Young Blood: The Coasters; Leon Russell; Bad Company

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Young Blood. This is a delightfully funky 50s R&B song. We will start with the original song by The Coasters, and then we will review covers from Leon Russell and by Bad Company.

The Coasters and Young Blood:

The story of the Coasters begins with the legendary song-writing duo of Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller.

Leiber and Stoller wrote a slew of great early rock and roll hits. They first started with R&B songs that crossed over and became rock and roll standards. For example, in 1952 they wrote Hound Dog for Big Mama Thornton, which became one of Elvis’ first big hits, and which we covered in an earlier blog post. That same year they wrote Kansas City for Little Willie Littlefield, and Wilbert Harrison’s 1959 cover of that song became a #1 pop hit.

Cover of Leiber (R) and Stoller's autobiography, Hound Dog.

Cover of Leiber (R) and Stoller’s autobiography, Hound Dog.

At left we show the cover of Leiber and Stoller’s autobiography, Hound Dog. The photo shows Mike Stoller (left) and Jerry Leiber (right), with some unknown pop singer between them.

In 1953, Leiber and Stoller formed Spark Records. At that company they produced and wrote most of the songs for an R&B group called The Robins. The biggest hit for that group was the 1955 release Smokey Joe’s Café.

That song was sufficiently successful that Atlantic Records offered Leiber & Stoller a deal whereby the pair could produce songs for Atlantic, but were also able to make recordings for other labels.

At the time, this was a unique deal, and it made Leiber & Stoller the first independent record producers. Leiber and Stoller then offered the Robins the opportunity to move to Atlantic Records.

However, only two of the Robins were willing to record for Atlantic. So Leiber & Stoller added two additional vocalists, and re-named the group The Coasters.

Here is a photo of The Coasters original lineup in 1956. Clockwise from L: bass vocalist Bobby Nunn; lead vocalist Carl Gardner; baritone Billy Guy; and tenor Leon Hughes.

The Coasters tend to be associated with the doo-wop genre; however, their work was really not doo-wop music. Leiber and Stoller wrote and produced nearly all the hit songs for the Coasters. At the time, this was a unique situation, as song-writing and producing were generally totally separate activities.

Nearly all the Coasters tunes were humorous, and were performed by the Coasters with very broad comedy styling. The fact that Leiber/Stoller were producing the Coasters’ songs was crucial to establishing their signature sound.

I asked my friend Glenn Gass about the Coasters, and he said the following. “The Coasters were a ‘vocal group’ but were also unique – no single lead singer (lots of group singing/chanting instead, often in character) and those great story-song ‘playlets,’ as Leiber & Stoller called them, about teenage life, instead of the typical romantic or lovelorn doo-wop lyrics.”

“The Coasters were most definitely a rock & roll group who sang novelty-style numbers, rather than a novelty act lampooning rock & roll.”

I don’t know of any other rock ‘n roll group that had a series of hit comedy songs. Most comedy records in this era were either straight parody as with Stan Freberg, or silly novelty songs as with Ray Stevens.

Perhaps the closest analogy to the Coasters songs would be Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (“No dice, son, you gotta work late”), or the humorous songs by Chuck Berry.  These were also rock ‘n roll songs that happened to contain a comedy component.

The song Young Blood was initially written by blues singer and songwriter Jerome Felder, who used the stage name Doc Pomus. Pomus then gave the song to Leiber and Stoller.

Leiber and Stoller then radically re-wrote the song. Apparently there was little left of Doc Pomus’ original tune; however, Leiber & Stoller shared the songwriting credits with Pomus.

This marked a turning point for Doc Pomus. Inspired by the commercial success of Young Blood, he changed his focus from a blues performer to songwriter. With songwriting partner Mort Schuman, the duo churned out a series of great early rock hits.  Among these were A Teenager In Love, This Magic Moment and Save The Last Dance for Me. In addition, Pomus and Schuman wrote a number of hits for Elvis, including Little Sister, Suspicion and (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.

In any case, Young Blood can be considered the Coasters’ first major hit. Actually, that song was the “B” side of a record with Searchin’ on the other side. Searchin’ was actually a slightly bigger hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard pop charts, while Young Blood only made it to #8.  However, both songs spent 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts.

The premise of the song is simple and universal. The singer sees a young girl and is immediately smitten. At the end of each verse, a phrase is repeated four times, once by each member of the Coasters, ending with bass man Bobby Nunn.

I saw her standin’ on the corner
A yellow ribbon in her hair
I couldn’t stop myself from shoutin
Look a-there Look a-there
Look a-there Look a-there

[CHORUS] Young blood, young blood, young blood
I can’t get you out of my mind

I took one look and I was fractured
I tried to walk but I was lame
I tried to talk but I just stuttered
What’s your name What’s your name
What’s your name What’s your name
[CHORUS]

A common theme in early rock and roll is a meeting between the singer and his girlfriend’s father, who takes an instant dislike to the young man. This occurs also in Young Blood, when the singer is told by her father “You’d better leave my daughter alone.”

Here is the audio of the Coasters’ single Young Blood, from 1957.

As you can see, this is an enjoyably funky presentation of this song. It’s got a dynamite saxophone part, and the Coasters provide a great mix of four-part harmony, while playing the song for laughs.

One of the hallmarks of Leiber and Stoller’s work was their ability to provide lyrics that captured the vernacular dialect of teenagers. This was never more dramatically displayed than in Leiber and Stoller’s work for the Coasters.

Coasters songs can instantly transport me back to my high school days. I vividly remember the dialogue in several Coasters comedy hits, such as Yakety Yak (“Take out the papers and the trash, or you don’t get no spendin’ cash”), Charlie Brown (“Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”), and Poison Ivy (“You’re gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion”).

And here is a live presentation of Young Blood. This is the Coasters performing at an ‘oldies’ concert. I believe that is Carl Gardner as lead vocalist, but I don’t know the other singers in this incarnation of the group.

At the end of 1957, the Coasters moved from L.A. to New York. At that time they replaced original members Nunn and Hughes with Cornell Gunter and Dub Jones.

The Coasters continued to be an extremely successful pop group until 1961. After that, none of their singles charted in the top 50.

The Coasters were a strong influence on other groups that followed them. For example, in their early Cavern Club days in Liverpool, the Beatles included several Coasters songs. Those songs allowed the Beatles to showcase their vocal harmonies and were popular crowd-pleasers.

The Beatles performed two Coasters songs during their famous Jan. 1962 audition with Decca Records. To their everlasting embarrassment, Decca rejected the Beatles and instead signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes to a record contract. D’oh!!

Beginning in the 70s, a number of ‘Coasters’ touring groups materialized. At least a couple of these groups had no members from the actual Coasters.

The 1958 version of the Coasters was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. They were the first vocal group to be inducted.

Then in 1995, a musical revue of Leiber and Stoller songs titled Smokey Joe’s Café opened on Broadway. A significant portion of the music was devoted to Coasters songs. The show won a Grammy Award and seven Tony Award nominations.

Leon Russell and Young Blood:

Leon Russell is a renowned singer-songwriter and producer. Lately we have been featuring his music quite a lot. We discussed his cover of When a Man Loves a Woman in our blog post on that song; and we also reviewed his cover of Heartbreak Hotel in a duet with Willie Nelson, in an earlier blog post.

Leon Russell grew up in Tulsa, OK, where he was something of a musical prodigy. He was playing in nightclubs in Tulsa at the tender age of 14. Russell left high school at 16 and made his way to Los Angeles.

In L.A., Leon Russell quickly established himself as a session musician, mostly on keyboards but also on guitar and other instruments. Leon’s incredible versatility made him a valuable asset, as he could play anything from bluegrass to folk-rock to pop to hard rock.

Over the years Leon Russell worked with an astonishing range of rock and country musicians, including among many others Jan and Dean, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Rita Coolidge, George Harrison, Glen Campbell, the Beach Boys and the Carpenters.

In 1969, Russell and Denny Cordell created the company Shelter Records. In that same year, Joe Cocker recorded Leon Russell’s song Delta Lady for Cocker’s eponymous album that was produced by Russell. This was Leon’s first big commercial songwriting success.

Here is a photo of Leon Russell (right) performing with Joe Cocker on the 1971 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Leon organized the band and produced the show on this tour.

Sign about Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden box office.

Sign about Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden box office.

The Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour was a great success. This tour and his exposure at Woodstock made a superstar out of Joe Cocker. But it also earned Leon Russell accolades for his creativity and as a wonderful backing musician. This was the point where I remember Leon Russell earning the nickname “Master of Space and Time.”

Here is Leon Russell performing Young Blood live. This is from the Concert for Bangladesh organized by George Harrison, which took place at Madison Square Garden in September 1971. A sign from the Madison Square Garden box office is shown above left.

As you will see, this is quite a long segment, and is a medley of two songs: Young Blood and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. However, I really enjoy Leon’s performance and I hope you like it, as well.

 

Leon is in great form here. In this over-the-top bit, he starts out singing Jumpin’ Jack Flash; then he segues into Young Blood.

As you can see, an all-star charity concert showcases dozens of superstars. The musicians clearly enjoy Leon’s up-tempo soul-inspired medley. Several of them get into the act with the repeated phrases at the end of each verse.

Leon screams and wails through this performance, bangs away at the keyboards on both Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Young Blood, and generally enjoys himself.

Leon’s medley brought down the house at the Concert for Bangladesh. The audience went wild, and for many of them it was their first introduction to Leon. Russell’s appearance at the Concert for Bangladesh provided him with great exposure, and helped make him a superstar.

In the early 70s, Leon Russell continued his successful career as a singer, songwriter, and producer. He collaborated with artists like Bob Dylan, and some of his songs were nominated for Grammy Awards.

Somehow at the same time, Russell managed to start up a parallel career as a country singer. Under the pseudonym ‘Hank Wilson,’ Russell released four albums containing country and bluegrass music, beginning in 1973 and ending in 2001.

In 2011, Leon Russell received two major honors. In March of that year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then in June he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I saw Leon Russell live in concert once, and it was a real treat. Russell is a virtuoso on both keyboards and guitar, and I really enjoy his country-flavored R&B music.

Leon’s own songs are a fascinating mix of country, rock and jazz. He is one of the originators of what is called the ‘Tulsa sound.’ In addition, you can invariably count on Leon Russell to produce creative and thought-provoking covers of old standards.

Bad Company and Young Blood:

Bad Company was one of those rock combos formed in the 70s and 80s. They were created using a rather generic formula. You take two performers from band A, one from band B, and one from band C. You then release an album and declare yourself a ‘supergroup.’

Well, this formula worked pretty well for bands such as Cream, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Led Zeppelin. However, many ‘supergroups’ turned out to be, at best, one-hit wonders.

I remember vividly being told in the early 80s that the band Asia was going to be a legendary ensemble. They did get out one best-selling album containing a #1 single, but after that pretty much zilch.

In any case, Bad Company were formed in 1973 and followed the ‘supergroup’ formula. They were a quartet that included lead vocalist and guitarist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke from the group Free; bassist Boz Burrell from King Crimson; and guitarist Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople.

Below is a photo of Bad Company in concert. From L: Boz Burrell; Paul Rodgers; Simon Kirke (on drums); Mick Ralphs.

Bad Company were managed by the legendary Peter Grant. Grant was also the manager for Led Zeppelin. Although Grant had an incredibly grating and repellent personality, at the same time he
has been described as “one of the shrewdest and most ruthless managers in rock history”.
Grant is widely credited with improving pay and conditions for musicians in dealings with concert promoters.

Below, Peter Grant is shown offering a friendly salutation.

Unlike many band managers, who were often never seen inside a music venue, Grant’s style was intensely personal, hands-on and in-your-face. He had an extraordinary understanding of the Byzantine workings of the music business.

Grant could be an enormous pain in the arse. At 6 foot 5 and as a former wrestler, he was physically extremely intimidating. At the same time, he was intensely loyal to the groups he managed.

He played a significant role in the career of Bad Company, and the group fared very well financially with him as manager. Grant was responsible for
“single-handedly pioneer[ing] the shift of power from the agents and promoters to the artists and management themselves.”

Bad Company issued their first eponymous album in 1974. It went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 album charts in the U.S., and to #3 on the U.K. album listing.

The band had a stripped-down sound that was really appealing. Nothing fancy or flashy, just straight-ahead, solid rock and roll played by really competent musicians.

I consider Paul Rodgers to be an exceptional rock vocalist. He possesses a wonderful voice and a terrific sense of timing. No wonder that the band’s biggest hits such as Bad Company, Good Lovin’ Gone Bad, and Feel Like Makin’ Love remain iconic favorites in the classic rock genre.

The next two albums released by Bad Company all made it into the top 5 in the Billboard album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. The group were legitimate superstars, and headlined a number of tours around the world.

In 1976, the band released a single cover of the Coasters song Young Blood, which made it into the top 20 on the Billboard pop charts. Here is Bad Company with a live cover of Young Blood.

This is from an April, 2010 Bad Company reunion concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Original Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell had died in 2006, so in addition to Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke the group is augmented by Howard Leese on keyboards and Lynn Sorensen on bass.

The band is clearly having fun with this oldie, and they all get to chime in by repeating lines at the end of each verse.

However, Bad Company’s run of success would change dramatically in September 1980, when Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died after consuming at least 40 shots of vodka in a 24-hour period.

At this point Led Zeppelin disbanded. This was a tremendous shock to everyone involved with that band. Their manager Peter Grant was particularly shaken by Bonham’s tragic death.

As a result, Grant basically lost interest in his work and went into seclusion, and Bad Company suffered from his neglect. In addition, the band members were burnt out from the stadium touring of the 70s.

In 1982, Bad Company disbanded. But in 1986, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke re-formed a band. Atlantic Records insisted that they retain the name Bad Company, although by this time Paul Rodgers had teamed up with Jimmy Page, Chris Slade and Tony Franklin to form a new supergroup, The Firm.

For the next decade, the new Bad Company continued on with some success on tour, and more limited success with their albums. Then in 1998, the original Bad Company again re-united.

They went on a couple of successful tours before bass player Boz Burrell retired from the band in 1999. Since that time, Bad Company has re-united from time to time for generally successful tours.

In 2011, Paul Rodgers announced that he did not foresee working with Bad Company any time in the near future. However, you can still catch many of the greatest Bad Company hits on your favorite ‘classic rock’ radio station.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Young Blood (The Coasters song)
Wikipedia, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Wikipedia, The Coasters
Wikipedia, Leon Russell
Wikipedia, The Concert for Bangladesh
Wikipedia, Bad Company
Wikipedia, Peter Grant (music manager)

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
This entry was posted in Doo-Wop, Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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