Who was/is The Coasters ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
The Coasters were created in 1955 from the nucleus of a Los Angeles based group, the Robins. They were the agents through which Leiber and Stoller marketed some of the most entertaining songs of the Fifties. Founder member Bobby Nunn had led the Robins through numerous West Coast labels, recorded with Johnny Otis on Savoy, and had a hit with Little Esther Phillips, 'Double Crossing Blues' (1950), before teaming with Leiber and Stoller on RCA in 1953. When the writing and producing duo formed their own label, Spark, a year later, they scored several local hits with the Robins, notably 'Riot In Cell Block No. 9' (featuring Rich-ard Berry), 'Framed' (Nunn), 'The Hatchet Man' (Nunn), and `Smokey Joe's Café' (Carl Gardner).
Eight cuts from this period were later included on the first Coasters' album and have subsequently been regarded as Coasters' record-ings. Attracted by the success of `Smokey Joe's Café', Atlantic signed them to their subsidiary label, Atco, retaining Leiber and Stoller as the creative force behind the group. Gardner and Nunn, with newcomers Billy Guy and Leon Hughes (also from California), were renamed the Coasters and achieved widespread popularity with their first releases `Down In Mexico' and 'One Kiss Leads To Another' (1956), followed more emphatically by `Searchin' rYoung Blood' (1957) — a Top Ten pop hit. After three less successful outings, Nunn and Hughes were replaced by Will `Dub' Jones and Come! Gunter who, with Guy and Gardner, formed the quartet that recorded all the other famous Coas-ters' hits : `Yakety Yak' (1958) — their only No. 1— 'Charlie Brown', 'Along Came Jones', 'Poison Ivy' (1959), and 'Little Egypt' (1961).
The arrangement of these records used the differing character of each singer's voice to full effect around a catchy guitar figure (often Mickey Baker) or a fruity sax break (King Curtis). The production, particularly on the Robins' and early Coasters' releases, was far superior to any
Even The Coasters, clown princes of rock and roll, were in a spicy Latin mood. That was the doing of their Atco producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were enjoying much success applying saucy baion rhythms to the output of The Drifters.
After a stellar 1959 that found them crashing the pop Top Ten three times with the Leiber/Stoller comic playlets Charlie Brown (it's on our previous disc), the Western sendup Along Came Jones, and Poison Ivy, The Coasters cooled off in '60. Their top seller, Wake Me, Shake Me, didn't even crack the Top 50. Another 1960 release, the ghetto vignette Shoppin' For Clothes, was credited to Leiber and Stoller but was an uncredited adaptation of Boogaloo and His Gallant Crew's '56 release Clothes Line (Wrap It Up) on L.A.-based Crest Records. Boogaloo was actually its writer, Kent Harris (eventually authorship was credited to all three).
Closest to the doo-wop tradition was their '60 update of Besame Mucho, the 1940 work of Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velazquez (Sunny Skylar added English lyrics; the title translates to Kiss Me Much). Bandleader Jimmy Dorsey had a huge hit with it in 1944; The Ray-O-Vacs' Decca version went to #5 R&B in 1950. The Coasters' update was done February 26, 1960 at Atlantic's New York studios and spread over both sides of a single. Part 1 rides a surging Latin undertow, bass singer Will 'Dub' Jones stepping up for a rare lead turn (an entirely serious one at that). Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, and Cornel Gunter join in for the bridge, and sax master King Curtis unleashes a barrage of yakety licks near the fade. Fans must have been perplexed; Besame Mucho only made a #70 pop impression that spring.
The Coasters never regained their chart domination, though they did have '61 hits with Little Egypt (Ying-Yang) and Part II of Girls, Girls, Girls. They remained on Atco into the mid-'60s, ex-Cadillacs lead Earl Carroll joining in 1961 and Gunter exiting. A move to Columbia's Date label didn't reverse their fading fortunes. A bewildering array of Coasters groups toured the country from the '70s on. Gunter led one, Gardner another, and there were plenty more with no one recognizable at all. Carl fronted his until shortly before his June 12, 2011 death from heart disease. Gunter was shot to death in his car in Las Vegas on February 26, 1990. Diabetes killed Jones on January 16, 2000, and Guy died November 5, 2002.
Great as The Coasters' hitmaking legacy was, Gardner dreamed of a different career. "My regret is that I didn't get to sing the type of tunes that I would like to have sung, such as a lot of pop things," he said. "I would like to have done a lot of pop, like 'Stardust,' 'Mona Lisa,' 'Willow Weep For Me' things. And jazz, scatting, whatever. But it didn't sell. So a person must go where the bread is."
Various - Street Corner Symphonies 1960 Vol.12
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