The Coasters

The Coasters

The Coasters, 1957
Background information
Origin Los Angeles, California,
United States
Genres Rhythm and blues, rock and roll
Years active 1955–present
Labels Atco (1955-1966)
Date, King (1966-1972)
Associated acts The Robins
Website Official website
Members J.W. Lance
Primotivo Candelara
Eddie Whitfield
Dennis Anderson
Past members Carl Gardner (deceased)
Billy Guy (deceased)
Bobby Nunn (deceased)
Leon Hughes
Adolph Jacobs (deceased)
Young Jessie
Will "Dub" Jones (deceased)
Cornell Gunter (deceased)
Albert "Sonny" Forriest (deceased)
Earl Carroll (deceased)
Thomas "Curley" Palmer
Vernon Harrell (deceased)
Ronnie Bright (deceased)
Jimmy Norman (deceased)
Alvin Morse
Carl Gardner Jr.

The Coasters are an American rhythm and blues/rock and roll vocal group who had a string of hits in the late 1950s. Beginning with "Searchin'" and "Young Blood", their most memorable songs were written by the songwriting and producing team of Leiber and Stoller.[1] Although the Coasters originated outside of mainstream doo-wop, their records were so frequently imitated that they became an important part of the doo-wop legacy through the 1960s.


The Coasters were formed in October 1955 as a spin-off of the Robins, a Los Angeles–based rhythm-and-blues group that included Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn. The original Coasters were Gardner, Nunn, Billy Guy, Leon Hughes (who was replaced by Young Jessie on a couple of their early Los Angeles recordings), and the guitarist Adolph Jacobs. Jacobs left the group in 1959.[2]

The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller started Spark Records and in 1955 produced "Smokey Joe's Cafe" for the Robins[1] (their fifth single with Leiber and Stoller). The record was popular enough for Atlantic Records to offer Leiber and Stoller an independent production contract to produce the Robins for Atlantic. Only two of the Robins—Gardner and Nunn—were willing to make the move to Atlantic, recording their first songs in the same studio as the Robins had done (Master Recorders). In late 1957, the group moved to New York and replaced Nunn and Hughes with Cornell Gunter and Will "Dub" Jones. The new quartet was from then on stationed in New York, although all had Los Angeles roots.

The Coasters' association with Leiber and Stoller was an immediate success. Together they created a string of good-humored "storytelling" hits that are some of the most entertaining from the original era of rock and roll.[1] According to Leiber and Stoller, getting the humor to come through on the records often required more recording "takes" than for a typical musical number.[1]

Their first single, "Down in Mexico", was an R&B hit in 1956 and appears (in a re-recording from 1970—still with Gardner singing the lead) on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. The following year, the Coasters crossed over to the pop chart in a big way with the double-sided "Young Blood"/"Searchin'". "Searchin'" was the group's first U.S. Top 10 hit and topped the R&B chart for 13 weeks, becoming the biggest R&B single of 1957 (all were recorded in Los Angeles).

"Yakety Yak" (recorded in New York), featuring King Curtis on tenor saxophone, included the famous lineup of Gardner, Guy, Jones, and Gunter, and became the act's only national number 1 single, topping the R&B chart. The next single, "Charlie Brown", reached number 2 on both charts. It was followed by "Along Came Jones", "Poison Ivy" (number 1 for a month on the R&B chart), and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)".

Changing popular tastes and a changes in the group's lineup contributed to a lack of hits in the 1960s. During this time, Billy Guy was also working on solo projects; the New York singer Vernon Harrell was brought in to replace him for stage performances. Later members included Earl "Speedo" Carroll (lead of the Cadillacs), Ronnie Bright (the bass voice on Johnny Cymbal's "Mr. Bass Man"), Jimmy Norman, and guitarist Thomas "Curley" Palmer. The Coasters signed with Columbia Records' Date label in 1966, reuniting with Leiber and Stoller (who had parted ways with Atlantic Records in 1963), but never regaind their former fame. In 1971, the Coasters had a minor chart entry with "Love Potion No. 9", a song that Leiber and Stoller had written for the Coasters but instead gave to the Clovers in 1959. In Britain, a 1994 Volkswagen TV advertisement used the group's "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have to Pass", which led to a minor chart placement in that country.

In 1987, the Coasters became the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, crediting the members of the 1958 configuration. The Coasters also joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.

Several groups used the name in the 1970s, touring throughout the country, though Carl Gardner, one of the original Coasters, held the legal rights to it. Gardner continued to tour with the Coasters and made many attempts to stop bogus groups with no connection to the original group using the name. In late 2005, Carl's son Carl Gardner Jr. took over as lead with the group when his father retired. The Coasters' lineup then consisted of Carl Gardner Jr., J. W. Lance, Primo Candelara, and Eddie Whitfield. Carl Jr. later left this group and has started his own group with Curley Palmer.[3]

Leon Hughes is the only surviving member of the original Coasters and performs with his own group. Some of the former members suffered tragic ends. The saxophonist King Curtis (the "fifth Coaster") was stabbed to death by two junkies 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.[4] Former manager Patrick Cavanaugh was convicted of the murder, which took place 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 at 60 in 2006, in Ely State Prison, in Nevada.[5]

The Coasters continue to appear regularly on "oldies" shows and PBS specials as old favorites and are available for bookings.[4]

The hits list below is from Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles and from the Pop positions published in Bill Millar's book The Coasters (1975).

Carl Gardner published his autobiography, Carl Gardner: Yakety Yak I Fought Back: My Life with the Coasters, in 2007.

The Coasters' recordings produced by Leiber and Stoller for Date/King (1966–1972) were released on the CD Down Home by Varèse Vintage (Varèse Sarabande) in 2007. The complete Atco recordings (1954–1966) were released in a four-CD set, There's a Riot Goin' On: The Coasters on Atco, by Rhino, also in 2007.


The Coasters' repertoire had a significant impact on rock artists in the 1960s and 1970s. 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. Bad Company's version of the song reached number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May 1976. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen recorded the Robins' "Riot in Cell Block Number 9"; the Beach Boys recorded aversion with revised lyrics by Mike Love, entitled "Student Demonstration Time", in 1971. 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 (Ying-Yang)" in the soundtrack of his 1964 film Roustabout. The first two British hits of the Hollies were "(Ain't That) Just Like Me" and "Searchin'". The Monkees reached number 10 on Cashbox with "D. W. Washburn". (The Coasters recorded it first, but when Date declined to release it, Leiber and Stoller sent it as a demo to the Monkees. After the Monkees charted, the Coasters's original recoridng was issued.) Several Coasters songs were part of the Beatles' repertoire before the British rock group began its recording career; George Harrison is among the singers on the above-mentioned Leon Russell live recording. The Grateful Dead similarly performed several Coasters songs in their early days; they were influenced by a weekend in 1965 in which the group (still called the Warlocks) served as pickup band for the Coasters at a lounge in Belmont, California. When the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead united 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".

Coasters hits also comprised a major portion of the song score for the 1994 musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe, a retrospective of Leiber and Stoller songs that received one Grammy Award and seven Tony Award nominations following its 1995 Broadway debut. Their title of their song "Baby, That Is Rock and Roll" has served as the main title for a biography/songbook of Leiber and Stoller songs and a Bravo television documentary on the songwriters.

In addition, Coasters songs and the Coasters themselves have been referred to by later popular musicians. Frank Zappa referenced the group in the lyrics of the song "Status Back Baby" on his second album, Absolutely Free. Sly Stone titled a 1971 number 1 album by his group Sly & the Family Stone after the tag line from "Riot in Cell Block No. 9": There's a Riot Goin' On. The folksinger David Bromberg quoted from "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)" in his 1972 song "Sharon". Paolo Nutini regularly covers "Down in Mexico" in live performances.

Band members

Current members
Former members

(Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees listed in bold.)

  • Carl Gardner – lead vocals (1955–2005)
  • Billy Guy – baritone vocals (1955–1973)
  • Bobby Nunn – bass vocals (1955–1957)
  • Leon Hughes – tenor vocals (1955–1957)
  • Adolph Jacobs – guitar (1956–1959)
  • Young Jessie – tenor vocals (1957; substitute)
  • Will "Dub" Jones – bass vocals (1958–1967)
  • Cornell Gunter – tenor vocals (1958–1961)
  • Albert "Sonny" Forriest – guitar (1959–1961)
  • Earl "Speedo" Carroll – tenor vocals (1961–1979)
  • Thomas "Curley" Palmer – guitar (1962–2011)
  • Vernon Harrell – baritone vocals (1965–1967; substitute)
  • Ronnie Bright – bass vocals (1968–2009)
  • Jimmy Norman – baritone vocals (substitute 1969-1972; member 1973-1978, 1980–1997)
  • Alvin Morse – baritone vocals (1997–2008)
  • Carl Gardner, Jr. – tenor vocals (1997–2001 and 2004), lead vocals (2005–2011)

Session musicians


Studio albums


Month of chart entry Titles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Peak chart positions Album
Billboard Pop Chart[6] Cash Box Pop Chart Billboard R&B chart[7] UK Singles Chart[8]
3/1956 "Down In Mexico"
b/w "Turtle Dovin'"
- - 8 - The Coasters
9/1956 "One Kiss Led To Another"
b/w "Brazil"
73 - 11 -
5/1957 "Young Blood" / 8 15 1 -
5/1957 "Searchin'" 3 7 1 30
11/1957 "Idol with the Golden Head"
b/w "(When She Wants Good Lovin') My Baby
Comes To Me" (Non-album track)
64 - - - Their Greatest Recordings, The Early Years
11/1957 "Sweet Georgia Brown"
b/w "What Is The Secret Of Your Success" (Non-album track)
- - - - The Coasters' Greatest Hits
2/1958 "Dance!"
b/w "Gee Golly"
- - - - Non-album tracks
6/1958 "Yakety Yak"
b/w "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart"
1 1 1 12 The Coasters' Greatest Hits
8/1958 "The Shadow Knows"
b/w "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass" (Non-album track)
- - - -
2/1959 "Charlie Brown"
b/w "Three Cool Cats" (Non-album track)
2 2 2 6
5/1959 "Along Came Jones"
b/w "That Is Rock and Roll"
9 11 14 -
8/1959 "Poison Ivy" / 7 9 1 15
9/1959 "I'm A Hog For You" 38 95 - -
12/1959 "Run Red Run" / 36 51 29 - Coast Along
1/1960 "What About Us" 47 33 17 -
4/1960 "Bésame Mucho" (Part 1)
b/w Part 2
70 53 - - Non-album tracks
6/1960 "Wake Me, Shake Me"
b/w "Stewball"
51 34 14 - Coast Along
9/1960 "Clothes Line (Wrap It Up)"
b/w "The Snake and The Book Worm" (from Coast Along)
- - - - Non-album track
10/1960 "Shoppin' For Clothes"
b/w "The Snake and The Book Worm" (from Coast Along)
83 57 - - Their Greatest Recordings, The Early Years
2/1961 "Wait A Minute"
b/w "Thumbin' A Ride" (Non-album track)
37 42 - - Coast Along
5/1961 "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)"
b/w "Keep On Rolling"
23 30 16 -
8/1961 "Girls Girls Girls" (Part II)
b/w Part I
96 98 - -
10/1961 "Bad Blood"
b/w "(Ain't That) Just Like Me"
- - - -
3/1962 "Teach Me How To Shimmy"
b/w "Ridin' Hood"
- - - - Non-album tracks
9/1962 "The Climb"
b/w "The Climb" (Instrumental)
- - - -
3/1963 "The P.T.A."
b/w "Bull Tick Waltz"
- - - -
3/1964 "T'ain't Nothin' To Me"
b/w "Speedo's Back In Town"
64 73 20* -
5/1964 "Bad Detective"
b/w "Lovey Dovey"
- - - -
10/1964 "Wild One"
b/w "I Must Be Dreaming"
- - - -
2/1965 "Lady Like"
b/w "Hongry"
- - - -
5/1965 "Money Honey"
b/w "Let's Go Get Stoned"
- - - -
10/1965 "Bell Bottom Slacks and A Chinese Kimono"
b/w "Crazy Baby"
- - - -
3/1966 "She's A Yum Yum"
b/w "Saturday Night Fish Fry"
- - - -
4/1967 "Soul Pad"
b/w "Down Home Girl"
- - - -
6/1968 "She Can"
b/w "Everybody's Woman"
- - - -
7/1968 "D.W. Washburn"
b/w "Everybody's Woman"
- - - -
1969 "Act Right"
b/w "The World Is Changing"
- - - -
12/1971 "Love Potion Number Nine"
b/w "D.W. Washburn"
76 96 - - On Broadway
1972 "Soul Pad"
b/w "D.W. Washburn"
- - - -
4/1972 "Cool Jerk"
b/w "Talkin' About A Woman"
- - - -
8/1994 "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass"
b/w "Poison Ivy"
- - - 41 The Very Best Of The Coasters

Notes: Non-charting singles include month and year of release Three of the Cash Box pop entry dates slightly differ (by a week or two - either way; e.g. "Yakety Yak" entered the Cash Box Pop Chart in May). UK chart entry dates also differ from US chart entry dates.
* "T'ain't Nothin' To Me" R&B position is from Cash Box since Billboard did not publish an R&B chart in 1964.

Lineups from the US singles

The line-ups are presented for general overview and do not always fit with issue dates.

Label and catalog number followed by month/year of issue, and by track titles (with lead and recording dates).

The Robins (only singles featuring Carl Gardner are listed)

(Carl Gardner, Bobby Nunn, "Ty" Terrell Leonard, Billy Richard, Roy Richard, Grady Chapman)

leads: CG-Gardner; BN-Nunn; GC-Chapman; RB-Richard Berry (guest lead) (Los Angeles)

(all of the above later issued on EP, LP, and CD compilations as The Coasters).

The Coasters (all "true"/legal Coasters singles are listed)

(Carl Gardner, Bobby Nunn, Billy Guy, Leon Hughes)

leads: CG-Gardner; BN-Nunn; BG-Guy (Los Angeles, Chicago*, New York**)

(Gardner, Guy, Will Jones, Cornell Gunter)

leads: CG-Gardner; BG-Guy; WJ-Jones, CoG-Gunter (New York)

(Gardner, Guy, Jones, Earl Carroll)

leads: CG-Gardner; BG-Guy; WJ-Jones; EC-Carroll (New York, Los Angeles*)

(Gardner, Guy, Carroll, Ronnie Bright)

Carl Gardner & The Coasters

(Gardner, Carroll, Bright, Jimmy Norman)

Free Soul / Beautifully Day released 11/15/2010 by Carl Gardner Jr. Through tunecore

CD Compilations

Important British public-domain compilations

(Complete recordings 1954-1962) 61 tracks with extended Coasters history

(Alternate stereo takes and album tracks 1957-1962) 49 tracks including never before issued outtakes, with detailed disographical info

True Coasters recordings (not on single)

No live recordings included (Note: there also are several alternates and edited masters of the singles, not listed below).

Recorded in New York unless otherwise indicated.
Lead singers: Carl Gardner (CG), Billy Guy (BG), Will "Dub" Jones (WJ), Ronnie Bright (RB), Jimmy Norman (JN).


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Show 13 – Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' Roll in the Late Fifties. [Part 3] : UNT Digital Library". 1969. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  2. "Those Hoodlum Friends the Coasters". Retrieved 2006-11-30.
  3. Röhnisch, Claus. "The Coasters Web Site – Those Hoodlum Friends". Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  4. 1 2 "The Coasters Website". Retrieved 2007-04-08.
  5. "News – Ex-Coasters Manager Dies at Ely State Prison". 2006-04-11. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  6. Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 139. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  7. Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 38.
  8. Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 92. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.


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