Good Old Rock 'n' Roll

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Sly McFly’s bar on Cannery Row in Monterey has a local reputation for good live dance music.  This Sunday, Sly’s cements its reputation by presenting a double-bill featuring two of the biggest names in R&B from the 50s and 60s: The Drifters and The Coasters.

As with many bands from this era, there may be several incarnations of a particular band touring at any given time, each with members from the original line-up.  For Sunday’s show, the Drifters features Bobby Hendricks, a member of the band since 1957, and the Coasters features Leon Hughes, a founding member since 1955.

The Drifters were origninally formed by Clyde McPhatter (of Billy Ward and the Dominoes) in 1953.  Their first hit, “Money Honey,” released that year, is often cited as being the first rock and roll record, and was covered by several artists of the rock and roll era including Elvis Presley.    By the time this song was released, the band had already gone through some line-up changes and a year later McPhatter himself left the band to pursue a solo career.

The second major incarnation of the Drifters came in 1958, with Ben E. King on lead vocals.  They had hits with “There Goes My Baby,” still considered a classic, and “Save the Last Dance for Me” among others, but were unable to maintain a stable line-up due to management’s salary policies.  King left in 1961 and was replaced by Rudy Lewis, who sang lead vocals on “Up on the Roof” and “On Broadway” but died the night before the recording session for “Under the Boardwalk.”  Johnny Moore was recruited to sing lead vocals on “Boardwalk,” and it was this line-up of the Drifters that was eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Fellow Hall of Fame inductees the Coasters have a similar history.  The band was formed in 1955 at the behest of songwriting and producing team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  The duo persuaded Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner, then of the LA based sextet the Robins, to join a new group with Billy Guy and Leon Hughes.  After a few low-key hits, the Coasters scored a double-A-side smash with “Young Blood”/”Searchin’” in 1957.  Three singles later, the band bifurcated, with one version of the band moving to New York, and Nunn staying in California to launch “The Coasters, Mark II.” 

The East Coast version of the Coasters, with Cornell Gunter and Will Jones replacing Hughes and Nunn, went on to score a string of hits including “Yakety Yak,” which reached number 1 in 1959, “Charlie Brown” and “Poison Ivy.”  After a few more minor hits, Gunter left the band and formed his own “Fabulous Coasters” several years later.

The Coasters continued to perform around the US throughout the 60s and 70s, and re-entered the charts in 1972 with a re-release of “Love Potion Number Nine.”  The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Backing both bands on Sunday is the Muddy Rivers Revue, formed in 1979 by Muddy Rivers, aka Michael Rivinius.  The band will play its own opening set before the Coasters and Drifters, making the evening a triple treat for fans of classic pop.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, June 10, 2004

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