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The Coasters

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The Coasters
The Coasters, 1957
The Coasters, 1957
Background information
OriginLos Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1955–present
  • J.W. Lance
  • Primotivo Candelaria
  • Robert Fowler
  • James Williams
Past members

The Coasters are an American rhythm and blues/rock and roll vocal group who had a string of hits in the late 1950s. With hits including "Searchin'", "Young Blood", "Poison Ivy", and "Yakety Yak", their most memorable songs were written by the songwriting and producing team of Leiber and Stoller.[2] 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. In 1987, they were the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[3]


The Coasters were formed on October 12, 1955, when two of The Robins, a Los Angeles–based rhythm-and-blues group, joined Atlantic Records. They were dubbed The Coasters because they went from the west coast to the east. The Robins included Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn.[4] 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.[4] Jacobs left the group in 1959.[4]

The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller started Spark Records and in 1955 produced "Smokey Joe's Cafe" for the Robins[2] (their sixth 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).[4] In late 1957, Carl Gardner and Billy Guy moved to New York with newcomers Cornell Gunter and Will "Dub" Jones to reform The Coasters.[4] 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.[4] 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.[2] 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.[2]

Their first single, "Down in Mexico", was an R&B hit in 1956.[4] The following year, the Coasters crossed over to the pop chart in a big way with the double-sided "Young Blood"/"Searchin'".[4] "Searchin'" was the group's first U.S. Top 10 hit,[4] 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 one single, topping both the pop and R&B charts.[4] The next single, "Charlie Brown", reached number two on both charts.[4] It was followed by "Along Came Jones", "Poison Ivy" (number 1 for almost two months on the R&B chart), and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)".[4]

Changing popular tastes and changes in the group's line-up contributed to a lack of hits in the 1960s.[4] 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 regained their former fame.[4] 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 original member Carl Gardner held the legal rights to it.[4] 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' line-up 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. Carl's widow Veta owns the rights to the Coasters name.

Leon Hughes, the last surviving member of the original Coasters, died of natural causes on March 1, 2023, at the age of 92.[5] Prior to his death, he performed with his own group.

Several former members of the band met untimely ends. Saxophonist King Curtis, known as the "Fifth Coaster," was fatally stabbed by two drug addicts outside his apartment building in 1971.[6] Cornelius Gunter was murdered in a Las Vegas parking garage in 1990.[7]

Group members[edit]

Current members
  • J.W. Lance – lead vocals, previously tenor vocals (July 2001–present)
  • Primotivo Candelaria – tenor vocals (October 2008–present)
  • Robert Fowler – bass vocals (January 2015–present)
  • James Williams – baritone vocals (September 2023–present)
Former members
(Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees listed in bold.)


Studio albums[edit]

  • 1960: The Coasters One by One – Atco LP 33-123 (SD33-123 stereo)
  • 1972: On Broadway – King K-1146-498 (KS-1146-498 stereo)

Compilation albums[edit]

  • 1957: The Coasters – Atco LP 33-101
  • 1959: The Coasters' Greatest Hits – Atco LP 33-111 (SD33-111 rechanneled stereo 1960)
  • 1962: Coast Along with the Coasters – Atco LP 33-135 (SD33-135 alternate stereo edition)
  • 1965: That Is Rock & Roll – Clarion LP 605 (SD-605 stereo)
  • 1971: Their Greatest Recordings: The Early Years – Atco LP SD33-371 (stereo compilation with alternates)

Charting singles[edit]

The Coasters recorded many songs that were released as two-song record singles and several appeared in the charts, including Billboard's Hot 100 and Hot R&B singles charts[8][9] and the UK Singles Chart.[10]

List of singles with year, title, label, peak chart positions, album
Year Title
A-side / B-side
Peak chart positions Original
Billboard Hot 100
Billboard R&B
UK Singles
1956 "Down in Mexico" /
"Turtle Dovin'"
8 The Coasters
"One Kiss Led to Another" /
73 11
1957 "Searchin'" / Atco
3 1 30
"Young Blood" 8 1
1958 "Yakety Yak" /
"Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart"
1 1 12 The Coasters' Greatest Hits
1959 "Charlie Brown" /
"Three Cool Cats"
2 2 6
"Along Came Jones" /
"That Is Rock & Roll"
9 14
"Poison Ivy" /
"I'm a Hog for You"
1 15
"Run Red Run" / Atco
36 29 Coast Along
1960 "What About Us" 17 47
"Bésame Mucho" (Part 1) /
(Part 2)
"Wake Me, Shake Me" /
51 14 Coast Along
"Shoppin' for Clothes" /
"The Snake and the Book Worm"
83 Coast Along (B-side)
1961 "Wait a Minute" /
"Thumbin' a Ride"
37 Coast Along (A-side)
"Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)" /
"Keep on Rolling"
23 16 Coast Along
"Girls Girls Girls" (Part II) /
(Part I)
96 Coast Along (A-side)
1964 "T'ain't Nothin' to Me" /
"Speedo's Back in Town"
64 20

Billboard Year-End performances[edit]

Year Song Year-End
1957 "Searchin'" 21
1958 "Yakety Yak" 21
1959 "Charlie Brown" 17
"Poison Ivy" 54
"Along Came Jones" 80


  1. ^ Huey, Steve. "The Coasters Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved November 20, 2022. That engaging and infectious combination made them one of the most popular early R&B/rock & roll acts, as well as one of the most consistently entertaining doo wop/vocal groups of all time.
  2. ^ a b c d "Show 13 – Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' Roll in the Late Fifties. [Part 3] : UNT Digital Library". Digital.library.unt.edu. 1969. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
  3. ^ "The Coasters | Rock & Roll Hall of Fame". Rockhall.com. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Soul Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 49/50. ISBN 0-85112-733-9.
  5. ^ "News – Ex-Coasters Manager Dies at Ely State Prison". reviewjournal.com. April 11, 2006. Archived from the original on February 21, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
  6. ^ Alexander, Otis (April 21, 2021). "King Curtis (1934 -1971) •". Retrieved May 14, 2023.
  7. ^ "Coasters Lead Singer Cornelius Gunter Slain Inside Car". AP NEWS. Retrieved May 14, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (1988). "The Coasters". Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 93. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  9. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2008). "The Coasters". Joel Whitburn Presents Across the Charts, the 1960s. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-89820-175-8.
  10. ^ a b "Coasters – Singles". Official Charts. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  11. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 - Week of September 21, 1959". Billboard. Retrieved December 24, 2023.


  • Carl Gardner – Yakety Yak I Fought Back - My Life with The Coasters (Veta Gardner, AuthorHouse, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4259-8981-1)
  • Bill Millar – The Coasters (Star Books, 1974, ISBN 0-352-30020-5)

External links[edit]