SPECIAL FEATURE: THE TEDDY ROYAL STORY
Today I am offering my first large HOTG Special Feature. I don’t expect you to swallow it whole. Take it at your own speed. One of the pleasures of doing this blog has been the contact I’ve made with some of the under-recognized artists and unsung sidemen involved with the music featured and discussed here. I’ve been archiving my conversations with several of them over the past year or so and am now beginning to develop the information they’ve shared into more detailed pieces that I will be occasionally bringing to you.
[This is the first installment of a two part piece. There is a direct link to Part 2 at the end of this post.]
PART 1: THE ROYAL ROAD TO NEW ORLEANS
Although he is not a New Orleans native, versatile guitarist and composer Theodore ‘Teddy’ Royal has made a significant contribution to the music scene of the city during his various extended sojourns there over three anda half decades. In this first installment, we’ll trace the circuitous path that led him to New Orleans and explore his role as a frequently used session player and musical collaborator.
Teddy Royal was born in New York City in the late 1940’s and raised in the Bronx. His mother was a local fashion designer; and his step-father was from Barbados. At a very young age, Teddy began admiring guitars he’d see displayed in pawn shop windows; so his mother bought him a toy one when he was about six. He took to it immediately, trying to copy tunes he’d hear on the family record player. But his first paying performing experiences as a youngster were tap dancing on the street in Harlem for tips. After his uncle gave him his first real guitar, Teddy woodshedded on it into his teenage years, when he wasn’t working a part-time job and going to school. R&B and soul were his early musical influences; and he was drawn to songs that had both a strong groove and a good structure.
The first band he joined was called the Whips, managed by Honey Cole, who worked at the Apollo; but, that didn’t hold together too long. Then, in the later 1960’s, Teddy hooked up with a vocal group called the Four Pennies that had formed in Tampa, FL and come to New York. One of them, John Myers, had previously been in the Five Pennies, a vocal group going back to the 1950’s that had done some recording on their own, as well as singing backup on many R&B sessions. Just prior to Teddy’s joining their band, the Four Pennies recorded two singles for Brunswick in 1966 and 1967. Although the teenaged guitarist was still learning his instrument, figuring out keys and chording, the much more seasoned group took him on, because he was willing to rehearse with them for long hours and learn their material for virtually no money.
With Teddy in the backing band, the Four Pennies hit the road, making a repeated long circuit North that included Halifax, Nova Scotia, Boston, MA, and Providence, RI, as main stops. In Montreal, one of the group members became involved with Stephanie DeParis, who became the group’s manager. Setting up their base of operation in Providence, DeParis booked them regularly at area clubs, where the hardworking, energetic show band built a large following. Around the start of 1970, she had them work up a demo tape of material, for which Teddy wrote the original music. She took it to Detroit to shop it around, having changed the group’s name to Hearts Of Stone. In short order, Motown expressed interest in signing the group and brought them to Detroit to record.
These were the first major studio sessions for Teddy. He and the group spent at least a month at Motown working with arranger and producer Hank Cosby. The arrangements Cosby worked up for the Hearts Of Stone sessions were based around the music that Teddy has written for the demos; and the resulting tracks were released on Motown’s VIP affiliate. There were two singles, “It’s A Lonesome Road” b/w “Yesterday’s Love Is Over” (25058) and “If I Could Give You The World” b/w “You Gotta Sacrifice” (25064), and a album, Stop The World - We Wanna Get On (404), which included all the single sides, plus other originals and cover tunes.
When not cutting with the group, Teddy still came to the Motown studios every day and played with the house band (collectively known as the Funk Brothers) on whatever sessions Motown had going. It was exciting for a young, inexperienced guitarist, but also daunting. As he recalls,
I would come in everyday and play on songs I didn’t know if I was on or not. I just knew that the band was playing, and I started playing; and the producer who was doing the orchestrations was looking at me laughing because he knew that I didn’t read all that well. But, I was playing and I was in tune. I must have played on a lot of records that I didn’t know I was on, because they didn’t put my name on [them]. I didn’t know any better. . . I was coming in the morning, punching the time card and putting it up in the box. We would go in there from 9:00 AM to around 12:00. One o’clock was the break. It was a house; and, as you went in, the studio was in the basement. You went down these stairs and they had little sections cut off where the guitars [an other instruments] would be; but you could still communicate, because the guy who was doing the music was standing in the middle with headphones, conducting. They’d have two drummers, three guitars. . . .
After the LP was released, the Hearts Of Stone went to Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater on a big show with acts such as Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Kool and the Gang, the Originals, Martha and the Vandellas and the Stylistics. Then they returned to their Northeastern circuit. As much as Teddy acknowledges his debt to the members of the group for giving him a start, showing him the ropes, and employing him for many years, he admits that he became disillusioned with them after the record came out. He had been promised co-writer credit for the material he contributed; and that didn’t happen. When the records did not sell, the band started going downhill. Teddy knew it was time to wise up when his roommates in the band stole his guitar to buy drugs. On the road, he had become a much better, more confident and experienced player, and was ready to move on.
Early in 1971, through a chance meeting in Boston with percussionist Eddie Folk, who was touring with King Floyd at the time on the strength of his first hit, “Groove Me”, Teddy was introduced to Floyd. He gave the singer his contact informatiom and said he was available to play. Within just a few days, Floyd sent a telegram, telling Teddy he was sending him the money to come to New Orleans to join his road band, the Rhythm Masters. Teddy immediately quit the Hearts Of Stone and headed to the Deep South.
After waiting for Floyd to return from a road trip, Teddy’s accommodations were seen to by producer/promoter, Elijah Walker; and he took up with the Rhythm Maters. The group consisted of Folk on congas, a hot young drummer named Herman Ernest (who later became a first call session player in New Orleans and plays in Dr. John’s band these days), keyboardist Robert Dabon and his bassist brother, Ernest, (who both would join Chocolate Milk), Frank Parker and John Longo (who later taught Wynton Marsalis and played with Branford Marsalis) on trumpets, Mike Pierus (?) on saxes and flute, and Royal on guitar. They had a busy touring schedule, traveling mainly in the US, but also made several trips to Jamaica to play large multi-act concerts. The Rhythm Masters were strictly King Floyd’s road unit and did not back the singer in the studio. Those duties were handled by the Malaco studio band in Jackson, MS; although, later, Teddy did participate in some of those sessions.
When not touring, the guitarist began writing songs with singer Willie Harper, who lived nearby, and went into the studio with him to record them, under the direction of Wardell Quezergue, who did the arrangements. Of course, Quezergue had been instrumental in developing King Floyd and his sound. It is not entirely clear whether these sessions were done at Jazz City Studio or at the new Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans. In either case, Sansu Productions was likely behind the Harper-Royal recording project; but it doesn’t appear that anything the two wrote together was released at the time.
"Look At The Clock" (W. Harper - T. Royal)
Willie Harper, unissued, from Battle Of Soul, 1980
“Look At The Clock” is one of two funky numbers from the Willie Harper-Teddy Royal collaborations; and I first posted it in 2004, when I had far less information to go on. I thought these sessions were done around the time of Harpers recordings for Allen Toussaint in the late 1960’s, released on Sansu and Tou-Sea. In light of what I’ve learned in my conversations with Teddy Royal, I now know that he and Harper wrote and recorded together four or five years later (1971-1972). So, I felt like we should listen to this one again. I found it and the duo’s mid-tempo soul cut, “Walk You Out Of My Life”, on a 1980 Japanese compilation LP of mainly Sansu and Deesu releases, Battle Of Soul. The album also contains Harper’s deep soul cut, “I Don’t Need You Anymore”, from his 1967 Tou-Sea single (mistakenly credited to Harper and Royal on the album track listings). Meanwhile, that other Harper-Royal funk song, “Why You Wanna Do It” (HOTG, March, 2005), and their soul/pop delight, “That’s What You Need”, showed up on the Charly compilation LP, Sehorn’s Soul Farm, also in the 1980’s. It’s a shame none of these tunes got to the public when they were first written and have yet to be compiled on CD.
During the same period, Teddy also wrote material with Larry Hamilton, Willie West and Willie T, and worked with Quezergue on various projects, including Jean Knight sessions at Malaco, but rarely got credit for his efforts.
"Black Conversation" (Royal-Parker-Longo)
Rhythm Masters, Success 100, c. 1972
On the road with King Floyd, the Rhythm Masters got stranded in Seattle for several weeks when the club they were supposed to play burned down; and they had no money to get home. While waiting, Teddy wrote two fine instrumental funk tunes, “Black Conversation” and “Nickel Bag”, which the band worked up and later recorded at Malaco. The sides were released as a single, Success 100, with “Nickel Bag” re-titled “I Can Do Anything You Can Do”, and Floyd shown as the producer (and co-writer of the latter song). On “Black Conversation” Royal shared co-writer credits with horn players Parker and Longo, who had worked up the lines he vocalized for them. I first heard “Black Conversation” in the late 1990’s on the Funky Delicacies first Funky Funky New Orleans comp; and the flip is also on that CD. At the time, I didn’t know who the Rhythm Masters were or who wrote "Black Conversation"; but I knew it was way cool, even if the sound quality of the vinyl it had been taken from was not so good. It wasn’t until I began talking with Teddy that I found out the story behind one of my favorite tunes. After a long search, I just recently found a near mint copy of the rare single online.
Though the Success 45 didn’t have any, the project did allow Teddy to start writing music with King Floyd that would appear on several of his singles and albums over the next few years, between 1972 and 1975.
"Can't Give It Up" (K. Floyd - T. Royal)
King Floyd, Chimneyville 10206, 1975
“Can’t Give It Up“ is a prime example of the Floyd-Royal style, which engendered numerous tunes with good grooves. It’s definitely got the funk going on, with drummer James Stroud laying it down and a great basic arrangement by the Malaco staff that reflects Wardell Quezergue’s ealier work with Floyd. Teddy and second guitarist Charles McCullough dig down into it; and the Memphis Horns punch and strut their magic throughout. The 1975 single was backed with another Floyd-Royal tune, “I’m Gonna Fall In Love With You”; and both songs appeared on the 1975 LP, Well Done, along with two of their other co-creations.
By the time Teddy started writing with King Floyd in 1972, the singer’s record sales were already starting to taper off. Over the next few years, Floyd became increasingly erratic and irrational in his business dealings on the road and with this record label, Chimneyville, a Malaco house label, driving away master arranger Quezergue in the process. Through Malaco president Tommy Couch, Teddy learned at some point that Floyd had removed his name as co-writer on the song “Here It Is” from the 1973 album, Think About It; and Teddy was not getting his due royalties. That revelation was the last straw in his relationship with the singer.
The Rhythm Masters had already quit King Floyd by that time, after several experiences where he left them out on the road without paying them. The band stayed together, including Teddy, for about six more months, changing their name to World Blues and playing New Orleans clubs where they backed singers such as Larry Hamilton and C. P. Love, and had added their own female vocalists, Bonnie Brown and Marilyn Barbarin. But, eventually they did break up; and Teddy followed Herman Ernest into a new band, Cypress, that also had Steve Hughes on guitar and a strong Chaka Khan-style vocalist. After playing with them for a while, Teddy got a call in 1976 from Tommy Couch to go out on the road with Malaco artist Dorothy Moore, who had just hit it big with “Misty Blue”.
He led the band and played behind Moore on many big shows around the country, until he was forced to quit in Macon, GA due to the jealousy of Moore’s husband about their close working relationship. So, Couch sent Teddy out on tour throughout the South with another house artist, McKinley Mitchell. But Mitchell had a severe drinking problem; and the two soon parted ways, because Mitchell refused to pay him in full as bandleader. On that sour note, Teddy came back to New Orleans and began doing a lot of session work at Sea-Saint Studios for producers Quezergue, Senator Jones, and Allen Toussaint, playing with other session regulars such as Herman Ernest, Smokey Johnson, James Black, Red Tyler, James Booker, Sam Henry, plus various Meters and Chocolate Milk members.
During the later 1970’s. Teddy played guitar, assisted with arrangements, and, in some cases, wrote material for various local artists recording at the studio: Tony Owens, Lee Bates, James Rivers, Johnny Adams, and the Neville Brothers, among others. Quezergue preferred to use Teddy and Sam Henry (formerly of the Soul Machine) on his projects, and Senator Jones followed suit.
Here’s a single side that Teddy wrote and helped Querzergue arrange for a Johnny Adams project Jones produced that was leased to Ariola Records, appearing on the album, After All The Good Is Gone, in 1978.
"Chasing Rainbows" (Teddy Royal)
Johnny Adams, Hep' Me 10-137/Ariola 7701, 1978
“Chasing Rainbows” was the b-side of the single, with the title cut from the album (a Conway Twitty song!) on top. It appeared both on Hep’ Me and Ariola and is a well put-together, pure funk-fest of a tune. I highly suspect that Smokey Johnson is drumming here. Royal and a second guitarist really chop it up; and Adams is in fine vocal form. I covered the tune here in December, 2004; and am glad to revive it in this new context, as a further example of what Teddy brought to the sessions he worked.
Throughout this period, Toussaint also used Teddy regularly on various projects: the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Labelle, James Cotton, Lee Dorsey, the Staple Singers, and Joe Tex. Considering the producer’s rather demanding expectations and work environment, this meant that Teddy was a trusted and dependable professional who Toussaint felt comfortable working with. In Teddy’s own words,
Working with Toussaint, . . I never knew what was coming next. He was a very private person. . . . The working relationship was very strict and disciplined in a serious atmosphere. If the session did not go right, he would excuse himself and disappear. Sometimes, a musician who was on the session would not return, due to the mistakes. Toussaint would utilize the same people for his recordings. He had his selection for each type of music.
Although he spent much of his multifaceted career in the background, playing a strong supporting role in many different situations, Teddy Royal has recently begun to make a name for himself and earn the respect he is due. In the second part of his tale, we’ll take up his sudden entry into and long association with Fats Domino’s band and, also, the alternate path that led him to his current career as a top-notch jazz guitarist* and composer. That’ll be coming to you later on down the road.
--- To purchase Teddy Royal's latest CD, see his upcoming gigs and contact him for bookings, visit his website: Royal Blue
Go directly to PART 2 OF THE TEDDY ROYAL STORY