This is one of the doo wop era’s story songs. It’s July 2, 1953, and a prisoner serving time for armed robbery wakes up to a riot among the inmates. It spreads from cell block to cell block, with threats, dynamite, and tear gas. It all ends on July 4, with no Independence Day for the prisoners. “Riot in Cell Block #9,” which was written by famous team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and sung by The Robins. It is a classic recording from 1954 and went to #1 on the R&B Chart. Numerous artists have covered the song, including versions by The Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, Johnny Winter, Dr. Feelgood, The Blues Brothers, Johnny Cash, and, not surprisingly, The Coasters.
The Robins, who were from Los Angeles, influenced musicians in many genres, including R&B and doo-wop. In the initial group were Ty Terrell, Billy Richards, Roy Richards, and Bobby Nunn. Carl Gardner and Grady Chapman joined them in 1954. Then, in 1956, Garner and Nunn left to go to New York and helped to form The Coasters. There were a number of “bird groups” at the time besides The Robins, including The Orioles, The Ravens, The Crows, The Flamingos, The Wrens, The Falcons, and The Penguins.
Here are the lyrics to “Riot in Cell Block #9” by The Robins.