This post is about a somewhat obscure sax man, Charlie Ferguson, and also about a popular Doo Wop vocal group, The “5” Royales. Both Ferguson and the “5” Royales emerged back in the 1950s with the R&B scene that was going on in North Carolina, USA.
The “5” Royales are often referred to as the forerunners of R&B Soul music. Their southern heritage and background in gospel music served them well when they made the switch to secular music. One of the bluesiest vocal groups of their era, their records sold like crazy when they exploded on the music scene in 1952 on Apollo Records.
The story of the “5” Royales goes on for at least two decades, so we will talk more about them shortly, but first let’s look at Charlie Ferguson who would ultimately provide their backup group.
Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson
For Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson, there seems to be very little, if any, information in cyber print. The main evidence of his existence is in the form of record labels that proudly included his name.
Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson was a jazz and Rhythm & Blues tenor sax player and band leader. In the late 1940s and early 1950s he performed with Arnett Cobb and Jimmy Liggins. He recorded under his own name and backed other artists, including The 5 Royales, on Apollo.
Charlie possessed a marvelous big fat honking tenor saxophone sound, coming from a hard bop jazz background. This great tone can be heard in the tracks where he was featured along with other jazz musicians and with his own orchestra.
But jazz cats had to eat and so it was with Ferguson. He got some great exposure and opportunity to branch out when he became a recording session sax man backing up The “5” Royales.
Charlie Ferguson as a jazz man
Charlie Ferguson – That’s It
Walter Spriggs, Charlie Ferguson, his Tenor and Orchestra – Let Me Love You
1952 / King Pleasure – Jumpin With Sympony Sid / Ed Lewis (trumpet), Charlie Ferguson (tenor sax)
1953 / Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson – Big G / Apollo 815
Recorded in New York City, N.Y. Thursday, May 12, 1953. Originally issued on the 1953 single (78 & 45 RPM)
1953 / Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson / Bean Head
1953 / Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson / Low Lights
1954 / Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson / Hi-Beam Mambo
1954 / Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson / So Much Of A Little Bit
“The Royal Sons”
( before they became The “5” Royales )
“Come Over Here” from October 1951
The “5” Royales with Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson
Apollo Records in New York City was the label Ferguson and the “5” Royales first used for their prolific R&B releases.
The “5” Royales
Originally the Royal Sons Quintet, the group began recording for Apollo Records in the early 1950s, changing its name to the Royals after abandoning gospel for secular music.
The group initially included guitarist Lowman Pauling and his brother Clarence Pauling, as founding members.
Lowman Pauling used an extra-long strap for his guitar, sometimes playing it down around his knees for comic effect. Pauling, who died in January 1974, wrote most of the group’s hits, sang bass on all of their records and, on the later King recordings, produced fabulous guitar licks (cited as a major influence by Steve Cropper in a 1968 interview with Jonas Bernholm).
Other members included the vocalists Jimmy Moore, Obadiah Carter, and Otto Jeffries, with Johnny Tanner singing lead. Tanner’s younger brother, Eugene, later replaced Otto Jeffries.
The robust Johnny Tanner sang lead on most of the group’s hits, including “Think,” but the sweeter-voiced Eugene Tanner stepped to the microphone for the group’s best-known song, “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
The backing on most of their Apollo recordings, was provided by Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson and His Orchestra with George Rhodes on piano.
“Baby Don’t Do It” and “Help Me Somebody” became hits in 1953, and the group went on to record with King Records.
In addition to heartfelt odes like “Dedicated to the One I Love,” Pauling also wrote comic and risque tunes, including “Monkey Hips and Rice”
With the King label, “Think” and “Tears of Joy” became hits for the “5” Royales in 1957. Some of their lesser-known tracks from this period are now critically acclaimed as innovative.
Rock critic Dave Marsh chose the 1958 “5” Royales hit “The Slummer the Slum” as one of the top 1001 singles of all time in his book The Heart of Rock and Soul, crediting Pauling with capturing the first intentional use of guitar feedback on record, years before better-known squawks from The Beatles, The Yardbirds, and The Velvet Underground.
In the 1960s, R&B gradually gave way to more polished soul music and the Royales’ career waned rapidly.
The band still recorded, including for Memphis label Home Of The Blues – which results were later compiled on the posthumous Catch That Teardrop album – as well as Vee-Jay, ABC-Paramount, Smash Records and the Todd label.
The “5” Royales broke up in 1965, though various combinations of musicians toured under the group’s name into the 1970s. For a time Pauling continued recording with the pianist and frequent Royales collaborator Royal Abbitt as “El Pauling and the Royalton”.
Lowman Pauling’s brother, Clarence Pauling ultimately shortened his name to “Clarence Paul”and left the group to become involved with Motown as a producer and songwriter in the 1960s.
Well written bio about the “5” Royales