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Rock/Pop > Backwash


Digging Detroit's Royaltones


Published 6/2/2010

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The Royaltones
Detroit Rock 'N' Roll Began Here!
Ace (U.K. import)

Distinguished by the twin tenor sax work of leader George Katsakis and Ken Anderson, the Royaltones specialized in tight, hard-driving instrumentals a la Johnny & the Hurricanes that were designed to wear the shine off teenage dance floors. 

Formed in 1957, the Royaltones came straight outta Garden City — and the quintet's first recording ("Poor Boy," a 2 minute, 16 second masterpiece of percussive piano, stinging lead guitar and high-larious "laughing" saxophone recorded at Detroit's United Sound) rocketed to No. 17 on the national charts in 1958, which earned them an appearance on Dick Clark's national Beech-Nut-sponsored TV show. The B-side ("Wail," a guitar-driven, boogie shuffle) is just as rockin' and just as revered by fans of the form.

Incidentally, Katsakis made his recording debut on Detroit rockabilly legend Jack Scott's double-sided smash ("Leroy" b/w "My True Love") and played on most of his early hits. Equally impressive is that the Royaltones also served as the backing band on fellow Michigander Del Shannon's "Little Town Flirt," "Handy Man," and "Keep Searchin'."

But the Royaltones themselves were no one-hit wonders. With Karl Kaminski now on guitar, the original lineup of Katsakis, Anderson and brothers Mike and Greg Popoff on keyboards and drums, respectively, rode the relentlessly locomotive "Flamingo Express" to No. 82 in 1961. 

Nowadays, these discs are known as "tittyshakers" — owing to their evoking the soundtrack for vintage strip joints. And the Royaltones cut more than a mouthful of 'em before — after a head-spinning round of lineup and label changes (and four singles issued under nine different titles!) — they disbanded in '64. And all of them are collected on this import CD:

"Little Bo," a showcase for then-drummer Bo Savitch (who, interestingly, would leave the 'Tones to join the aforementioned Johnny & the Hurricanes); "Holy Smokes," sporting soulful guitar from future Motown sessionaire Dennis Coffey (later of "Scorpio" fame, and, speaking of Motown, another future Funk Brother, Bob Babbitt, played bass on many of the Royaltones' records and was part of their last incarnation);  and the moody ballad "Our Faded Love," which climbed to No. 103 in '64 (and — with lyrics added by DJ-turned-game show host Wink Martindale! — wound up as a Bobby Rydell B-side). Those are the top tassel-twirlers on hand here ... although their rocked-up arrangement of "Scotland the Brave," issued first as "Butterscotch," then as "Scotch 'N' Soda," is guaranteed to blow a breeze up your kilt, if you're man enough to wear one.

Featuring detailed liner notes and fantastic photos and sweet sound, this is one of those rare records that actually lives up to its title. Unsung heroes, for sure. After all, they were an instrumental band. ...

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