Monday, September 14, 2009

The 5 Royales -- Complete King Masters (Home Brew compilation, 51 trax)

The 5 Royales are my favorite rhythm and blues group of the 1950s. They were, basically, the Beatles of R&B--a self-contained unit of great singers, with one of the most brilliant songwriters and guitarists in all of Afro-American music, Lowman Pauling, as their one-man Lennon-McCartney-Harrison.

Not that the other 4 Royales were slouches--John Tanner, James Moore, Obadiah Carter and Eugene Tanner (with 6th Royale Otto Jeffries often in tow--he also managed the group) are superb vocalists, at home with silly novelty songs and the most passionate of soul ballads.

The Royales' recording career spanned 1948 to 1965. Their best work was done for Cincinnati, Ohio indie label King Records, from 1954 to 1960.

The 51 King masters have, surprisingly, never been collected in one place until I sat down and did it this weekend. Many of these tracks, at present, are out of print. I used the superb Ace CD I Know It's Hard But It's Fair and two long out-of-print sets, Rhino's 1994 Monkey Hips and Rice: The 5 Royales Anthology and 2004's Don't Let It Be In Vain, from the Slouch Hat label.

The latter CD, which was discontinued within a year of its release, contained four tracks which have never otherwise been digitally remastered or reissued. Two of the best 5 Royales songs and performances--"Devil With the Rest" and the stunning minor-keyed masterpiece "Don't Let It Be In Vain," were found only on that rare-as-hen's-teeth disc.

Well, gang, all 51 tracks are here, arranged in the order of their release. I included the King matrix numbers on each track. King's matrix numbering hopped all over the place, so my hopes of arranging these in recording order was quickly dashed.

If anyone in Interwebs Land can figure this out, and put these tracks in the order the Royales recorded them, you will do the world a great service.

If you are unfamiliar with the songs of Lowman Pauling, you're in for a pleasant discovery. Pauling was among the most thoughtful and philosophical songwriters in R&B history. He basically provided the music its cornerstone transitions from post-war jump blues to the emotional overwhelm of '60s soul music.

You know at least one of his songs. "Dedicated To the One I Love" was a later hit for the black girl-group The Shirelles, and for LA folk-rockers the Mamas & Papas. The Royales' original version cuts all others to shreds. It contains a typical Lowman Pauling blend of heartfelt emotion and thoughts about human existence.

Just consider the line "Life can never be exactly like we want it to be." That's pure poetry, friends--and absolutely true. Another Paulingism that has become a sort of personal mantra is "After you did your best, the devil with the rest."

Pauling's melodies are among the best in all of R&B. And his guitar-work... mamma mia! Listen to "Think," the opening track on part 2 of this set. Lacerating, passionate, gripping, commanding!

"Think" was covered, in a bastardized version, by King label-mate James Brown. Brown's early recordings are heavily inspired by the Royales'. Ray Charles, in another curiously bastardized revision, covered the Royales' exuberant "Tell The Truth."

For some odd reason, when other artists have chosen 5 Royales songs to cover, they've mucked them up. No reason to trouble yourself with remakes, folks--it's all here for your listening pleasure. These songs will grow on you.

There are several non-Lowman Pauling songs on this set, including a few written by band members Otto Jeffries ("When I Get Like This," "I Need Your Lovin' Baby") and by R&B songwriters Henry Glover and the team of Charlie Singleton and Rose Marie McCoy.

Some of the uptempo novelty ditties aren't so hot, but even then, when written by Pauling, they transcend their fate. "Mohawk Squaw," a dumb-as-they-get novelty jumper, is rescued by some emotionally intense lyrics.

These guys, in the King period, could sing anything and make it sound great. They were so fortunate to have Pauling on deck. The Charlie Ferguson orchestra provides backing on most numbers. They hit a groove with the Royales and expertly supported the quintet/sextet's ace singing and Pauling's guitar antics.

Recommended reading on the Royales: Ed Ward's imaginative essay in the anthology book Stranded, which is the best piece I know of on the group, even though it is, as admitted by its author, almost 100% a work of fiction.

The Ace CDs, including a collection of the Royales' final recordings, Catch That Teardrop, are well worth acquiring. If you like this music, it'll sound even better on a CD.

Wellp, here you go... H E R E ' S Part One.

Part Two can be found H E R E! No art or liners--just the music. (Don't worry, all song files are titled.) Enjoy!


  1. I am just now getting around to checking these out. GREAT GREAT stuff. Thanks for the informative essay and for assembling this collection of superb R&B musenick!

  2. Thank you so much! The song "Don't Let It Be In Vain" is one of the most haunting I've heard. Many cheers from NJ. Sadly out of print from the "Sing For You" record.

  3. fantastic. the only thing I'll quibble with is, you ought to learn to spell Cincinnati. otherwise, thanks for a great public service!

    --e.h., nashville, tenn.

  4. Love this stuff! Thanks for putting it together.

  5. excellent post!
    thank you very much for this work of love!