The Coasters – R&B and Rock ‘n Roll Legends



The Coasters were an American doo-wop/R&B/rock and roll group first formed in Los Angeles, California in 1955. The Coasters’ biggest hits were “Searchin’,” “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown”, “Along Came Jones” and “Poison Ivy”, all of them were big R&B chart hits which also successfully crossed over to the pop charts. After their “Little Egypt” went to the Top 40 pop chart, the group would experience more personnel changes. Leiber and Stoller also left Atlantic. The band also parted ways with Atlantic, and then recorded under Columbia’s subsidiary label Date. And although The Coasters reunited with Leiber and Stoller, they were now finding it difficult to earn a decent hit. In the 1970s different lineups had been formed, although only Carl Gardner, one of the founding members, held the legal right to the Coasters name.

Early career, and teaming up with Leiber-Stoller songwriting duo

The Coasters are a doo-wop/R&B/rock and roll group, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1955.

The initial lineup consisted of Carl Gardner (lead tenor), Billy Guy (who was a gifted singer and comedian), Bobby Nunn (bass), Leon Hughes (second tenor), and Adolph Jacobs (guitars). They were the first groups to inject some comedy into their material, which was just only one of the ingredients of their prior success. What’s more, their material was supplied by the-now legendary songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who as we all know contributed much to many Elvis Presley classics.

Before they became the Coasters, they were first known as the R&B group The Robins. Around that time Leiber and Stoller established Spark Records. They recorded a song called “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (written by Leiber and Stoller) which attracted Atlnatic Records enough to offer a separate production deal with the two songwriters to produce the group. This lead to the Coasters to move to New York, and soon replaced Nunn and Hughes with two new members Cornell Gunter (formerly of the Flairs) and Will “Dub” Jones.

“Youngblood” and “Searchin'” – a rare double-sided big hit!

The newly revamped Coasters released their first single was “Down in Mexico” (which was also included in their self-titled debut album) on Atlantic’s subsidiary Atco. It became an R&B smash in 1956, at #8.

The following year, the Coasters struck gold with two-sided hits: “Young Blood” b/w “Searchin’.” “Young Blood” (which Leiber and Stoller wrote with Doc Pomus) went to #1 on the R&B singles chart, and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the B-side “Searchin'” went to #8 on the pop chart, and #1 again on the R&B singles chart. The Beatles, during their early days, covered both songs in their gigs.

The famed comic song “Yakety Yak”

In 1958 the Coasters added another fur in their cap, so to speak, with another Leiber-Stoller song “Yakety Yak.” (also written by Leiber-Stoller). The song was recorded in New York and featured King Curtis on saxophone. The song’s tale about a teenager who’s been pestered by his parents to do the housework reflected adolescent life during the era. It definitely struck a chord with many people largely on account of its humorous lyrics that anyone (especially teens) could relate. No wonder, “Yakety Yak” reached #1 on the both and R&B singles chart in 1958.

Other big Coasters hits

In 1959 The Coasters scored three Top 10 hits on both pop and R&B singles charts: “Charlie Brown” (#2 pop, #2 R&B, #6 UK), “Along Came Jones” (#9 pop, #14 R&B), and “Poison Ivy” (#7 pop, #1 R&B, #15 UK) — another proof of the group’s continuing success in their partnership with Leiber and Stoller. By that time Jacobs had quit the group.

Parting ways with Atlantic Records

After their “Little Egypt” went to the Top 40 pop chart, one of the latter-day members Cornell Gunter left and was replaced by Earl “Speedoo” Carroll of the Cadillacs, and the group would experience more personnel changes; to make things more difficult, Leiber and Stoller left Atlantic., ending their peak years. The band also parted ways with Atlantic, and then recorded under Columbia’s subsidiary label Date.

Although The Coasters reunited with Leiber and Stoller years later, the musical climate had already changed that made it harder for the band to score a decent hit. Their last charting single in the US was another Leiber and Stoller composition “Love Potion No. 9” (which had been a hit for the Hollies) in 1971. Since the mid-1970s there have been different Coasters lineup to perform for the nostalgic circuit, although only Gardner held the legal claim to the name. The group returned to the charts 23 years later and for the final time to date, with “Sorry But I’m Gonna Have To Pass,” which etched the UK singles territory.

The loss of former Coaster members, and the new Coasters lineup

One of the former members King Curtis was stabbed to death in 1971, another ex-Coaster Cornelius Gunter was shot and killed in 1990, and Will “Dub” Jones died in 2000. Nunn had also died in 1986, and Gardner in 2011. Their deaths have left Hughes and Jacobs being the only living members of the original Coasters. The current lineup consists of none of the original or earlier members but of the more recent ones: lead vocalist J.W. Lance (since 2001), baritone Primotivo Candelera (since 2008), bass vocalist Eddie Whitfield (since 2009), and tenor Dennis Anderson (since 2011)

The Coasters’ legacy

The Coasters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987, making them the first group to be given such honor. In 1999 they were also inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame. The Coasters influenced much of the famous 1960s and 1970s acts such as the Beatles, Grateful Dead, The Hollies, Frank Zappa and Elvis Presley.

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