The Coasters are a rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll vocal group that had a string of memorable hits in the late 1950s. Beginning with "Searchin'" and "Young Blood," their most famous songs, often in a humorous vein, were written by the songwriting and producing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The group began as the The Robins, a Los Angeles R&B group. In 1955, Leiber and Stoller produced "Smokey Joe's Cafe," for them. It proved a hit, leading to a successful partnership between the songwriting team and the entertaining vocal group. The talented saxophone playing of King Curtis added classic solos that blending perfectly with the group's humorous style. The Coasters soon became a major feature of rock and roll's Golden Era, producing such songs as "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown," "Along Came Jones," "Poison Ivy," and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)." They also had a minor hit with a cover version of "Love Potion No. 9" in 1971. Various versions of the group have continued to tour throughout the ensuing decades.
The Coasters had a significant influence on 60s and 70s rock artists, including The Beatles, Leon Russell, Frank Zappa, and The Grateful Dead. Their songs remain party favorites that transcend the generation gap. The Coasters' classic 1958 lineup was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
The Robins, later to evolve into the Coasters, were a struggling but talented Los Angeles-based rhythm and blues group in the early 50s. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, then with their own Spark Records company, produced "Smokey Joe's Cafe" for the group in 1955. The record became popular enough that Atlantic Records offered the team an independent contract to produce The Robins for the Atlantic label. Only two of The Robins were willing to make the move to Atlantic, however. The original Coasters' members, formed in October 1955, were Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Bobby Nunn, Leon Hughes, and guitarist Adolph Jacobs.
The Coasters' association with Leiber and Stoller was an immediate success. Together they created a string of good-humored "storytelling" hits that are considered some of the most entertaining from the original era of rock and roll. Their first single, "Down in Mexico," was an R&B hit in 1956. The following year, The Coasters crossed over to the national charts in a big way with the double-sided "Young Blood"/"Searchin'." Searchin was the group's first U.S. Top 10 pop hit, and also topped the R&B charts for 13 weeks, becoming the biggest R&B single of 1957.
"Yakety Yak," recorded in New York City and featuring King Curtis on tenor saxophone, established the signature Coasters sound. It included the classic Coasters lineup of Gardner and Guy, Will "Dub" Jones, and Cornelius Gunter. The song, telling the story of a father scolding his teenage son to "take out the papers and the trash, or you don't get no spending cash," became the act's first and only national number-one pop single, and also topped the R&B chart. Their next single, the equally humorous saga of the ne'er-do-well school troublemaker "Charlie Brown," reached number two on both charts. This was followed by the Western parody "Along Came Jones," the hilarious "Poison Ivy," and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)." With these hits, the Coasters became a staple feature of rock and roll's Golden Era.
Changing popular tastes and several lineup changes contributed to a lack of hits in the 60s. During this time, vocalist Billy Guy was also working on solo projects, and singer Vernon Harrell was brought in to replace him for stage performances. Later members included Earl "Speedo" Carroll (formerly lead singer of The Cadillacs), Ronnie Bright (the bass voice on Johnny Cymbal's "Mr. Bass Man"), Jimmy Norman, and guitarist Thomas "Curly" Palmer.
The Coasters signed with Columbia Records in 1966, but were never able to regain their former success. They had a minor chart entry with "Love Potion No. 9" in 1971. In Britain, a 1994 Volkswagen TV advertisement used the group's "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass" track, which led to a minor chart placement in that country.
Several groups used the Coasters' name in the 70s, touring throughout the United States, although Carl Gardner, one of the original Coasters, held the legal rights to it. Gardner continued to tour with his version of the group and has made many attempts to stop other acts, some with no connection to the original, from using the name.
The Coasters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, which credited the members of the classic 1958-era configuration. They also joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
In June 2007, Carl Gardner's autobiography Carl Gardner: Yakety Yak I Fought Back-My Life with The Coasters was published at AuthorHouse. In 2007 the Coasters' recordings produced by Leiber and Stoller from 1966-1972 were released on a Varèse Vintage (Varèse Sarabande) CD, titled Down Home, followed by a complete set of the group's Atco recordings (1954-1966) on a Rhino Handmade 4-CD set, titled, There's A Riot Goin' On.
In late 2005, when Carl Gardner retired, his son, Carl Jr., took over as lead vocal duties with the group. The Coasters of 2008 consisted of Carl Gardner Jr., Ronnie Bright, Alvin Morse, J.W. Lance, and Thomas Palmer (guitar), with Gardner Sr. as coach. They continue to appear regularly on "oldies" shows and PBS specials as old favorites.
As of 2007, all of the original group members, except Gardner, Leon Hughes, had either died or retired. Some of the former members suffered tragic ends. Saxophonist and "fifth Coaster" King Curtis was stabbed to death by two drug addicts outside his apartment building in 1971. Cornelius Gunter was shot to death while sitting in a Las Vegas parking garage in 1990. Nate Wilson, a member of one of Gunter's offshoot Coasters groups, was shot and his body dismembered in 1980.1 Former manager Patrick Cavanaugh was convicted of the murder after Wilson threatened to notify authorities of Cavanaugh's intent to buy furniture with stolen checks. Cavanaugh was convicted of the murder and given the death sentence in 1984, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died in 2006, in Nevada's Ely State Prison at the age of 60.
Besides leaving a catalog of some of early rock and roll's most memorable hits, the Coasters' repertoire had a significant impact on the rock artists of 60s and 70s. Many of their songs are perennial party favorites even today. In addition, King Curtis' classic saxophone solos for the group served as a virtual training manual for many budding rock-and-roll sax players.
Several Coasters songs were part of The Beatles' repertoire before the British rock group began its recording career. The Grateful Dead similarly performed several Coasters songs in their early days. When The Beach Boys and Grateful Dead joined on stage to perform a brief set at New York City's Filmore East, they performed "Searchin'" and "Riot in Cell Block No. 9." Numerous groups have recorded "Poison Ivy." Leon Russell performed "Young Blood" at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, imitating the group's arrangement of the song with four different solo voices; Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen recorded The Robins' "Riot in Cell Block No. 9," while The Beach Boys recorded a 1971 version with revised lyrics by that group's vocalist Mike Love, titled "Student Demonstration Time." The novelty singer Ray Stevens reached number 27 on the U.S. pop singles chart with a 1969 remake of "Along Came Jones." Elvis Presley included "Little Egypt" in the soundtrack for his 1964 film Roustabout. The Rolling Stones included "Down Home Girl" as an album track on their 1965 U.S. album Right Now. The Monkees reached number 10 on the Cashbox singles chart with a remake of "D.W. Washburn."
The Coasters' hits also comprised a major portion of the song score for the 1994 musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe, a retrospective of Leiber & Stoller songs that received one Grammy Award and seven Tony Award nominations following its 1995 Broadway debut. The Coasters' song "Baby, That's Rock and Roll" has served as the main title for a biography/songbook of Leiber & Stoller songs and a Bravo television documentary on the songwriters.
The songs of The Coasters remain perennial favorites at dances and parties today, showing a remarkable ability to appeal to people of all ages due to their humor, memorable lyrics, and charming story lines.
|Entry Date||Title||Peak chart positions|
|US Pop Charts||UK Singles Chart||US R&B Charts|
|3/56||"Down In Mexico" b/w "Turtle Dovin'"||-||-||8|
|9/56||"One Kiss Led to Another"||73||-||11|
|5/57||"Young Blood" c/w||8||1|
|10/57||"Idol with the Golden Head"||64||-||-|
|5/59||"Along Came Jones"||9||-||14|
|8/59||"Poison Ivy" c/w||7||15||1|
|8/59||"I'm a Hog For You"||38||-||-|
|12/59||"Run Red Run"||36||-||29|
|12/59||"What About Us"||47||-||17|
|6/60||"Wake Me, Shake Me"||51||-||14|
|10/60||"Shoppin' for Clothes"||83||-||-|
|2/61||"Wait a Minute"||37||-||-|
|4/61||"Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)"||23||-||16|
|8/61||"Girls Girls Girls (Part II)"||96||-||-|
|3/64||"T'ain't Nothin' To Me"||64||-||20|
|12/71||"Love Potion Number Nine"||76||-||-|
|8/94||"Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass"||-||41||-|
- ↑ AngelFire, The Coasters Website. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
- Gardner, Veta. Carl Gardner-Yakety Yak I Fought Back-My Life With The Coasters. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse 2007. ISBN 9781415989811.
- Gillett, Charlie. Atlantic Records and the Growth of a Multi-billion-dollar Industry. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974. ISBN 978-0876900611.
- Millar, Bill. The Coasters. London: Star Books, 1974. ISBN 0352300205.
All links retrieved November 23, 2015.
- The Coasters Web Site with the true story and complete discography, lineups and more
- Those Hoodlum Friends - a 132-page pdf file on THE COASTERS
- The Coasters at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
- The Coasters at Vocal Group Hall of Fame
- The Robins - story and full discography