasters cuts spanning 1960 to 1961. During 1961 Cornell Gunter left the Coasters, and the Cadillacs’ Earl “Speedo” Carroll took his spot. Of the singles released between 1962 and 1966, only “T’ Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” charted (#64, 1964).  The A side was “Speedo’s Back in Town,” a belated tribute to Earl that was recorded live at the Apollo Theatre some two years after he joined the group. In 1964 the Coasters issued “Wild One,” which took a gentle jab at the Beatles with “oohs” from “I Saw Her Standing There.”  The group resorted to cover songs late in their career, but versions of THE CLOVERS’ “Lovey Dovey” and THE DRIFTERS’ “Money Honey” fell on deaf mid-60s ears.  Will Jones left in 1965 (actually late 1967 or early 1968, ed.note), leaving the group with Carroll of the Cadillacs, Guy, Gardner, and Ronnie Bright as bass (formerly of THE VALENTINES).  This foursome left Atco in 1966 and subsequently recorded for Lloyd Price’s Turntable Records and cut three singles for Date through 1969 with no success. For the first time in 13 years the quartet was without a label, but they made the most of the touring opportunities six past top 10 hits can provide. In 1971 several of their Date masters, produced once again by Leiber and Stoller, were acquired by King Records.  One of them was a re-recording of the Clovers’ biggest pop hit “Love Potion #9” (#23, 1959), though you’d barely recognize it. With a rhythm track that sounded like a merging of Santana and Jethro Tull, the Coasters rode the tune to number 76, their first chart outing in seven years. They continued with two more King singles and a few small label releases until their last record in 1976, a remake of the PETER, PAUL AND MARY 1962 hit, “If I Had a Hammer.” (actually Will Jones´ new Coasters; ed.mark). Cornell Gunter started his own coasters group in 1963, although they were mostly former PENGUINS (Randolph Jones, Dexter Tisby, and Teddy Harper). Along with Cornell’s sister Shirley (the Flairs) they recorded “Wishful Thinking” b/w “Key to Your Heart” in 1964 on Challenge under the name Cornell Gunter.  His group shifted from a quartet to a trio over the next 25 years until February 26, 1990, when Cornell was tragically shot and killed in his car in north Las Vegas.  He and his Coasters were scheduled to perform at the Lady Luck Hotel that night. Since the Coasters’ final recording, the club and concert audience has seen almost as many Coasters groups as they’ve heard Coasters hits. Bobby Nunn had one until his death of a heart attack in 1986.  “Dub” Jones and Billy Guy had one together and Leon Hughes had one. In the early ‘80s, Earl Carrol went back to reform his Cadillacs.  Carl Gardner, Ronnie Bright, Jimmy Norman, and Curley Palmer continued as yet another (actually the only logical one; ed.note) of the original-member Coasters acts. The Coasters were imitated and often covered.  Elvis recorded “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Little Egypt.”  The Beatles did “Three Cool Cats” (the flip of “Charlie Brown”) and “Searchin’” on their demonstration tape for Decca Records.  And the Rolling Stones recorded “Poison Ivy” early in their career.  Of course, much of the credit goes to Leiber and Stoller, but the Coasters were the best interpreters of Leiber and Stoller songs and were an important part of a talented team. 19 chart records (actually 20 hits; ed.note) in 38 tries (actually 36 issued singles plus one later Wicked-single; ed.note), shows just how talented.  The Coasters were true rock and roll pioneers.
~Jay Warner

From Robert Christgau

Unnaturals: The Coasters With No Strings Attached

Most of us treasure pop moments--junctures in time when it seemed that every week brought a new revelation. I was in love for most of 1966, and will never forget that spell in 1977 when Bleecker Bob was hawking a new piece of punk every week. But for me, May 1957 was even bigger. In the wake of the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'" and the Dell Vikings' glorious "Come Go With Me," and preceding the August onset of Buddy Holly, May was when we first heard the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" and Ricky Nelson's record debut and--at least as striking--Johnny Mathis's "Wonderful Wonderful." It was also when the Coasters' "Searchin'" blew all of these away.

Jerry Leiber was some lyricist, but the impact was sonic: four mixed-down, oddly harmonized, bass-repressed "Gonna find her"s over Mike Stoller's alley piano leading to the first classic Billy Guy vocal. For me at 15 and even now, that vocal came from nowhere. I can find rough parallels in the Clyde McPhatter of "Honey Love" or the Wynonie Harris of "I Like My Baby's Pudding," in Louis Jordan's ability to sound so delighted with a lyric that he's gonna bust out laughing any second. But those are stretches. Fact is, the singer Guy most resembles is either Jerry Leiber himself--Atlantic sachem Jerry Wexler once claimed that "Billy Guy was a surrogate for Jerry's interpretations"--or Guy's neighbor and discoverer Carl Gardner. Guy's big, clear baritone, so wet its growl is a gargle, shaded at whim into rasp or drawl or slur or even lisp and rose without warning into the grand slam falsetto of "Bulldog Drummond." Neither Leiber's intense break on "That Is Rock & Roll" nor his throwaway finale on 50 Coastin' Classics shows such pipes or timing. But Gardner, though a tenor, still sings "Searchin'" for a living. He was the backbone of the Coasters before they knew their name and took as many leads as Guy in their heyday. It was Gardner, for instance, who lost sleep over the beribboned sex object of "Searchin'"'s B side, "Young Blood," which broke top 40 the same week.

That's right, two Coasters songs at once. May 13, Ricky Sings Fats; May 20, Coastermania. Young rock and rollers didn't then know "Down in Mexico" or "Turtle Dovin'," or Leiber and Stoller's productions with the Robins, as the West Coasters were called before half of them migrated from L.A. to New York and Atco Records: for comic social criticism, "Framed," sung by bass man Bobby Nunn; for comic social unrest, "There's a Riot Goin' On," sung by very special guest bass man and future "Louie Louie" composer Richard Berry; and for the premise of a Broadway revue, Gardner's "Smokey Joe's Cafe." So the thrill of their greatest record was pretty hot, and "Young Blood" made it hotter. Bill Millar--whose 1975 biography, along with Claus Rohnisch's well-tended website, is the main source of Coasters facts--has gone so far as to brand it pedophilic: a song about "middle-aged blacks who relished the idea of importuning adolescent girls in the street." A survey of contemporaries of both sexes has failed to locate who anyone who recalls taking it that way; two male hipsters who played in racially integrated bands assumed twentysomethings hitting on a teen queen, but most heard kids coming on to other kids, and several shared my misapprehension that the Coasters themselves were the young bloods.

Who knew how old they were? Even those lucky enough to catch their live show couldn't tell that Gardner and replacement bass man Dub Jones were both 29 while Guy was 21 and Cornel Gunter only 19. What we did know was that--on the major hits, "Searchin'" "Young Blood," "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown," "Along Came Jones," and "Poison Ivy"--they were representing not "middle-aged blacks" but teenagers, and not black teenagers but teenagers who happened to be black. What seemed old about them was the popular culture references "Searchin'" supposedly introduced to rock and roll discourse. With the saving exception of Dragnet's Sergeant Friday, the detectives Guy invoked--Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Boston Blackie, Bulldog Drummond himself--were staples of Jerry Leiber's '40s youth known to the teen audience from old movies on television or radio shows remembered barely if at all. Like Eddie Cantor and Ed Wynn on The Colgate Comedy Hour, "Searchin'" taught high school students that pop culture had a history as surely as Shakespeare and Silas Marner.

But this was also an early instance of vernacular intellectuals' urge to certify as popular their own formative influences--always already a little dated, like the "cherry red '53" of Chuck Berry's 1964 "You Never Can Tell," or the alt-country on NPR. In the Coasters' "The Shadow Knows," the radio sleuth of the title solves cases television heroes Marshall Dillon and Wyatt Earp can't. One wonders as well how current the black-cultural references Leiber fed the Coasters were--references submerged in the hits but integral to low-life succes d'estimes from "Smokey Joe's Cafe" to "Idol With the Golden Head" to "D.W. Washburn," not to mention the 1960 tour de force "Shoppin' for Clothes." As May '57 became history, pop music's chroniclers worried about this. In 1970 Charlie Gillett argued that the "indolent and stupid" stereotype implied by Dub Jones's "deep, 'fool' voice" was a tradition of black-on-black comedy, but by 1972 he'd reconsidered: "The trouble with most of Leiber and Stoller's songs is that they describe improbable or incongruous situations and get too many of their laughs from making black clowns out of the singers." Millar lets Johnny Otis, who still thinks he's owed royalties on "Hound Dog," complain at length that Leiber and Stoller "dwelled entirely on a sort of street society." And in 1989, Coasters fan Dave Marsh regretfully concluded that the Coasters' "subtleties and universality" had been "overwhelmed" by "a climate in which covert race-baiting runs the country, from the streets of New York and Los Angeles to our political campaigns."

I had thought scrutinizing such claims might tease out the Coasters' affinities with minstrelsy, but the claims didn't survive much scrutiny. The Game, Condoleezza Rice--these are black people whose role-playing white people have a right to find morally noxious. Not the Coasters, who as per Gillett extend a black comedic tradition--which as Gillett doesn't mention traces back to minstrelsy because show business does. And now Gillett has re-reconsidered: "I was writing before Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, before hip-hoppers turned everything on its head in terms of presenting black life in songs, and before Quentin Tarantino start[ed] writing 'nigger' into his scripts for both white and black characters to say." Marsh specifically denies that the Coasters invited racist interpretation in the '50s. And two crucial African-American critics are fans: Mel Watkins, whose history of African American comedy singles out "Shoppin' for Clothes," which "received scant notice outside the black community," and Nelson George, who gives credit for the Coasters' "deft vignettes" to "two young Jewish men [who] grew up around blacks"--which they did, Leiber as a ghetto grocer's son, Stoller in the kind of family that sent their kids to interracial camps, both as blues and jazz fans who joined black and Pachuco social clubs, respectively, in their teens. So maybe it's time to reclaim the subtleties and universality of an artistic entity specializing in what Leiber once called "the joke that the poor tell on themselves," an entity Greil Marcus reduced to eight words in 1979: "Stepin Fetchit as advance man for black revolt." The Coasters don't get enough respect.

Unlike Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and the Everlys, the Coasters were not Rock and Roll Hall of Fame charter members--they had to wait a year for the 1987 batch, which also included Ricky Nelson, Clyde McPhatter, Louis Jordan, and Leiber and Stoller. Nor has their star risen since--not compared to such fellow '87s as B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. It doesn't help that they were comedians--funny never gets respect, because it doesn't give it. And their body of major work isn't large, although neither is Little Richard's or Buddy Holly's, or in any obvious way seminal. The deep reason racial anxieties cut into their status is that they don't seem like primal creators. They permit no fantasy of the natural. The problem is less content than structure--the calculation of the whole project. The Coasters are seen as producers' puppets, like the Monkees or 'N Sync--famously, not only did Leiber plot out every line, Stoller wrote King Curtis's sax breaks. That the concept had white men pulling black men's strings is merely an additional drawback.

As someone who retches quietly at the idea that Stax-Volt was a lost biracial utopia, I refuse to get teary-eyed about Leiber and Stoller. They were so gifted that their signature product proved inimitable--unlike "Love Me" or "I (Who Have Nothing)" or their other stroke of genius, the violins they added to the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby," which someone else would have thought of (the Robins tried to get them out of RCA in 1953) but which as a matter of actual historical development was a decisive mutation in the evolution of r&b. But they were also, Leiber especially, incorrigible wise-asses and aspiring aesthetes, hipsters who quit r&b in the late '60s and produced little of interest thereafter. Nevertheless, to disrespect the Coasters is to set exceedingly high standards of racially integrated art. As Nelson George avers and even Johnny Otis allows, Leiber and Stoller wrote their songs from within a black culture they knew intimately and observed acutely--not all of black culture, as if anyone could do that, but the part of it that generated the music they loved most. Inflected by Leiber's incipient pretensions, incongruous associations, and love of radio, that intimacy underpinned even the teenified "Yakety Yak" and "Charlie Brown." And it was turned into music by four strong black men. Eight Coasters all told recorded between 1956 and 1968. But there were just four hitmaking Coasters from 1957 (actually 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 (it was published in June, 2007; ed.note). 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 (Nunn started his Coasters, Mark II around that time too; ed.note). 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.

If Leiber and Stoller imposed their ideas on anyone, it was Gardner, who will nevertheless celebrate 50 years as a Coaster in November. From a family of self-described "house niggers" in Tyler, Texas--one sister sang opera in New York for a while--Gardner says he learned early on how to get ahead by catering to white people. A born-again Christian now, he once followed Malcolm X into Islam, and he's a bitter critic of white racism. Gardner moved to L.A. at 25 to become a big-band singer. But, he reports, when Robins-Coasters manager Lester Sill told him, "'Either you sing these particular tunes, Carl, or we just have to forget it,' I says, 'O.K. money's first' so I took this group thing." Gardner made side money, though less than the other Robins, as a pimp--one white girl, one black. He's angry to this day that Leiber and Stoller broke their promise to bill the post-Robins "Carl Gardner and the Coasters," not least because it might have simplified all those trademark-infringement suits in the '80s and '90s. Live he was Zeppo, the straight man and romantic lead, and although he dismisses the notion that the Coasters' songs "depicted blacks as ignorant and superstitious," he never gave up his pop dreams. In 1960, with the Coasters' six top 10 hits behind them, he got Leiber and Stoller to let them do a standards album. One by One was cut in two days to specially prepared orchestral tapes. As Gardner brags, his rapt, pellucid attack does "Satin Doll" proud, though I doubt Atlantic buried it so he wouldn't make like Ben E. King and go solo. But to my ear, Gunter is the star of the set, lisp and all.

Gardner's is the familiar saga of a star impoverished by changing fashion, greedy management, and callous royalty disbursement. He obsesses on the parade of fake Coasters--Gunter had some, Guy had some, Nunn had some, an ex-Robin who was never in the Coasters had some, their relatives had some--and overestimates the moneys due him more wildly than WEA underestimates them. But late in life he married a woman who rebuilt his career, and he is one of the rare oldies acts who doesn't cater to white people by performing other artists' hits--his DVD offers no "Blue Moon" or "Get a Job," just a "Stormy Monday." If in his perfect world he would have been a big-band singer, he settled for organ-and-horns r&b when he recorded his first solo album at 68, and at 68 his tenor was too shot to handle "I'll Be Seeing You" or "Don't Let the Sun Catch Crying," as the bonus borrowings from One by One make clarion clear.

In all this, Gardner shares much with Leiber and Stoller. Some of the Coasters' greatest records were created after "Poison Ivy" became their last top 10 in 1959. Neither "Run Red Run," a minor hit about a monkey who learns to play poker and steals his teacher's car, nor its r&b-charting B side "What About Us," a joke that the poor tell on the rich, quite earns Greil Marcus's "Stepin Fetchit drops his mask, and pulls a gun," but they were pretty redolent. Stoller judges the tent-show fantasy "Little Egypt" "the epitome of the comic playlets." "Bad Detective," "Soul Pad," "Down Home Girl," and "D.W. Washburn" weren't altogether au courant, but aged well. And anyone troubled by the unprimality of Leiber and Stoller's control-freak side--one reason "Searchin'" has such life may be that, according to Leiber, it was recorded in nine minutes with the board gone haywire like some Chess mess--should compare "Shoppin' for Clothes" to the looser Kent Harris record it appropriated, because its precision tells. Curtis Mayfield listened and learned; the Beatles' rendition of "Searchin'" was why George Martin signed them. Yet as the hits dried up, Leiber and Stoller--who back in 1958 had told Time magazine: "Kids nine to fourteen make up our market, we're tired of writing rock 'n' roll, but we can't stop"--decided to stop. Carl Gardner had his pop dreams, and they had their art dreams. There was Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" Then there was that Joan Morris and William Bolcom album--"Either a different, more conservative kind of art," John Rockwell observed in 1978, or "inflated and pretentious overreaching on the part of songwriters who should have stuck with simpler forms."

Fact is, both Leiber and Stoller and Carl Gardner were best when, as Leiber described his ideal pianist in "That Is Rock & Roll," they played between the cracks. Is the monkey in "Run Red Run" Nat Turner or John Muhammed--or J. Fred Muggs? Is the protagonist of the Coasters' crudest hit sneaking a cigarette or setting a trash-can fire? "Charlie Brown"'s crap game is a cheap move, a big fat slice of watermelon foisted on Dub Jones's Charlie--who, whatever his vocal presence, is no more black than Dub Jones's Salty Sam, the six-reeler villain bedeviled by a white-on-white cliche who shares Dub's surname in "Along Came Jones." At worst, Charlie is a trouble-making goof-off who happens to be black, a small-time teen hero whose "Why's everybody always pickin' on me" is as universal as his slow walk, although one originated in white culture and the other in black. Once he's out there, of course, he's ripe for reinterpretation. In my life, "Charlie Brown" provided the beat to which a Vermont tent-show queen--white, weary, with a scar on her tummy and no rubies in sight--gave me my first disquieting glimpse of vulva.

There really is a street society, and whatever its limitations, in the '50s it was a crucial corrective to postwar fantasies of domesticity. Its African-American variant lured Carl Gardner as well as Jerry Leiber. It is to the credit of all those who created the Coasters, black and white, that their version of that society deployed racial stereotypes with the purpose of muddling them, turning them into jokes that have no end--because that's so much more bearable than a tragedy that has no end.

Experience Music Project, Seattle Washington, April 16, 2005

The Coasters presented at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Induction Year: 1987
Induction Category: Performer

Carl Gardner (vocals; April 29, 1928), Cornell Gunter (vocals; born November 14, 1938, died February 27, 1990), Billy Guy (vocals; born June 20, 1936, died November 5, 2002), Will “Dub” Jones (vocals; born May 14, 1928, died January 16, 2000)

From 1956 to 1961, the Coasters released a string of classic singles that reflected the life of the American teenager with keen wit and hot, rocking harmonies. Invariably those songs were written, produced and arranged by the duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The union of a black vocal group with two Jewish songwriters was one of the most propitious in rock history. Leiber and Stoller’s witty, street-smart “playlets” were sung with sly, clowning humor by the Coasters and accompanied by the hot, honking “yakety sax” of King Curtis. The Coasters’ parlayed their R&B roots into rock and roll hits by delivering Leiber and Stoller’s serio-comic tunes in an uptempo doo-wop style. Beneath the humor the songs often made incisive points about American culture for those willing to dig a little deeper.

Leiber has described the Coasters’ style as “a white kid’s view of a black person’s conception of white society.” In fact, their success showed how thin was the line between rhythm & blues and rock and roll in the Fifties. “Our songs…were R&B hits that white kids were attracted to,” Leiber said in a 1992 interview. “And if people bought it, it became rock and roll.”

The Coasters placed fourteen songs on the R&B charts, eight of which crossed over to the pop Top Forty. From 1957 to 1959 the Coasters unleashed a half dozen singles that dominated the charts in one of the most formidable runs of the rock and roll era: “Searchin’ (#1 R&B, #3 pop), “Young Blood” (#2 R&B, #8 pop) (actually #1 R&B; ed.note), “Yakety Yak” (#1 R&B, #1 pop), “Charlie Brown” (#2 R&B, #2 pop), “Along Came Jones” (#14 R&B, #9 pop) and “Poison Ivy” (#1 R&B, #1 pop) (actually #7 pop; ednote). Leiber and Stoller remarked that the Coasters “were fun to work with, they were fun to be with. They were a great bunch of clowns and they made our songs sing.” It was such a potent combination of writing and performing talent that beyond the Coasters’ well-known hits lies a wealth of lesser known but equally fascinating treasures, such as “That Is Rock and Roll,” “Shopping for Clothes,” “Run Red Run,” “What About Us” and “Idol with the Golden Head.” (with a further two pop Top Forty hits; ednote).

The roots of the Coasters date back to 1949 with the formation of the Robins, a black vocal group, in Los Angeles. In their early years they were affiliated with producer and recorded for Savoy Records. In 1951 they cut a song by Leiber and Stoller entitled “That’s What the Good Book Says.” In 1954 the Robins signed to Leiber and Stoller’s label, Spark Records, where they cut some notable R&B sides. These include such early examples of the duo’s narrative style as “Riot in Cell Block #9,” “Framed” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” In 1955 Atlantic Records offered Leiber and Stoller an independent production deal with their Atco subsidiary, which meant a move from the West Coast to the East Coast. The Robins came to Atco as part of the package, but the move divided the group. Bass singer Bobby Nunn and tenor Carl Gardner headed to New York City (actually first after Gunter's and Jones' entrances in late 1957; ednote), were they recruited tenor Leon Hughes and baritone Billy Guy and rechristened themselves the Coasters - a sly reference to their coast-to-coast relocation. The group’s classic lineup solidified with the addition of tenor Cornell Gunter and bass Will “Dub” Jones (a former member of the Cadets and the Jacks), who replaced Hughes and Nunn, respectively.

In 1957, the Coasters topped the R&B charts and made the pop Top Ten with their double-sided single “Searchin’” and “Young Blood.” Over the next two years, the Coasters released a series of hit singles filled with instantly adaptable slang and timeless humor. “Yakety Yak” comically addressed the generation gap long before that term was coined, while “Charlie Brown” was a character study of a class clown that featured Will “Dub” Jones’ unforgettable line: “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?” By the end of the decade, they’d carved out a legacy for themselves as purveyors of riotously funny rock and roll records with a solid R&B underpinning.

The Coasters were also popular in England, where the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion bands covered their songs. Ironically, it was the rise of the British Invasion that spelled commercial decline for such Fifties icons as the Coasters. Leiber and Stoller left Atlantic in 1964 to found their own label, Red Bird, while the Coasters continued to record for Atco through 1966. The two parties reunited in 1967 when the Coasters signed with Columbia Records’ Date subsidiary. The Coasters and Leiber and Stoller last worked together in 1973 (actually 1971; ednote). Over the ensuing decades, various Coasters lineups continued to work the oldies circuit.

The Coasters - Biography
Those Hoodlum Friends

The Coasters at Wikipedia
The Open Encyclopedia

Edited by Claus Röhnisch, July 26, 2008
The Coasters Web Site

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