Cornell Gunter’s Coasters lead singer knows the importance of the group’s legacy |

Cornell Gunter’s Coasters lead singer knows the importance of the group’s legacy

Egyptian Theatre concerts scheduled for Dec. 26 and 27

Cornell Gunter's Coasters honors the pioneer work of the original Coasters by performing the songs with the same attitude and dedication with which they were recorded.
Courtesy of Bicoastal Productions

When Early Clover takes the Egyptian Theatre stage in a few days as lead singer for Cornell Gunter’s Coasters, he hopes audiences will understand how seriously he takes his role as the group performs songs such as “Blue Moon,” “Three Cool Cats” and even “Yakety Yak.”

“We do our best to keep the same attitude and get into the same character that the original singers did with these songs,” Clover said. “It’s an honor to be able to entertain audiences and perform these songs, because of the pioneer work that the original Coasters did to make this all possible. And these songs mean so much to the people who grew up listening to them.”

In addition to singing the songs correctly, Clover also taps into the original group’s sense of humor while he performs the setlist.

“The Coasters were called the Clown Princes of Rock ‘n Roll, because they did some clowning on stage,” he said. “They involved the audience a lot with their entertainment, and they made people laugh as well as make them feel good.”

The best way to pay tribute to the original singers is to keep the music pure, clean and as joyful as the original recordings, according to Clover.

“There are a lot of entertainers who are doing music by legacy groups who try to put some of their own spin in the original songs to make them something new,” he said. “We don’t do that, because that’s the way people remember it.”

Clover also wants to pay respect to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote most of these songs.

“Those two were geniuses,” Clover said. “I’m serious.”

Clover, who joined Cornell Gunter’s Coasters in 1988, remembers the first time he heard the group on a little transistor radio.

“I was born and raised on a farm, and I was working on the farm when we heard ‘Charlie Brown’ during our break,” he said. “All of us got up and started clowning around with the song, and at that moment, I didn’t know years later that I would be the lead singer of that group.”

That calling came after a lifetime of musical pushes and nudges, he said.

“I put together my first string band when I was in eighth grade in middle school, and by the time I was in 10th grade we had awards for the school,” he said. “After that, one of my teachers suggested that I put together a four-piece band to sing around in the community.”

That band grew into a seven-piece outfit that became the backup band for rhythm-and-blues icon Rufus Thomas, soul musician Joe Simon, soul singer William Bell and others, according to Clover.

“I started writing music, which I had some problems with, so I had James Brown tutor me in how to group my words together,” he said.

All of those opportunities led Clover to the famed Apollo Theater, where he won top awards for his performances.

Those recognitions inspired Ralph Cooper, the original emcee of these Apollo performances, to encourage Clover to audition for a group that was looking for a lead singer.

“He didn’t tell me it was the Coasters, and they didn’t tell me who they were until after I was hired,” Clover said with a laugh. “I had to learn nine songs in six days, because we had three shows coming up. I ate, slept and drank Coasters’ material until I had that down pat.”

As lead singer of the Coasters, which was the first group to be inducted into the newly established Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Clover can list experiences that confirms to him that he is in the right place at the right time.

He was able to sing with original members Billy Guy and Bobby Nunn before they passed away, and he found out that original member Cornell Gunter, who passed away in 1990, was his cousin.

“I didn’t learn that until 1997, but it continues to make a huge impact on me, to maintain the group’s legacy,” Clover said.

The singer believes musicians need to understand the songs they write, play and release will always become their legacies, good or bad.

“It’s up to the writers and musicians to decide what type of legacy they want to leave behind,” he said. “The Coasters, along with the Platters and Drifters, knew what kind of legacy they wanted to leave. They stuck with that vision, which is good, because their songs are here for a lifetime.”

Cornell Gunter’s Coasters

When: 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 26, and Monday, Dec. 27

Where: The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.

Cost: $39-$59 for each performance

Phone: 855-745-SHOW


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