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Harmony Lane: Yakety Yak, Coasters' Carl Gardner fights back

Coasters founder Carl Gardner?s life story is the focus of a new autobiography, ?Yakety Yak, I Fought Back: My Life With the Coasters.? What illegal occupation did Gardner once have? And what does he have to say about rival Cornell Gunter?

Coasters founder Carl Gardner?s life story is the focus of a new autobiography, ?Yakety Yak, I Fought Back: My Life With the Coasters.?

The 180-page paperback, published through AuthorHouse, was written by Gardner?s wife of 20 years, Veta. It traces the now 79-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee from his birth in Tyler, Texas, to international stardom, to content retirement in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Although Claus Rohnisch?s 27-page discography and timeline gives the reader a great deal of information on the group?s history and output, the premise of this book is not names, places and dates. For that, fans should visit Rohnisch?s Web site, I?ve found this to be one of the most authoritative and well-researched Internet sites for any vocal harmony group from any era.

?Yakety Yak? reads like an engaging chat with the singer himself, as Gardner recounts the segregation and racism he encountered while growing up poor in the Deep South in the late 1930s and early 1940s and yearning to find success in California as a ?sophisticated crooner,? a solo singer in the Bill Kenny, Billy Eckstine and Nat ?King? Cole vein.

Once in Los Angeles, Gardner found, to his dismay, that rhythm and blues groups and combos had captured the country?s tastes, and, through his association with bandleader Johnny Otis, he wound up sitting in with the Robins in late 1953 while their regular lead, Grady Chapman, was incarcerated.

It was a stint that lasted until Gardner and bass Bobby Nunn left to form the Coasters with Leiber and Stoller in fall 1955.

To R&B fans who hold the Robins in high esteem, Gardner?s tales of the group?s extracurricular activities may come as a shock. In order to earn extra cash to send home to his wife and two children, the singer recounts how he worked as a pimp for fellow Robins member Billy Richard?s wife, Helen, who ran an exclusive L. A. prostitution house.

Equally compelling are Gardner?s matter-of-fact explanations of the Coasters? founding, original members Bobby Nunn and Leon Hughes firings and manager Lester Sill?s filing of a fictitious business statement assigning the Coasters? name to himself.

Gardner doesn?t mince words when addressing some of the individuals he?s been associated with through the years, either. Of the late Cornell Gunter, who eventually left the fold and started rival touring group the Fabulous Coasters in the 1960s, the author asserts that Gunter, the victim of an unsolved 1990 murder, was ?one of the biggest liars who ever lived.?

Gardner also shares his very candid opinion of entrepreneur Dick Clark, who regularly bypassed Gardner?s group to book Gunter?s group for less money.

Particularly poignant are Gardner?s introspective statements, where he briefly touches upon a long battle with alcohol and provides insight into the loneliness that many entertainers feel on the road and attempt to quell with liquor and drugs.

At times, he?s bitter. In other instances, he?s remarkably astute, noting, ?I was a pioneer, until the Beatles changed the sound, and then they became the pioneers.?

Gardner?s bitterness resonates as he details a long and costly crusade against fake Coasters groups, which culminated in lawsuits involving fellow pioneer Billy Guy and Billy Richard?s nephew, who was awarded a stake in the group?s trademark and licensed the name to a New York promoter who booked multiple variations of non-original Coasters.

The singer?s devotion and appreciation of his wife?s efforts ring through as he recounts his life in a Mount Vernon, N.Y., apartment in the early 1980s, when