Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carl Gardner of The Coasters Passes On

Carl Gardner, the tenor who was the original lead singer of The Coasters, passed on 12 June 2011 at the age 83. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Carl Gardner was born in Tyler, Texas on 29 April 1928. By the early 1950's he was making a living by singing at parties. He left Texas for California to pursue a career in music. In 1954 he was hired as a replacement for a singer in The Robins and remained with the group even after that singer, who had been in jail, returned. The Robins would not last beyond 1955. They were signed to Spark Records, founded by legendary song writing team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. When The Robins' single "Smoky Joe's Cafe" proved to be a hit, Leiber and Stoller were offered a package deal from Atlantic Records, whereby they would produce records for The Robins. Of The Robins, however, only Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn were willing to move to Atlantic. As a result, The Coasters were formed with Billy Guy, Leon Hughes, and guitarist Adolph Jacobs joining Messrs. Gardner and Nunn.

The Coasters would have a hit with their first single written by Leiber and Stoller, "Down in Mexico," released in 1956. Their next single "Young Blood"/"Searchin'" would cross over from the R&B charts to become a hit on the pop charts as well. The Coasters would have several hits in the next several years, including "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown," "Along Came Jones," and "Poison Ivy." Unfortunately, the Sixties would not be kind to The Coasters, as the early part of the decade saw them getting fewer and fewer hits. Their last major hit would be "Little Egypt" in 1961. By 1967 The Coasters would disband. They would return in 1968 with a new line up and have remained every since, always with Carl Gardner as lead vocalist.

Here I must point out that Carl Gardner was not simply the lead vocalist and leader of an R&B and doo wop group. He was the leader of the R & B and doo wop group. In my humble opinion, The Coasters were the greatest doo wop of them all, performing songs that were at once humorous and meaningful. "Along Came Jones" was a commentary on the state of television in the late Fifties. "Poison Ivy" was a not so veiled reference to sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, these songs would not have been hits without the vocal talents of The Coasters. Indeed, Carl  Gardner was arguably the best lead vocalist of any doo wop group, a tenor with an incredible range. If Carl Gardner and The Coasters' career lasted over half a century, it is because Mr. Gardner was an incredibly talented singer.

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