Suppose I were to tell you that Ray Charles is not the father of soul music and the Drifters are not the greatest vocal group in the history of rock 'n' roll? According to R&B conventional wisdom, that would be akin to claiming that grits ain't groceries, eggs ain't poultry and Mona Lisa was a man. But conventional wisdom overlooked the "5" Royales.
The "5" Royales were a North Carolina vocal group popular through most of the '50s and into the early '60s. Their style was based on the close harmonies of jubilee gospel, but the Royales - fronted usually by the raspy, pleading, tenor of Johnny Tanner - took those harmonies into richer and more complex territory, incorporating the call-and-response of postwar quartet-style gospel. When Johnny's brother Eugene Tanner joined the group, taking on some leads himself, he reinforced the more assertive, declamatory style of quartets and soul singers. Songwriter and bass/baritone singer Lowman Pauling wrote lyrics full of down-home wisdom and humor, and suddenly emerged, late into the group's career, as a concise but explosive guitarist. Steve Cropper, who three years ago released Dedicated, a tribute to the "5" Royales, learned more than a little from Pauling, whose less-is-more guitar leads also rubbed off on contemporary masters like Jimmie Vaughan.