WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (The “5” Royales Prove Dangerous To My Health!)

Soul and Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales 1951–1967 (2014)


Five discs. Six hours of music. Eight record labels. Three distinct phases–gospel/r&b/soul. Too many personnel changes to count.

One concept: Hardcore.

Whatever they did, they did to the limit. The cast of characters changed but the basics remained. Hard-edged vocals (Mostly from Johnny Tanner in the first decade-plus and mostly from Eudell Graham at the very end.) Equally hard-edged blues-with-a-difference guitar slinging from Lowman Pauling, who also wrote the bulk of their material.

They had a small run of hits in the fifties. Seven top tens on the R&B chart, a single bottom scraper on the Pop charts. And they kept trying, year after year, without any drop in quality and without any further success. Eventually, they all, even Pauling, who should have had one of the most lucrative catalogs in the world (“Baby Don’t Do It,” “Tell The Truth,” “Dedicated To the One I Love,” “Think,”…like that) died broke and in obscurity, working as night watchmen, janitors and so forth.

The music got into practically everybody’s head. Steve Cropper. James Brown. Ray Charles. Eric Clapton. Then, you know, whoever they influenced. Pauling’s guitar playing is the absolute bedrock of both funk and the not-as-far-disparate-as-you-might-think garage band ethos (just how absolute even I, a longtime fanatic, didn’t realize until I heard all of this in one place).

The excellent notes for this model reissue, which collects not only every Royales’ release (plus a number of unreleased and alternate sides) but all the various side projects that Pauling was involved with, posit them as the principal source of soul music and a fifties equivalent (and forerunner) of the Rolling Stones.

All very true.

But what amazed me across this incredible journey was the sheer consistency of shared vision in the pursuit of the purest possible gutbucket.

I mean, I listened to all six hours this week and I don’t want to say it was down and dirty but, as of yesterday, I’ve taken up smoking and I’m going to run by a clinic on Monday.

I think I might need a shot of penicillin.


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