Here is the complete story of how Carl Gardner discovered his singing talent, endured examples of racial prejudice in small-town Texas, made some dubious decisions and traveled west to become the voice of one of the most historic rhythm and blues vocal groups, the Robins, ending up as the front man of one of rock and roll’s most popular acts, the Coasters.
It’s quite a journey.
It didn’t take long for a youthful Gardner to discover two things: he had great vocal talent and he didn’t want to be stuck in Tyler, Texas, where he was hurt by things he considered “racial,” but where he was also helped by an encouraging teacher who recognized his talent. His desire was to become a smooth singer in the Eckstine and Nat Cole mold, but was able to transfer this into a rougher R&B style, which was far from his first choice. But it was what sold.
He described how he left loved ones in Texas to go to L.A. on a maybe and struck it big by joining the Robins to replace Grady Chapman, who was away on a law enforcement coffee break. Even though the group got big breaks and new levels of popularity, Gardner recalled the money was never enough.
While in the Hollywood scene, he experienced the pimping lifestyle and made off-the-books bucks on the kinky sexual peccadilloes of the powerful. In other words, it wasn’t only about what went on in recording sessions or on-stage.
There are some quibbles about the editing process. Some well-known names are clearly misspelled and lesser ones have alternate spellings in the text vs. the photos. And there are some great photos from Gardner’s files. He makes clear his dislike for the, well, over the top and aggressive Cornel Gunter and the controversial Larry Marshak.
To some, Gardner overstates his case with terms like “rock and roll slaves,” but there’s little doubt he’s willing to share things others might wish to keep confidential, and thus gives a great overview of what the R&B and budding rock and roll experience was like for those who helped create it.
Authorhouse Publishing; Bloomington, IN ISBN 978-1-4259-8981-1 (sc)
180 pages; discography by record release; time line from 1949 to 2005; no index.