Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Remembering the "5" Royales

"Life can never be exactly like we want it to be"

So begins the bridge of Dedicated to the One I Love, a song that is familiar to most listeners from two different but equally popular hit recordings, by the Shirelles in 1961, and the Mamas and the Papas in '67. Both versions are likable enough examples of the quality girl group and LA harmony-pop proffered by those groups, but neither ever impressed me as anything beyond a typical example of Sixties pop fare.

A few years ago I read an interview with the great Steve Cropper, Telecaster master of Booker T and the MGs. When the inevitable "Who influenced your guitar playing?" question was asked, the Colonel was eager to say he basically took his whole early style from a guy named Lowman Pauling, who had played with a group called the "5" Royales back in the Fifties. Well, before long I had tracked down an out of print low budget cd release of the "5" Royales 1957 album called "Dedicated to You." This prize was worth the eight bucks it cost me for the cover alone, which featured four of the red tuxedo jacketed quintet falling like dominos away from the front and center figure of Mr. Lowman Pauling, who practically lunged toward the camera proudly cradling his TV-yellow Gibson Les Paul Special. This was his group.

The "5" Royales hailed from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The quotation marks around the "5" in their name have at times been attributed to an early dispute with another similarly named group, but it has also been suggested that there were actually six members of the group for a time, requiring the winking quotation marks. Formed in the early Fifties, their initial gospel-influenced doo-wop style occasionally featured saxophone on instrumental breaks. Lowman Pauling sang bass and quickly emerged as a songwriter. This formula yielded moderate success on the R&B charts. But by the time they made the"Dedicated to You" album for King Records in 1957, Lowman Pauling had brought his guitar to the forefront of the group's sound. As it turned out, this phase of the group peaked on that record, and the centerpiece of the new style was a song penned by Mr. Pauling and Ralph Bass: Dedicated to the One I Love. My familiarity with the hit versions of the song did nothing to prepare me for the first listen to the original. The words and the melody, even the harmonies, were in place, but threaded through the whole song was a raw and determined lead guitar that seemed at once completely at odds with the song as I knew it and quite riveting. So this was what Steve Cropper was talking about. The overdriven, obviously cranked tube amp, the aggressive attack, and best of all, the pause at the beginning of the solo, where you can almost feel Pauling take in a breath and dive in; well this is why I collect music. The album features that guitar sound on most of the tracks, which also include Think another Lowman Pauling original that would later be a hit for James Brown. It's not that Pauling's style was particularly complex, or even original. Echoes of T-Bone Walker and Guitar Slim, among others, are clearly there, but the audacity of the playing in the context of a pop-vocal group (as opposed to a blues setting) goes a long way to explaining why I dig this record so much. Apart from the album itself, the best example of Pauling's fierce guitar style is the single, The Slummer the Slum, (great title, incomprehensible song, beautifully distorted guitar sound), which is found on various collections of the group's work.

For some reason the later sides cut by the "5" Royales tended to tone down Pauling's guitar playing, and by the mid Sixties they had faded in the wake of the new soul styles from Atlantic, Motown and Stax. Legend has it that at some point a down-on-his-luck Lowman Pauling sold his interest in Dedicated to the One I Love for a few hundred dollars. At any rate, by the early Seventies he was basically forgotten and worked as a custodian in a Brooklyn synagogue. It was there that he suffered a fatal seizure on the day after Christmas, 1973. He was 47.


  1. OK Mr. Mazz, you've piqued my interest! Let's hear it and see a copy of the cover!

  2. Thanks for the article Mazz. I must admit, I thought the Shirelles did the first version. The addition of the guitar is quite interesting. This has never been one of my favorite songs (the mamas and papas version actually irks me) but this original has a style that is very engaging. Not just the guitar (which does NOT sound like a Gibson with soapbar p-90s but rather a Tele) but moreover the entire feel is less precious than the female versions with which I was familiar.

  3. Yeah, the Mamas and the Papas covers were usually pretty bad (especially Twist and Shout), but John Phillips could write.

    Interesting that you think it's a Tele. I can't get on youtube at work, but you should see if "The Slummer the Slum" is on there. It's a more aggressive guitar sound for sure. If it's not there, I can send you a digital copy from home later.

  4. Slum was not on there, so do please share if you get a chance.

  5. Pauling's guitar work is really impressive. Dude was dripping in echo. The guitar here does sound much more P90 than Dedicated. You can hear that staccato attack that Cropper perfected. In addition to writing Think, which James Brown did so dang well, I see that they also wrote Tell The Truth which Ray Charles did so extremely well with Margie Hendrix.

    Thanks for turning me on to these cats.

  6. I too am intrigued. I don't know that I've ever heard the "5" Royales, and if I ever heard the name "Lowman Pauling", I'm betting it was in a Steve Cropper interview. This essay suggests that I am missing out on something special.

  7. The file is now updated with links to the streaming music in question.

  8. Hey Mazz, I really like your post. I look forward to more of your music and ideas.

    This song is really well crafted and a joy to listen to for the reasons you give. But did anyone check out that bass line? Nice! I expected an older friend who predominantly bought singles such as this at the time to be hip to this song's provenance, but nope. And he was impressed when I played it for him.

    Regarding Slummer the Slum, it rocks too! And that guitar tone and playing! The song is perhaps an attempt at a 'dance tune', as in some move he could do called the slummer the slum? And I disagree about the lyrics in general, they make lots of sense: "I could be a smart guy from Wall Street, I could be a purple people eater's son." Got that?

    For more on the beat to this song, go here: http://web.me.com/morganyoungideas/On_The_Flip-side/On_The_Flip-Side_Podcast/Entries/2009/1/27_Elmore_James_-_.html

  9. Jack,

    Thanks for the kind words. I do plan to post again before too long.

    I think you're right about the dance theory. Somewhere in North Carolina there is probably a 70-something or two who could provide a demonstration of the slummer the slum. I'd love to see it too.