I met Lawrence McCue on Memorial Day 2011 at the park at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale. (With my ratty+beat Bose headphones on, I walk from my house to the Brand Library and back everyday. It’s my kicking-out-the-jams early morning ritual.) Lawrence was visiting family and having a BBQ there that day. He was wearing a sweet black leather jacket, an awesome + mean pair of shades and a black shirt with a picture of the band The Coasters on it. He’s such a striking figure, I couldn’t help but approach him and sheepishly ask if he had been a member in the band. Very sweetly he said “Yes I was!”. He was their guitarist and musical director from 1983 to 2000.
The original Coasters (1956-1968) were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and are most famous for their hits Yakety-Yak, Charlie Brown, Down in Mexico, and Searchin’. Though they broke up in 1968, every original member has since had his own touring version of the band over the years. Lawrence and his musical partner Jessie Floyd began playing + touring with original Coasters members Billy Guy and Will “Dub” Jones in 1983 when Lawrence and Jessie ran into Billy Guy by chance at the Gower Gulch Denny’s in Hollywood. They bought Guy lunch and the idea came up of putting together a new unit of The Coasters. They contacted Will “Dub” Jones who agreed to come aboard, then got Jessie’s cousin Kendal Floyd to join and within days the next incarnation of the band was born. They played together for 17 years till the passing of Jones and then Guy whereupon they retired the band.
Set List for The Coasters
Born in Kansas City MO, Lawrence was 14 when he first decided to pursue music after seeing Elvis on TV. He didn’t have a television so he used to go out into his yard and watch the TV through the window of his neighbors house. One night he saw Elvis performing on the Ed Sullivan show and he knew that that’s what he wanted to do. He tried to talk his mother into buying him a blond guitar like Elvis’, but they didn’t have any money. He saw a $23 guitar at a pawn shop in town and started saving up to buy it. In the meantime he found a guitar in a trash can but it only had one string, the 6th string low E. The only song he knew that could be played on one string in low E was “Baby What You Want Me To Do” by Jimmy Reed. So he taught himself to play that track over and over till he had enough money to buy the guitar he wanted.
Lawrence came out to Southern California while serving in the Marines in the early 60‘s. Discharged in 1964, he began playing with The Snapshots before going on to play with a number of other Los Angeles doo-wop, funk, soul, and rock bands including The Vows, The Younghearts, Vernon Green and The Medallions, The Bean Brothers, Little Caesar & The Romans, and the Made in Japan Band (with Anita Sherman).
About a week after we met, Lawrence invited me to attend service at his church in Culver City where I got to hear him play bass in the church band and attend his sunday school lecture. Afterwards we took some pictures in the community room and then out on the street. Carla, his wife, was with us. Lawrence told me a great story about when he first met Carla. It was 1987 at Ladera Park in Los Angeles. They hit it off and she invited him to attend her church the following sunday. When he arrived, Will “Dub” Jones was there. At this point Lawrence had been playing with Jones in The Coasters for close to 4 years. “What are you doing here?” a surprised Jones asked. “What are you doing here?” Lawrence asked back. “This is my church!” Jones said. Lawrence and Carla celebrate their 25 year anniversary in November.
It was an incredible experience to meet and work with Lawrence. Hearing him tell his stories about the LA music scene was a treat and a real privilege. Lucky for us he’s just finished writing a book about his life, “Rock & Roll Gangster”.
*As a side note, Carl Gardner passed away on the same day that Lawrence and I did our shoot, Sunday June 12, 2011. Gardner was the last surviving member of the original Coasters.