Rest in peace, Carl Gardner. Just tell those hoodlum friends outside… you ain’t got time to take a ride.

Maxine Pinkney is a good friend of mine; she was the widow of Bill Pinkney, one of the original members of the classic R&B group The Drifters.  Pinkney, who was a member of the Drifters alongside Clyde McPhatter, sang bass for the vocal harmony group, and it’s Pinkney’s voice that can be heard on their version of “White Christmas.”

And today, Maxine alerted me that we lost another member of the vocal harmony family.  Carl Gardner Sr., the last surviving member of the group The Coasters, passed away Sunday.  He was 83 years old.

Gardner and Bobby Nunn were members of another harmony group, The Robins, and it was their version of the Lieber-Stoller song “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” that helped the songwriting duo earn a contract with Atlantic Records.  Gardner and Nunn left the Robins, moved from Los Angeles to New York City, and formed the Coasters – becoming, in effect, the top doo-wop group for Lieber and Stoller’s hit songs.

Their catalog included such classics as “Charlie Brown,” “Young Blood,” “Searchin’,” “Little Egypt,” “Poison Ivy,” and the legendary “Yakety Yak.”  Quentin Tarantino fans will recall their song “Down in Mexico” from the soundtrack to the film Death Proof.

“Charlie Brown” “Searchin'”
“Poison Ivy” “Yakety Yak”

And like Bill Pinkney, Carl Gardner continued to tour and record with his Coasters for many years.  His son, Carl Gardner Jr., currently sings lead for the touring Coasters.

I should note that Carl has also fought against the proliferation of fake Coasters groups – the ones that have popped up over the years, the ones whose members are younger than the songs that they sing, the ones that claim to be the originals, but have less claim to the Coasters’ legacy than I do.  Carl worked with the Vocal Group Hall of Fame to preserve his rights to the name “The Coasters” and to not get undercut by touring copycat groups.

In 1987, the Coasters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A dozen years later, they were enshrined into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Rest in peace, Carl Gardner.  The legacy of your music will live on for generations.  And your fight to protect your trademark against copycat imposter groups will never be forgotten.