Carl Gardner

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Carl Gardner spent an extraordinary 50 years (and more) at the forefront of R&B harmony vocal music. Born Carl Edward Gardner in Tyler, Texas in 1928, he showed serious musical ability from an early age,…
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Carl Gardner spent an extraordinary 50 years (and more) at the forefront of R&B harmony vocal music. Born Carl Edward Gardner in Tyler, Texas in 1928, he showed serious musical ability from an early age, but his family's poverty seemed an almost insurmountable impediment. He joined the army at 16 and during his time in uniform he organized a singing group of his own. Music continued to draw him after he returned to civilian life, and he eventually headed to Los Angeles, where he managed to cross paths with the r&b vocal group the Robins. In 1954, lightning finally struck when the Robins found themselves without a lead tenor -- member Grady Chapman had run into legal trouble and was in jail, and the call went out for Carl Gardner. He joined in time to play a key role in their hit "Riot In Cell Block # 9". When the Robins' lineup disintegrated in 1955 amid the dissolution of the record label to which they were signed, he made the jump to the Coasters -- essentially an offshoot group -- alongside fellow ex-Robin Bobby Nunn. As first tenor and generally the lead singer of the Coasters, Gardner became a familiar voice across a decade's worth of singles, from "Down In Mexico" and "Youngblood" (and its B-side, "Searchin'"), on into the 1960's. He has also kept the legitimate Coasters name alive -- as opposed to versions of the group with no connection to the original outfit -- into the twenty-first century, this despite a battle with throat cancer. Although semi-retired since 2005 (his spot in the group having been taken over by his son, Carl Jr.), Gardner continues to coach the group, and in 2007 he published his autobiography, Yakety Yak, I Fought Back, recounting his life and his decades in the music business.