Known for their comedic exploits, The Coasters were the beloved class clowns of early rock ’n’ roll. Fun-loving tracks like “Charley Brown,” ‘Young Blood,” “Searchin’” and “Yakety Yak” got big laughs — as did their onstage antics — and cemented their place in music history.
Behind the scenes, Brill Building hitmakers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller fed the ’50s R&B-fueled vocal group a steady diet of ingenious arrangements and witty lyrics. And it was these factors that made The Coasters so much more than a mere novelty act.
Jim Ritz, a writer for a variety of TV shows who has produced, annotated and/or written liner notes for 100 CD reissue projects, served as producer for There’s A Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters On Atco, an exhaustive four-CD retrospective put out by Rhino Handmade that empties the vaults of a wealth of unreleased Coasters material and alternate takes of well-known songs. Having also written the liner notes for this collection, Ritz offers his unique insight on the inner workings of The Coasters and the group’s glorious history.
Talk about how this project came together.
Jim Ritz: Well, this was I believe this is the 60th anniversary of Atlantic Records this year, and I was up at the Rhino offices meeting on another project. I happened to mention that I was a big Coasters fan, and that there was really only one comprehensive Coasters package out there, a thing called 50 Coastin’ Classics, which was actually in mono, and I was aware that there were a lot of hidden gems that were recorded in true stereo and a lot of other things on the Coasters.
So, I said, ‘How about a Coaster project?’ And James Austin, one of the project managers up there, immeditely took to it and thought it was a great idea and took me down to see a guy named Mason Williams, who produces a lot of the Rhino Handmade projects. And we went down there, and James said to Mason, “Jim wants to do a Coasters package.” And Mason said, “Great, let’s do it.” And it was just as simple as that.
I kind of said to them I really want to do something special, and my idea is to do everything that we can find that the Coasters recorded on Atco, and it was a pretty exhaustive search finding that stuff. But, basically that’s how the project came about. I had no resistance to the project at all.
Where did you find some of this unreleased material?
JR: We found a lot of it was in the vaults. Everything was in the vaults, but it was an interesting way that they released Coasters product at the time when they were on Atco.
They would put out an album ... when stereo came into existence, they would put out a stereo version of an album, and it would not just be a stereo version of one of the hits. You’d listen to it, and it was a completely different take. So, they were obviously recording things for mono release and recording things for a stereo release.
And this happened a lot with The Coasters, and no one had ever really kind of gathered the material — anyway, no one at the record company, (though) there have been people in Europe, including a gentleman who worked with me called Claus Rohnisch, who was just a walking encyclopedia of Coasters material, and knew all about all this stuff, and I really got a lot of help from him.
But, no one ever really bothered to gather all the alternate takes and put them all in one place. So, we just started digging and with Claus’ help, he would steer me in the right direction, and I would request a tape to look for and go in