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July 1, 2005

Will the real Coasters please stand up?

Summit Daily News (CO):

Cornell Gunter's death in 1990 didn't put an end to The Cornell Gunter Coasters. After all, there were still shows to play and money to be made. Not that he would be the only former member of 50s hitmakers The Coasters to trade on the band's famous name and its doo-wop hits.

Several incarnations of The Coasters tour the United States at any given time, singing "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown" and the rest of the group's oldies radio standards. Carl Gardner, owner of the trademark "The Coasters," is the only surviving member of The Coasters and continues to front the band.

Distinguishing between the different acts hasn't been without confusion. Town of Frisco officials scrambled this week to correct promotional material for The Cornell Gunter Coasters' performance at the Frisco Bay Marina. After Mike O'Brien, the show's promoter, informed the city this week that the group was not The Coasters, rather one of its offshoots, posters were altered with stickers and advertisements were changed to include the name Cornell Gunter. New posters were later printed with the picture of the Cornell Gunter lineup, not the original The Coasters, as was on the first posters.

This pattern isn't specific to The Coasters, and has infected several well known hitmakers of the '50s. The Platters and the Drifters are two other groups that have spawned numerous groups performing under a variation of the names.

Discrepancy over the use of the name The Coasters has been cause for numerous lawsuits, including one in which Gardner and his wife/manager Veta took Dick Clark Productions to court in 2000. The suit was later settled out of court. One might also argue that The Coasters died with its record sales in the 60s. "The group The Coasters doesn't exist anymore," O'Brien said. "They're all revues. It's like 'The Wizard of Oz.' Someone's playing the role of Dorothy, but it's not Judy Garland."

Veta Gardner has spent weeks in court arguing that point. She said the different bands trading on the name are robbing her husband of his dues. And by performing at a low cost the bands are prohibiting the real group The Coasters from landing gigs. "They're taking jobs from the real people," Gardner said from her home in Florida. "My husband should have been able to retire years ago. We can't even get work: These people are playing for cheap." Bringing The Cornell Gunter Coasters to Frisco is setting the city back $8,500.

Despite the presence of an original member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted group, O'Brien says the band is more than just a glorified cover band. "This will be The Cornell Gunter Coasters," he said. "A cover band would be somebody who used a name other than The Coasters, say 'A Tribute to The Coasters.'" Seth Blackmer, Frisco's special events coordinator, knew there would be no original members of The Coasters in the group, but wasn't put off.

"It's still The Coasters," Blackmer said. "It's just a different Coasters."

To this day there are groups still getting into nasty situations with former members arguing over the use of the name including an acrimonious one I am aware of right now. Every new group should spend the 10 minutes to write up a very concise but simple agreement between the founding members on who owns the name and what will be done when members leave - which is not always on the best of terms. A little bit of energy upfront can save tons of hassle later. - Editor

Posted by acapnews at July 1, 2005 12:27 AM