“There are so many Drifters,” said one local promoter. “There’s the Original Drifters, the World Famous Drifters, and just the Drifters. Meanwhile, none of them have any original members.”
On Saturday the Drifters, the Platters, and the Cornell Gunter Coasters appear in concert at Oceanside’s Seagaze concert series. The biographies provided by Seagaze make no mention of the personnel lineup of the three groups, except Gunter. He was not a member of the Coasters when they had such ’50s hits as “Poison Ivy” and “Yakety Yak.” The bio credits him for starting a Coasters tribute band in the mid-’60s. Gunter died ten years ago.
“There are a number of acts that call themselves the Drifters and the Coasters,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, the primary magazine for the concert business. Pollstar publishes directories that list artists, managers, and agents. The Coasters, Drifters, or Platters aren’t listed. “Many [of the touring groups] have little or no connection to the original acts. Somebody may have legal rights to use the name but no connection at all to the group. The manager might own the name and license it to different groups. Every once in a while you have a rift over the name, like ELO [Electric Light Orchestra]. There are two versions of that. Al Jardine and Mike Love are still fighting over the Beach Boys. I remember a number of years ago one of the original members of the Byrds put a band together and went out on the road as the Byrds. It was one of the members who had no creative input. [Founder] Roger McGuinn sued but wasn’t able to stop him from using it. But ultimately word got out, and the public put an end to it.… If you are expecting to see the original Coasters and you see a bunch of 30-year-old guys, you are…being duped.”
Rick Dennis, food and beverage director of the Catamaran, has no problem presenting one of the groups known as the Drifters. They appeared at the Catamaran’s Cannibal Bar in June. “They’ve been coming here for years. We understand that they aren’t the original band, and I think the crowd does too. I think that is pretty much understood. They don’t put out the illusion that they are the original group. But they do the music justice. If you close your eyes, you’d think they were the original Drifters.”
Seattle promoter Ron Paskin regularly presents vintage rock acts through his Cloud Nine Productions. He said he would pass on the Drifters/Coasters/Platters bill. “I prefer to know the personnel of the groups who I book. Those groups are 40 years old. [The people performing now] are obviously not the originals.”
The agent for the Drifters who appeared at the Catamaran said that the Seagaze Concert series is not on the up-and-up. “There are a lot of groups out there who say they are the Drifters, but they aren’t.… This should be billed as a ‘Tribute to the Drifters.’ ” He said his Drifters includes Chico Vega, a member of the Drifters from 1959 to 1961. “We bill it as Chico Vega’s Drifters.”
The agent said other surviving original members (Bobby Hendrix, Charlie Thomas, and Bill Pickney) each fronts his own Drifters and includes his name in the billing of the band. “You’re not supposed to use the name ‘the Drifters’ by itself. Somebody back East owns the name. If they are billing the Drifters without someone’s name in front of it, or say it’s a tribute, then something is wrong. Whoever booked [Seagaze] should check into the background of every one of these groups.”
I told him that the Catamaran billed his band as simply “the Drifters.”
“They weren’t supposed to do that,” he said.
“Nobody is trying to pretend that it’s anything that it isn’t,” said Jeff Gaulton, talent coordinator for Seagaze. “I’m not exactly sure who is the talent lineup. As long as [the groups] are respectful to the music, I’m not worried about it. It’s not about who was in the band. It’s all about what they make the customer feel when they listen.”
The Drifters, Platters, and the Cornell Gunter Coasters appear 8 p.m. Saturday at the Oceanside pier amphitheater.