The “5” Royales

TrackSingle
Baby Don't Do ItApollo 8-443
Help Me, SomebodyApollo 446
When I Get Like ThisKing 45-4806
Just As I AmKing 45-4973
Say ItKing 45-5082
Dedicated To The One I LoveKing 45-5098
Tell The TruthKing 45-5141
Double Or NothingKing 45-5141
Don't Let It Be In VainKing 45-5153
Take Me With You BabyHome Of The Blues 234

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The

The “5” Royales (top to bottom): Otto Jeffries, Jimmy Moore, Obadiah Carter, Johnny Tanner, Lowman Pauling

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

From their debut in 1952 onwards, the “5” Royales had 59 45 RPM singles released in the US. In the UK they had 2 releases, one of which was a shared single between themselves and the Drifters. Faced with figures like that it hardly comes as any surprise that few people in this country outside of dedicated fans are even aware of the existence of the group. One person who didn’t miss out on the Royales, though, was Charlie Gillett. In “The Sound Of The City” he devoted a paragraph to them and, with his customary combination of economy and expressiveness, he managed to encapsulate the essence of the boys far better than I’ve seen in most longer articles on the subject. While the whole para is deserving of your attention, I’ll content myself with Charlie’s final line:

“With their witty high spirits and rough harmonies, the Five Royales presented rhythm and blues at its best, keeping the strength of blues lyrics and presenting them with the emotion of gospel singers.”

Or, to put it another way, the “5” Royales ‘invented’ soul music, that’s if such a word can be used, and if it could be used about one artist or group. What isn’t in dispute is that several of their key gospel-imbued singles came right at the start of that record career predating discs from artists usually seen as pioneers of the genre like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, James Brown and Clyde McPhatter.

Their first record for the New York based Apollo label, Courage Of Love, was essentially a blues ballad, the sort of thing that someone like T-Bone Walker would occasionally perform in a set to give some variation to the twelve bar blues which would comprise the bulk of said set. Often such items were, both lyrically and musically, more soft and sentimental in approach than the blues numbers which surrounded them. But the Royales’ then lead vocalist Otto “Jeff” Jeffries’ first words, “You really hurt me, broke my heart”, were anything but fluffy and his high pitched vocal conveyed an intensity of emotion that was unexpected in such a record. The middle eight, featuring the entire group on harder vocal plus a booting sax, was perhaps too strong a mood changer but everything came good in the last verse when church style call and response appeared and Jeffries capped it all with flurries of falsetto and melisma.

The reader might well be thinking, “that record doesn’t sound a lot like soul to me” but I would gently point out that soul as we later called it, didn’t happen overnight; it wasn’t a one record thing. Gospel groups transferring to the secular field didn’t just change the lyrics of their songs and retain all the fervour and vocal interplay. No, they largely did as producers and label owners told them to i.e. attempt to conform to what such bodies thought would sell. And the reader by now will have guessed that the “5” Royales came from just such a background.

The Royal Sons Quintet as the group was originally known were first formed in Winston-Salem in North Carolina in 1942. They were a gospel vocal group with one member – Lomond “Lowman” Pauling – who played guitar (as well as singing) and would go on to write many of their songs. At the time of winning their first record contract with Apollo Records of New York, the group actually consisted of six members: Lowman Pauling, Johnny Tanner (usually on lead vocal), Jimmy Moore, William Samuels, Obadiah “Scoop” Carter and Otto “Jeff” Jeffries. The variation of membership between 5 and 6 continued into their existence as the “5” Royales, accounting for those quotation marks. The most important joiner during the Royales period was Johnny’s brother, Eugene Tanner, who effectively replaced Jeffries and took the lead on some of their most important recordings.

The first four tracks recorded by the Royal Sons were typical gospel of that time. Journey’s End is a good example. Apollo, however, had different ideas for the group. Their third single release coupled Too Much Of A Little Bit with Give Me One More Chance, both secular numbers. The A-side was a jumper with a boogie piano kicking things off followed by Lowman Pauling taking the vocal lead in Mr Bass man style. But on the flip the pianist had moved almost into church (or to Ray Charles mode if you recall some of those great Atlantic slow burners which were further down the road at this juncture) and Johnny Tanner was emoting all over the place. This clip holds both sides of the single which was released on Apollo 434 as by the Royals. (For further confirmation of the usage of the Royals name, see the Tony Watson review of the Soul & Swagger Box Set from the “5” Royales.) Watson also states that, given the strength of gospel expertise already at Apollo – this included Mahaliah Jackson, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Prof. Alex Bradford Singers and more – it was felt by those who ran the label that the Royal Sons could compete better in the secular market. Unfortunately, choice of the “Royals” name caused a legal problem with the Federal label which already had a group with that name – see Footnotes – hence the change.

Record #1 by the boys with their “5” Royales hats on might have made people sit up and take notice but it was record #2 which got them parting with their money. Baby Don’t Do It was lyrically a blues – “If what you say is true that you and I are through / If you leave me pretty baby I’ll have bread without no meat” – but you’d hardly have known it from the boisterous manner in which those lyrics were delivered (though you might have guessed something by the lascivious nature of the second part of the couplet).

Baby Don’t Do It hit the top of the R&B Chart and clung on to that position for three weeks in early 1953. Stylistically it was akin to jump blues but with the significant difference that the band members who often echoed or responded to the blues shouter up front were, in this case, not instrument players but real singers. The record set the pattern for many that would follow: up tempo jumpers designed to get the punter out on the dance floor. The double or even single entendre nature of the lyrics wasn’t a regular occurrence though it did appear again as early as record #4, Laundromat Blues, another record that the public took a shine to. “She’s got the best machine, the best washing machine in town (Ooh-wee what a machine)”. Later examples of jumpers like All Righty in late ’53, saw an earlier swingtime feeling gradually being replaced by harder edged R&B.

The best of their early ballads was, to these ears, Help Me Somebody or, to give the punchline in full, “Won’t somebody help me get back in there again”. Like earlier blues ballads from the boys, it had a curious middle eight wherein the beat doubled up but the singer moved to conversational mode. Any feeling of disconnection though was pushed to one side by the unaccompanied final plea of that section, “I didn’t miss my water till my well went dry“, words that have appeared elsewhere over the years but rarely so emotively as this.

Later fine examples of blues ballads verging on soul included 1955’s When I Get Like This and Just As I Am from ’56. Staccato touches from the backing singers in Just As I Am found later echoes in vocal groups from Detroit and Philly. But any tendencies towards sweetness were banished by the blues based guitar work of ace session man Mickey Baker who was a regular studio accompanist to the group in this period.

Lowman Pauling’s guitar hadn’t yet been heard in a studio context with the group but this was all to change in May 1957 with the release of Think, a strutting rocker with forceful acid interjections from Lowman that made you sit up and ask “what was that?” The reader might well question why I didn’t make this track a selection. My response would be that this is one of those rare cases where the cover definitely improved on the original. The James Brown version wasn’t a competing cover since it came out in 1960 but it was a landmark in the soul and funk genres even though Brown’s arranger made no attempt to copy the Pauling guitar work. This is it. The story goes that JB kept a weather eye on the Royales releases in case there was anything he fancied picking up. And the Royales returned the favour with their version of Mr Brown’s Please, Please, Please also in 1960 after they’d moved to the Home Of The Blues label.

An even better example of Pauling’s guitar work can be found in a later release from 1957, a soul churner called Say It. This might just be his tour de force from the opening to those jaw-dropping closing notes. I’m unashamedly including this track for the guitar work though the vocal, almost all on blues-drenched seventh notes, gives him some strong competition.

Other than one near throwaway remark near the beginning I’ve made no mention of the fact that Lowman Pauling provided the vast bulk of the songs for the Royales, and yes that did include Think (so Lowman got the writing royalties from the Brown version). The tail end of ’57 saw the release of the most notable by far of his songs, Dedicated To The One I Love. I guess the aural image most of us have of this number is Mama Michelle opening on the version from the Mamas and the Papas who took it to the #2 position in the US National Pop Chart in 1967. It’s not unlikely that John Phillips picked up the number from the less often heard but very fine Shirelles version which made the Billboard Hot 100 twice, once at #83 in 1959 on initial release and then at #3 on rerelease in 1961.

Lowman co-wrote the song with the group’s producer, Ralph Bass. While more of an ode to “my lady” than pangs of agony after parting as heard on so many of their records, the concoction was kept from getting too cloying by Lowman’s guitar work on which the sourness level was dropped back but by no means completely.

While I’m far away from you my baby
I know it’s hard for you my baby
Because it’s hard for me my baby
And the darkest hour is just before dawn

With the occasional exception, the Royales had two periods of R&B Chart success; a couple of years from late ’52 to late ’54, and spring ’57 through to early ’58. One of those exceptions was Dedicated To The One I Love which was rereleased in 1961 when it achieved the only Hot 100 placing for the Royales. Okay it was a lowly #83 and certainly deserved more but still worth some celebrating.

The quality of releases didn’t drop after Dedicated To The One I Love. If anything they tended to sound better but that could be due to the music becoming more like what one expected of black vocal groups. The other record to make a dent in the R&B Chart post the original “Dedicated” was Miracle Of Love / I Know It’s Hard But It’s Fair. The A-side had writer Lowman in sentimental mood again (though his axe would seem to have disappeared entirely). It’s also more doo woppy than usual (see also Footnotes re doo wop and R&B vocal groups).

Good as it was, Miracle Of Love got squeezed out of my ten by several other fine records. Tell The Truth, from summer 1958, is another song that’s better known via a cover version. Boasting a rare incursion into latin territory, the performance is enhanced considerably by the riffing horns, something that would be duly noted in New York (home of Atlantic) and Memphis (Stax but some time later). Indeed it was a certain Ray Charles at Atlantic who was to wax the better-known version which I wouldn’t dream of criticising. Charles and his Atlantic producer not only increase the gospel resemblance, but they are also daring enough to have Brother Ray only emerge out of the Raelettes, who are carrying the song, over forty seconds into it.

Flip the Royales’ Tell The Truth and you would have found another goodie. Double Or Nothing is one of those easy listening but bluesy records which slips down with some ease leaving one with a desire to drop the needle again (or some such modern equivalent) and be fascinated once more by the interplay between the lead and the rest of the group:

Don’t Let It Be In Vain, released later in ’58, was certainly intended to be made of sterner stuff even if the finger-clicking intro was, intentionally or otherwise, suggestive of lounge. Within seconds the combination of Lowman’s aggressive axe, horn riffing which could have graced the Stax studio and Eugene Tanner’s pleading vocal, serve to eradicate images of Tony Bennett at the Copa. The one and only negative about this track is that it’s too short by half.

The release of the James Brown version of Think in 1960, on the Federal subsidiary of King, led to a lawsuit between the Royales’ management and King – see the excellent BlackCat Rockabilly Europe article on the group – which is understood to have been, at least in part, the reason for the boys leaving King. The track Why (which you’ll have to find on Spotify, it’s not on YouTube) came from their final session for King and if you think the lead on it sounds rather like Sam Cooke, there’s a reason: he wrote the song, and could well have created a demo of it, or sung it to the boys since they did tour together.

Their next record label was the Memphis based Home Of The Blues where a young Willie Mitchell led the band and produced some of their records. The label leased several of the group’s singles to Vee-Jay and ABC-Paramount which accounts for the apparent confusion in their recording career in the early sixties. While the buyers proved to be resistant to parting with their money, the quality of the group’s records remained high with standouts being They Don’t Know with great horns, the more poppy Catch That Teardrop and the Diddley-like I’m Gonna Tell Them. My favourite from the period is a jumper with excursions into a minor key entitled Take Me With You Baby. In the sleeve notes to the Ace Records album Catch That Teardrop, Tony Rounce states that both Take Me With You Baby and the album’s title “currently command between £200–400 on the Northern Soul circuit.”

To add further confusion to the Royales discography, Lowman Pauling cut several singles for Federal Records in the early sixties along with the Royales’ pianist and fill-in singer Royal Abbit. These were variously billed as El Pauling And Royal Abbit, El Pauling And The Royalton, El Pauling, Royal Abbit And The Royalton or even Ed Pauling And The Exciters. That these records weren’t to be sniffed at can be judged by the record Rain Drops Keep A’Fallin’, a blues effort from 1961 on which we’re treated to a kind of duet from Royal and Lowman. If you were expecting something like Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head you’re either reading the wrong article or will have a very pleasant surprise!

The “5” Royales disbanded in 1964, or ’65, or in the mid sixties depending on who you read. Lowman Pauling ended up as a night watchman at a Manhattan church and died of a seizure on 26th December 1973. Other members of the group performed occasionally on the oldies circuit.

The Royales were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. In the introductory paragraph in the biography that accompanied the induction, the writer stated: “… the “5” Royales would remain voices in the shadows, a quintet whose fifteen-plus-year career was prodigious in scope and influence, but mostly out of sight to the general public. Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sheds an overdue light onto the shadowland occupied by the glorious “5” Royales.”

In 2011, Steve Cropper released an album entitled Dedicated: A Salute To The 5 Royales with contributions from himself and other artists. Cropper has never made a secret of the impression Lowman Pauling made on him and similarities in their playing style will be apparent even to non guitarists. On YouTube there are several interviews with Cropper which were conducted whilst he was plugging the album. In the one with National Public Radio, Cropper gave this response, when asked about the Royales’ music:

“I think if you listen to their songs, and even some of the ones on the album that we chose, you can tell that originally that song was probably a gospel song – or at least the roots of it was a gospel song. And then they had to, you know, form the lyrics to make it more modern and less gospel. But some of the licks and the feel and the groove, and some of the backgrounds especially, are very gospel.”

 

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FOOTNOTES

1. The figures used in the first para came from 45cat.

2. The other “Royals” who recorded for Federal Records were the outfit in Detroit who were led by Hank Ballard. Litigation was avoided by the Detroit Royals renaming themselves The Midnighters and the Winston-Salem Royal Sons/Royals changing their name to the “5” Royales. Given that in 1954, the “5” Royales moved to King Records who owned Federal there was perhaps an even stronger reason to have the new names in place.

3. Ralph Bass was a record producer and talent scout. He started out in the forties at Black & White Records where he produced T-Bone Walker, Lena Horne and Roosevelt Sykes; he was the man behind the console for T-Bone’s Stormy Monday. He then moved to Savoy where he worked with Johnny Otis plus others, and subsequently landed up at King/Federal of Cincinnati where he worked with their major R&B artists. Records he produced for the label(s) included Have Mercy Baby for the Dominoes, Please, Please, Please from James Brown and Work With Me Annie from Hank Ballard. Another claim to fame for Mr Bass was that he produced the original version of Kansas City from Little Willie Littlefield.

1959 found Ralph in Chicago, or to be more precise, at Chess Records working with many of their luminaries including Etta James, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and the mighty Wolf. To round out a remarkable career, Ralph produced John Lee Hooker at MCA.

4. “The “5” Royales were in the R&B vocal group tradition rather than being doo wop pioneers”. Those are the sort of words you’ll see in the more respected books on rock and soul history. Which is all very well but a little explanation might be in order. Below are the first three paragraphs of the section entitled “Vocal Groups and Doo Wop” in “RocknRoll” which attempt to address the topic:

“In the eyes of many, the view of Rock’n’roll Vocal Groups and Doo Wop would go something along the lines of:

First there were white vocal groups. Then black vocal groups came along singing doo wop. The white guys cribbed a bit of that and added bits of their own, hence the Beach Boys and Four Seasons. Oh and there were the Everly Brothers. And Sixties Girl Groups.

Something of a travesty but there are elements of truth in there. Let’s address one thing first: black vocal groups didn’t equate purely to Doo Wop. There were groups, sometimes referred to as R&B Groups, who had come more directly from the church tradition who had either minimal, or none, of the usual doo wop tropes about their performance. This was particularly so in the fifties. However, as one moved into the next decade most black vocal groups whatever their origins, had incorporated at least some of doo wop’s many characteristic attributes.”

After discussion on doo wop including an attempt at a definition, I then go on to say:

“At this juncture I must also mention a second style of black vocal group typified by the Five Royales (or sometimes the 5 Royales or even the “5” Royales), and to an extent, Billy Ward’s Dominoes in their initial incarnation. These groups had come more directly from the gospel tradition. Hence the more impassioned delivery, the call-and-response patterns, and the presence of melisma. Such groups tended not to go in for the degree of elaboration that could be found in doo wop records though basic “oop-shooping” was often present. They weren’t averse to conveying excitement or passion via some pretty basic shouting, either. It was these groups that were to lead to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and soul music. (Both the groups I’ve just mentioned get due attention from me in the section on soul music.) Inherent also in such groups’ approach was an understanding and utilisation of blues music. This occurred to the extent that the honking or screaming saxman who could often be found on a jump blues record, was lifted bodily and transferred into an R&B vocal group track.”

5. It shouldn’t be thought that doo wop groups were the only artists to use what is commonly called the doo wop progression in their songs; in the late fifties and early sixties a good proportion of records in the charts used just this structure and many of these records weren’t from doo wop groups. However, it’s also true that there were doo wop outfits which only rarely ventured beyond the progression. A good example of this is Shep and the Limelites who I gave the Toppermost treatment to some time ago. In contrast Lowman Pauling, in the songs he wrote for the Royales, only very very rarely reached for the progression. On the occasions he did, the records often had other attributes about them that raised them beyond the level of most doo wop groups. A good example is Tears Of Joy, the record which got the group back in the R&B Chart in 1957. You need to check this out. That intro is something to die for (and how I managed not to include this one in my ten, I just don’t know).

6. In his “The Heart Of Rock And Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”, Dave Marsh includes four “5” Royales records. Below are just some of the words he lavished on a record I didn’t cover in the main text, The Slummer The Slum: “The song’s a pure blues-rocker – if you didn’t know better, you might think you were listening to a dance tune called “Stompa-de-stomp”. Lowman Pauling plays a guitar solo that takes the blues up and over the edge, stinging single-string riffs blasting off into 12-bar distortion the like of which wouldn’t be heard until British kids “discovered” feedback.”

7. Lowman Pauling’s brother, Clarence, was one of the original members of the Royal Sons Quintet. He moved to Detroit in the fifties where, having shortened his surname to “Paul”, he achieved some fame both as a song writer and for his production work at Motown. Artists he produced included Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations.

8. I made reference to the fact that Lowman Pauling who had been regularly featuring on guitar with the Royales on stage, hadn’t been used in that manner in the studio until “Think”. According to Tony Watson in his extensive review for Blues & Rhythm of the group’s box set Soul & Swagger, “It wasn’t until a February 1957 recording date on which they were using legendary guitarist Tiny Grimes, when, halfway through the session, whilst recording ‘Think’, Pauling picked up his axe and the number just exploded.” And they never looked back after that.

9. On his Dedicated: A Salute To The 5 Royales album Steve Cropper and producer Jon Tiven gathered together an impressive list of contributors including Lucinda Williams, Bettye Lavette, Sharon Jones, Steve Winwood, B.B. King, Delbert McClinton and, perhaps surprisingly, Brian May. This is Ms Williams with Dedicated To The One I Love and here’s Sharon Jones with Messin’ Up, the original of which only missed out by a whisker of getting included in my ten. And for an encore, this is B.B. with Shemekiah Copeland on Baby Don’t Do It.

10. It’s very rarely that I utter a word of criticism about the great Charlie Gillett who not only got most things right about rock, soul and, yes, pop music, but he got them right before most other people. But in that phrase of his regarding the “5” Royales, “With their witty high spirits and rough harmonies …”, I’d be very inclined to change that word “rough” to “splendid” or even go with the “glorious” from the gent at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

The

 

Lowman Pauling (1926-1973)

Otto “Jeff” Jeffries (1912-1975)

Obadiah Carter (1925-1994)

Eugene Tanner (1936-1994)

Clarence Pauling (1928-1995)

Johnny Tanner (1926-2005)

James Moore (1926-2008)

 

Excellent review of the “5” Royales 1957 album Dedicated To You

 

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The “5” Royales

The “5” Royales Discography at 45cat

The “5” Royales on Discogs

The “5” Royales biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Sam Cooke, Drifters, Howlin’ Wolf, Ivory Joe Hunter, Mamas & Papas, Mickey & Sylvia, Johnny Otis, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters

TopperPost #767

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Feb 17, 2019

    Dave, thanks for this superbly comprehensive piece. Only recently discovered that ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’ was not a Mamas and Papas’ song. Thanks for filling in the rest of the Royales’ story…

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