The “5” Royales began life in the 1940s as a gospel group called The Royal Sons Quintet but rechristened themselves The Royals after going secular and signing to New York’s Apollo label in 1952.
But Hank Ballard‘s backing band at the time was also called The Royals, so guitarist/songwriter Lowman ‘El’ Pauling and co added an ‘e’ to the name and a numeral 5 in speech marks – a joke acknowledging that there were often six musicians on stage.
Their first clutch of Apollo singles garnered four Top 5 R&B hits between 1952 and 1954: moody mid-tempo tracks such as Baby Don’t Do It, Help Me Somebody and a deliciously lascivious Laundromat Blues.
Each featured Pauling’s heavily distorted – and hugely innovative – lead guitar, which, nearly 10 years later, proved an inspiration to the young Steve Cropper who confessed to stealing some of the guy’s best licks for use on soul sessions with The Mar-Keys.
But when their next release, I Like It Like That, failed to make the charts, the group moved to Syd Nathan’s King imprint, where they ought to have enjoyed crossover success. Somehow, however, it never quite happened for them.
Their most successful single came in 1957 – Think, which three years later also gave James Brown his debut Billboard Top 40 hit. For The “5” Royales, however, it scraped up to #66, while their original rendition of the classic Dedicated To The One I Love (a later hit for The Mamas & The Papas) failed to register at all.
Johnny Tanner sang lead on most of the group’s hits, although his brother, Eugen (who had replaced Otto Jeffries) was out front on Dedicated To The One I Love.
The “5” Royales effectively broke up in 1965, whereupon Lowman Pauling set about drinking his publishing royalties away. He was working as a janitor when he died suddenly in 1973, aged 47.
Lowman ‘El’ Pauling