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 band’s brilliance and underscores its role in shaping rock ‘n’ roll.
“Soul and Swagger” is an exhaustive 5-CD box set that covers the span of the band’s career, from its early gospel days as the Royal Sons Quintet to a rollicking, sometimes bawdy, rhythm-and-blues 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 in the national press from Rolling Stone and Mother Jones, with reviews in music magazines, MoJo and Uncut, expected to appear soon.
Though the market already has several “5” Royales compilations, none are as comprehensive as “Soul and Swagger,” which has nearly every song the band recorded from 1951 to 1967, including 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.
And for diehards, the compilation 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 the legendary bluesman, Guitar Shorty.
James Austin, who has compiled the catalogues of some of the world’s biggest musical acts, produced the Royales set, calling it 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. 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,” Austin said.
His goal was to compile a “soup-to-nuts” anthology, with as much information and minutia 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 quite small and no longer in existence, so its catalogue is scattered. For help — the band members have all since 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, getting 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.”
Music fans will have plenty to pore over in the lavish box set, which sells on Amazon for about $70, with lots of detailed notes on the songs, extensive liner notes and photos of every single the band released.
The “5” Royales never reached the heights of its contemporaries, such as the Coasters, the Drifters and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and its role in fusing the soul of gospel with the song structure of rhythm and blues is often overlooked.
But the band has a cult following, particularly overseas. Steve Cropper and Eric Clapton count the band among its influences.
Austin, a longtime lover of American roots music, first became aware of the “5” Royales in the 1970s.
“You listen to their music, and you can’t get over it,” Austin said from his home in California. “You just don’t like the ‘5’ Royales. You love the ‘5’ Royales. So part of doing this was selfish. I created this for me. But I also did it for the group, that maybe they can get recognized, maybe get in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I can do my part by spreading the word.”
The band’s lineup changed a few times during its career. Besides Pauling, the most famous lineup was Johnny Tanner, Eugene Tanner, Jimmy Moore and Obadiah Carter. Early members Otto Jefferies and William Samuels are also featured on the box set.
Lowman Pauling’s son, Darryl, who still lives in the home where the band rehearsed more than 60 years ago, has not seen the box set, but he’s grateful for the attention it may bring.
Darryl Pauling recently started a Facebook page for the band, which has brought in “likes” from as far as Finland and Germany.
“It’s a good thing,” Pauling said of the box set. “Maybe their songs will be heard more.”