Behind every great soul group there’s usually another great soul group – and behind all of them, at the very foundation of soul harmony, there will always be the “‘5” Royales.
I love their ahead-of-their-time harmonies. I love the way that – like their spiritual successors, the Temptations – the “5” Royales were never afraid to interchange their lead singers to suit the mood of their material. I love the depth and breadth of their repertoire. I love the way they took doo wop and turned it into soul. I love the trailblazing guitar work and the songwriting of their premier league axeman, Lowman Pauling. There is absolutely nothing that I don’t like.
The group’s long-established level of adulation among R&B fans is now being duplicated among soul fans, who have been hunting down and making prized artefacts out of, principally, some of the recordings that appear on “Catch That Teardrop”, Ace’s new anthology of the best of their early 60s recordings.
At the dawn of that decade, the group’s contract with King Records was ending. Exceptionally popular in Memphis, the “5” Royales opted to sign with a new label based there. This gave them the opportunity to make records with musicians who went on to achieve fame as the architects of two generations of the Memphis Sound. With Poppa Willie Mitchell leading the band and producing the records, the Home Of the Blues sides couldn’t fail to be good. Unfortunately they did fail to be hits, with the end result that the original HOTB 45s are among the rarest that the “5” Royales ever released in a 30+ year career.
The best of these, along with the complete Federal recordings of El Pauling and the Royales’ pianist Royal Abbit, are gathered up on “Catch That Teardrop”. The title track and Take Me With You Baby both currently command between £200- 400 on the Northern Soul circuit. Likewise, such Pauling/Abbit sides as Everybody Knows are collected by New Breed R&B fans and played everywhere from Bury to Barcelona, yet almost none of the Federal recordings have ever been reissued since they first appeared on vinyl more than 40 years ago.
The shared lead vocals of brothers Eugene and Johnny Tanner offer thrill-a-minute stuff and they’re backed by vocal harmonies that are never less than sublime. The brass-heavy rhythm tracks show that Memphis soul was already alive and well and ready to do its thing a full year before records like Last Night and Green Onions indelibly defined the genre. And El Pauling’s amazing guitar work demonstrates time and time again why Steve Cropper has always acknowledged him to be a prime influence.
It’s been my privilege to be involved in the compilation and CDfication of no less than three compilations of the “5” Royales’ classic recordings. I have to admit that I am proud of this one.
By Tony Rounce