Coasters, The, rock ’n’ roll’s first consistently successful comedy-vocal group. membership:Carl Gardner, lead voc. (b. Tyler, Tex., April 29, 1928); Bobby Nunn, bass voc. (b. Birmingham, Ala., 1925; d. Los Angeles, Nov. 5, 1986); Leon Hughes, ten. (b. ca. 1938); Billy Guy, lead voc, bar. voc. (b. Attasca, Tex., June 20, 1936); Adolph Jacobs, gtr. Later members included Young Jessie; Cornelius “Cornell” Gunter (b. Los Angeles, Nov. 14, 1936; d. Las Vegas, Feb. 26, 1990); Will “Dub” Jones (b. Los Angeles, c. 1939); Earl “Speedo” Carroll (b. N.Y.C., Nov. 2, 1937); Ronnie Bright (b. Oct. 18, 1938).
The Coasters evolved out of the Robins, an R&B vocal group formed in Los Angeles in 1949. In early 1950 the group scored an R&B hit with “If It’s So, Baby,” with the Johnny Otis Band, and backed Esther Phillips on her top R&B hit “Double Crossing Blues.” Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller began recording the group after they formed Spark Records in late 1953. The Robins enjoyed regional success with the classic “Riot in Cell Block Number 9” and had their first national hit with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” when reissued on Ateo in late 1955.
In 1955 Leiber and Stoller signed what was likely the first independent production deal with the Ateo subsidiary of the N.Y.-based Atlantic label. Atlantic acquired the Spark catalog and the producers attempted to coax the Robins into joining them at the new label. Not all were willing, so Leiber and Stoller convinced Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner to form a new group, the Coasters, with Leon Hughes, Billy Guy, and Adolph Jacobs. Their first single, “Down in Mexico,” became a major R&B hit and their third single, “Youngblood/ Searchin,’” became a smash pop/R&B hit for the group and their songwriter-producers.
In 1957 Young Jessie replaced Leon Hughes in the group. Moving to N.Y. with Leiber and Stoller by 1958, the group replaced Jessie with Cornelius Gunter and the retiring Bobby Nunn with Will “Dub” Jones of the Cadets (“Stranded in the Jungle”). Beginning with the smash hit “Yakety Yak,” the Coasters were accompanied by the ribald saxophone playing of King Curtis. Through 1959 the group scored smash hits with “Charlie Brown,” “Along Came Jones” (backed with “That is Rock ’n’ Roll”), and “Poison Ivy” (backed by the lewd “I’m a Hog for You”). “Run Red Run/What about Us” and “Wake Me, Shake Me” proved only moderate successes, and the funky “Shoppin’ for Clothes,” featuring an unusually lewd saxophone break by King Curtis, fared even less well. The Coasters achieved their last major hit with “Little Egypt” in 1961, the year Earl “Speedo” Carroll of the Cadillacs (“Speedo”) replaced Cornell Gunter. In 1963 Leiber and Stoller and the Coasters parted company, and by 1965 the group was comprised of Gardner, Guy, Carroll, and bass vocalist Ronnie Bright. They left Ateo in 1966, subsequently recording for the Date subsidiary of Columbia.
The Coasters performed on various shows during the rock ’n’ roll revival of the early 1970s. Several editions of the Coasters toured during the 1970s and 1980s. The various leaders were Cornelius Gunter, Bobby Nunn, Will Jones and Billy Guy, Leon Hughes, and Carl Gardner and Ronnie Bright. Bobby Nunn died on Nov. 5, 1986, of a heart attack in Los Angeles. Inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the Coasters (Gardner, Guy, Jones, and Gunter, with Tom Palmer) performed at Atlantic Record’s 40th Anniversary Birthday Concert in May 1988. Cornelius Gunter was found shot dead in his car in Las Vegas on Feb. 26, 1990, at the age of 53.
The Coasters provided a number of wry and satirical songs of adolescent pathos under the direction of the premier 1950s songwriting-production team, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. One of the first R&B vocal groups to achieve widespread popularity with white youth, the Coasters later featured the lusty saxophone playing of King Curtis, who helped establish the instrument as the third most important in rock ’n’ roll, behind guitar and piano.
The Robins: Rock ’n’ Roll with the Robins (1958); Best (1975). The Coasters: The Coasters (1958); Greatest Hits (1959); One by One (1960); Coast Along with the Coasters (1962); That’s Rock and Roll (1964); Greatest Recordings/The Early Years (1971); It Ain’t Sanitary (1972); On Broadway (1973); Greatest Hits (1978); Greatest Hits (1991); 50 Coastin’ Hits (1992); Very Best (1994).