WINSTON-SALEM – The “5’’ Royales, a pioneering rhythm-and-blues band that formed in East Winston-Salem, is getting the royal treatment on a new box set that casts a light on the group’s brilliance and underscores its role in shaping rock 'n' roll.
“Soul and Swagger” is the exhaustive five-CD set that spans the band’s career, from its early gospel days as the Royal Sons Quintet to a rollicking, sometimes bawdy, R&B band with soaring vocals, gospel-inflected harmonies and blistering guitar work from Lowman Pauling, its driving force.
Released in April by RockBeat Records, the compilation has gotten rave reviews from Rolling Stone and Mother Jones. Reviews in music magazines MoJo and Uncut are expected to appear soon.
Though the market already has several “5’’ Royales compilations, none are as comprehensive as “Soul and Swagger,” which has almost every song the band recorded from 1951 to 1967. The set includes such staples as “Dedicated To the One I Love,” “Think” and “Tell the Truth,” songs that were covered by the Mamas and the Papas, James Brown, Ray Charles and Mick Jagger, among others.
For diehards, the compilation also includes alternate takes and rarities, including “Why,” a song written by the band’s good friend, Sam Cooke, and “Pumpkin Pie,” which features the band backing legendary bluesman Guitar Shorty.
James Austin, who has compiled the catalogues of some of the world’s bigger musical acts, produced the Royales set. He called the work one of the highlights of his career.
“I believe in my years of reissuing music, this is the most important one, and the most difficult one,” Austin said. “Working with Ray Charles? That was great. He’s an icon and deserves, and I loved it. But putting this together? The challenge was that this music was unrecognized by the public.”
His goal was to compile a “soup-to-nuts” anthology, with as much information and minutiae as he could find.
“If you’re going to be complete, you have to go over the top,” Austin said. “I don’t want someone to look at this and say, ‘Who’s the writer?’ ‘Who played on this?’ I don’t want anyone asking any questions. So I may have overdone it. But we’re talking about the devoted fan who wants everything.”
The “5’’ Royales recorded on a number of labels, some small and no longer in existence, so the group’s catalog is scattered. For help – all of the band members have died – Austin leaned on J. Taylor Doggett and Tom McCullough, two Greensboro men who have become the gatekeepers of information on the band.
The two are longtime devotees who recorded several interviews with every Royale except Pauling, who died in 1973. They also tracked down the band’s recording history, gathering such information as the recording date, studio name and the names of the musicians on the track.
McCullough is listed as an associate producer of the set.
Austin knew Doggett from a “5’’ Royales two-CD set that Rhino Records released in 1994. So, when it came time for “Soul and Swagger,” Austin knew who to call.
“All they wanted was to help me,” Austin said.
Doggett called the box set the best project that has ever been done on the band.
“I had feared this would never be done,” Doggett said. “It’s almost too good to be true.”