The Coasters!

I was doing a little reminiscing about High School and the Era that I grew up in, “The Mid to Late Fifties”.  Was it a great time to grow up in? Well, I thought so.  Was it a dangerous environment?  I did not think so until I gave it some thought:  We had above ground Nuclear Testing, so Strontium 90 circled the world constantly.  The medicine, which we thought was leading edge, well I guess seems stone age by today’s standards.  We had to deal with Polio, Thalidomide, the cold/hot wars, racism and I guess other things.

But you know it was a great time too.  The term, “teenager” as we know it, was born in 1953; =  a young person of teen years with disposable income that could effect the market.  Our music Rock and Roll came of age around 1954, until then it was just around.

The cars of the Fifties where magnificent; yes, today cars are built better, but we lined up at the dealers in September to see the new models.  It was always exciting to see new models each year at the Canadian National Exhibition, in the Automotive Building!

Movies where great and only cost 50 cents, milk shakes where 25 cents, gas was 19 cent per GALLON  and so on.  We had the music, and boy did we dance.  We had a dance every single week and that meant you could meet girls.  Well all this is just to tell you that the Fifties, to me, can be summed up this way!


So keeping that in mind, I thought of the one musical group – there where a few – that where just Fun.  So who did I come up with? A group that started as “The Robins”…

The Coasters

The original lineup (October 1955 – 1957):

  • Carl Gardner, lead
  • Bobby Nunn, bass
  • Billy Guy, baritone
  • Leon Hughes, tenorstrong>
  • Adolph Jacobs, guitar (from 1956)
  • Young Jessie (subst. for Hughes on one session 1957)

The classic lineup (1958 – mid 1961):

  • Carl Gardner, lead
  • Billy Guy, baritone
  • Cornell Gunter, tenor
  • Will “Dub” Jones, bass
  • Albert “Sonny” Forriest, guitar (replacing Adolph Jacobs from early 1959)

The qualitative lineup (mid 1961 – 1967):

  • Carl Gardner, lead
  • Billy Guy, baritone
  • Will “Dub” Jones, bass
  • Earl “Speedo” Carroll, tenor
  • Thomas “Curley” Palmer, guitar (from 1962)
  • Vernon Harrell (subst. for Billy Guy on stage during mid-late ’60s)
All of the their songs where written by Jerome “Jerry” Leiber (born April 25, 1933) and Mike Stoller (born March 13, 1933), except Wait a Minute, which was written by Bobby Darin & Don Kisrshner.

Their Music!

The first song that they recorded/3/56 was “Down in Mexico”, but did not chart in the Top 40.


1A.   Searchin’/Atco 6087/ 5/20/57/ # 3

1B.   Young Blood/B side/ 5/2057/ # 8

2.   Yakety Yak/Atco 6116/ 6/9/58/ # 1 (King Curtis on Sax)

3.   Charlie Brown/Atco 6132/ 2/9/59/ # 2 (for 3 weeks, King Curtis on Sax)

4.   Along came Jones/ Atco 6141/ 6/1/59/ # 9

5.   Poison Ivy/ Atco 6146/ 9/7/59/ # 7

5.   I’m a Hog for You/ B side/ 9/21/59/ # 38

6.   Run Red Run/ Atco 6153/ 1/25/60/ # 36

7.   Wait a Minute/ Atco 6186/ 2/27/61/ # 37

8.   Little Egypt (Ying – Yang)/ Atco 6192/ 5/29/61/ #23

The illustrious career of the Coasters

The pre-eminent vocal group of the early rock ‘n’ roll era, was built on a remarkable body of cleverly comic R&B songs for Atco Records fashioned by their producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Under their direction, the Coasters exchanged the crooning of ballads favoured by most groups of the era for robust and full-throated R&B shouting.

The group came together in Los Angeles, California, USA in October 1955 from remnants of The Robins, who had a dispute with their producers/songwriters, Leiber and Stoller.

The original Coasters comprised two ex-Robins, Carl Gardner (Carl Edward Gardner, 29 April 1928, Tyler, Texas, USA; lead) and Bobby Nunn (b. Ulysses B. Nunn, 20 September 1925, Birmingham, Alabama, USA, d. 5 November 1986, Los Angeles, California, USA; bass), plus Leon Hughes (b. Thomas Leon Hughes, 26 August 1932, Los Angeles County, California, USA; tenor), and Billy Guy (b. Frank Phillips Jr., 20 June 1936, Itasca, Texas, USA, d. 12 November 2002, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; lead and baritone).

Hughes was replaced briefly in 1957 by Young Jessie (b. Obie Donmell Jessie, 28 December 1936, Dallas, Texas, USA), who in turn was replaced by ex-Flairs Cornell Gunter (b. 14 November 1938, Los Angeles, California, USA, d. 26 February 1990, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA).

In January 1958, Nunn was replaced by ex-Cadets Will ‘Dub’ Jones (b. Will J. Jones, 14 May 1928, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA, d. 16 January 2000, Long Beach, California, USA).

At the start of the following year original guitar player Adolph Jacobs (b. Herman Adolph Jacobsen, 27 April 1931, Oakland, California, USA) was replaced by Albert ‘Sonny’ Forriest (b. Elbert McKinley Forriest, 21 May 1934, Pendleton, North Carolina, USA, d. 10 January 1999, Capital Heights, Maryland, USA), who became a contracted member of the line-up. ex-Cadillacs Earl ‘Speedo’ Carroll (b. Gregory Carroll, 2 November 1937, New York City, New York, USA) replaced Gunter in mid-1961.

The Coasters first charted with ‘Down In Mexico’ (US R&B Top 10) in 1956, but the superb double-sided hit from 1957, ‘Searchin’’ (US R&B # 1 and pop # 3) and ‘Young Blood’ (US R&B # 2 and pop Top 10) established the group as major rock ‘n’ roll stars (in the UK, ‘Searchin’’ reached # 30). The classic line-up of Gardner, Guy, Gunter and Jones enjoyed three more giant hits, namely ‘Yakety Yak’ (US R&B and pop # 1 in 1958), ‘Charlie Brown’ (US R&B and pop # 2 in 1959), and ‘Poison Ivy’ (US R&B # 1 and Pop Top 10 in 1959). In the UK, ‘Yakety Yak’ went to #12, ‘Charlie Brown’ to # 6, and ‘Poison Ivy’ to # 15, the group’s last chart record in the UK.

By this time, they were generally regarded as one of the wittiest exponents of teenage growing problems to emerge from the rock ‘n’ roll era. By the mid-60s, however, the lustre had worn off, as the hits increasingly emphasized the comic lyrics to the detriment of the music. The Coasters parted company with Atco in 1966, and renewed their partnership with Leiber And Stoller (who had left the label in 1963) with several sides for the CBS Records subsidiary, Date Records. After a one-off single for Turntable (1969’s ‘Act Right’), the long-serving Gardner and Guy enjoyed a brief comeback in late 1971, when a reworking of ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ for the King label broke into the Billboard Hot 100.

The Coasters have continued in the subsequent decades as an Oldies act, fracturing into several different groups playing the nostalgia circuit although most authorities accept the Carl Gardner led Coasters as the genuine article.

Personnel in the durable Gardner’s line-up has included Vernon Harrell (baritone), Ronnie Bright (b. 18 October 1938, New York, USA; bass, ex-Valentines), Jimmy Norman (b. 12 August 1937, Nashville, Tennessee, USA; baritone), Thomas ‘Curley’ Palmer (b. 1927, Dallas, Texas, USA; guitar), Alvin Morse (tenor), and his son Carl ‘Mickey’ Gardner Jr. (baritone). Sadly, all of the original members, except Jacobs, have at various times attempted to cash in on the Coasters name.

Bobby Nunn launched the Coasters, Mark II, and when he died from congestive heart failure in 1986 his group carried on under the leadership of Billy Richards Jr.

Leon Hughes formed his own tribute group, the Original Coasters. Billy Guy, who worked with the Gardner led Coasters up until 1973, was involved with the World Famous Coasters and Billy Guy’s Coasters until his death in November 2002. Cornell Gunter (who changed the spelling of his surname to Gunther in later years) was shot dead on 26 February 1990. He had also formed his own version of the Coasters, known as the Fabulous Coasters, after leaving the group in June 1961. Gardner, Guy, Jones and Gunter’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in January 1987 went some of the way towards restoring the group’s tarnished image.(

PS: The productions of the Coasters´ Atco recordings were far superior to any contemporary group efforts (using the best musicians available, especially Texan King Curtis´ fruity sax breaks) with the lyrics neatly deriding aspects of teenage and/or black ghetto life. The group also worked out hilarious stage routines and became the most professional act in late ´50s Rhythm & Blues and early ´60s International Pop


One response to “The Coasters!

  1. Hey Russ, thanks for sharing this knowledge with all interested. I’ve got the T-shirt but it don’t fit no more. Ha!

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