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OKEH 6832; OCTOBER 1951



Q: How do you know when a style of rock has officially made the transition from a hot trend to a full-fledged movement?

A: When every record company jumps on board.

It’s a simple matter of economics from a business that cares far less about the music they’re putting out than the money that music can earn for them, and over the past three years the vocal group idiom in rock had grown from a few established groups with steady sales to a wide open field where countless acts were now assaulting the charts with innovative takes on the style. It’s not hard to see why at this point nobody wanted to be left out.

Unfortunately though not everybody found the right group with which to join the party.


Please Won’t You Tell Me So
This is a group for which little is known and for that reason, along with the fact they had just this one single under their own name released and it drew absolutely no interest, we would have skipped over entirely if we wanted to make things easy on ourselves and surely few people would have realized they were left out, or cared much that they were missing.

But we’re nothing if not obsessive completists when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll history and so despite the fact that The Royals are going to potentially wreak havoc on search engines when another far more prominent group by that name comes along in a few years (before they change their moniker after a few nice records and one budding smash and become stars under their new name, The Midnighters), we’re going to look at these guys just the same.

After all we just did so for The Falcons who likewise have few releases and no hits to their name and who will be well bathed in the shadow of a later group of Falcons with lots of influence and a couple of big hits to their name, so why not exacerbate our problems down the road by including these guys too?

Besides, though The Royals won’t get another release to themselves, they will show up on some sides backing Chuck Willis and before we get to those records it’d be nice to at least meet them first… even though that’s kind of hard to do without their names, pictures or any information about them other than they, like Willis, came from Atlanta and were probably signed by Columbia/OKeh after being tipped off by local disc jockey Zenas Sears.

But in the end the deciding factor was hearing If You Love and realizing that while it’s hardly cutting edge stuff for rock vocal groups of 1951, it’s got some nice components to it even if they aren’t accentuated nearly enough to make the grade.

You may think that’s another black mark in their ledger, but how else are we supposed to show just how fast the style is progressing if we don’t occasionally run into someone who are lagging well behind the field?

All I Want To Know
Like Willis, these Royals were signed back in winter and they went into the studio in March before OKeh was reactivated to house Columbia’s expanding roster of rock artists. A few of the names they had early on, Willis and LaVern Baker included, had gotten releases on the parent label in the spring, but for some reason they held back The Royals debut until fall.

Of course that might not have been the best decision because in that time the stakes had been raised exponentially with a rapid succession of big hits along with some uncharted classics from a wide array of groups more capable than these anonymous singers to create waves.

Give them credit though, they do their best to compete with the big boys on If You Love Me, an uptempo song that despite some definite callbacks to outdated styles – especially early on with the tinkly piano and the flat group vocals in the lead-in – gradually gets its feet under it.

The lead singer is still a little too demure in his presentation, singing from the back of his throat rather than digging deep to convey more urgency, but he’s got a decent grasp of the rhythm and if the song itself is pretty lame with its subservient look on love as he harbors no grudges against the girl dumping him and saying he’ll gladly take her back anytime she decides to return, he’s helped inordinately by someone who isn’t even a member of the group… namely the saxophonist.

This is really what keeps the record from sounding entirely like a leftover track from 1948 or ’49, or for that matter a discarded Ray-O-Vacs track from the last two years. We get a gritty solo played with good tone and – at times anyway – a grim determination before easing back so we can segue into a saloon piano solo that reminds us that no matter how they were billed, this was still a minor league team suddenly thrust into a big league game.

If You’re Leaving, Tell Me Before You Do
As much as we commend Columbia Records for being the first of the major labels to really come to the conclusion that rock ‘n’ roll was big enough, potentially profitable enough and even, dare we say, legitimate enough musically to warrant a subsidiary devoted to it, their broader attitudes towards music in general meant that they’d always be leaning towards the conservative view of what was marketable.

A few acts, like Chuck Willis who wrote his songs, had his own band and sold well right out of the gate, would buck that trend and be left alone, but at this stage OKeh was going to err on the side of caution with their releases and If You Love Me is no exception.

There’s probably little chance these guys had it in them to be competitive in the face of such revolutionaries as The Dominoes, Clovers, Five Keys, Swallows and Larks, but let’s not forget all of them had similarly unlikely backgrounds and only the fact that they were steered – sometimes forcibly – in the right direction early on guaranteed they’d get subsequent chances to expand their sights.

The Royals, though clearly sticking around OKeh long enough to back Willis for songs released in 1953, never got that opportunity (though they did have some decent unreleased sides we may look at down the road) and so at the time this one single would be all audiences would have to go on when it came to assessing their potential.

This record’s not promising enough to regret the fact we never got to hear more from them, but as we know you can’t always judge an artist on their first appearance… unless of course it’s the only chance you’ll get to pass judgement on them.