Royal Crowns

By Lenny Stoute

The twenty-year mark is a big ol’ social threshold. You’re not a teenager anymore and folks expect changes from you. Same deal if you’re a band; it doesn’t have to be mind blowing change but the fans do expect some minor adjustments and a re-arranging of the familiar palette.

That’s fine for some but not so much for Teddy Fury, drummer, singer, wisecracker and guiding light for rockabilly icons The Royal Crowns. For the 20th anniversary, the Crowns have been reconfigured as a trio, with two gone and one new guy in. The result is a stripped down sound closer to the original rockabilly racket. Won’t be able to judge for ourselves until the Fall, when the group’s third album and first as a trio drops.

“ Yeah, we’ve got all the songs written and I guess we’re in pre-production mode,” says the irrepressible Fury,“ I called the Dome for the album release party but they couldn’t find a 40 seat set-up” he deadpans. Tight as they can be as players, The Royal Crowns have always carried a loose, even a tad zany, vibe about them that is as much a part of the rockabilly subculture as rooster ‘dos and blue suede shoes. The songwriting? Fury allows that’s a serious business.

“ It’s an exercise in masochism, you write 12 and throw out ten. The good thing about being in a roots band is that you don’t have to worry about keeping up because no one's expecting you to do anything trendy. It’s all about the rhythms and the chords, if you're gonna have 4 songs in the key of E and one is a shuffle, you better make sure the others are in different rhythms. You have to balance what the fans expect with making sure the songs all don’t sound the same. Ideally, you want a song to sound like it’s an old time tune the audience just hasn’t heard before.Oh yeah, roots music fans have genre expectations which is why they're supportive over the long haul. They know The Royal Crowns isn't going to go from a lifelong rockabilly band into a pop group.”

The RCs like to work at a leisurely pace; it’s been five years between albums and they’re good with that. “ If we were like, a big band we’d probably have a more hectic pace but that’s one of the attractions of being in The Royal Crowns, we keep a pace we like. BesideS, when you only have 600 fans, you gotta keep them waiting for new music; builds the expectation. This time it’s a little different because we’re recording as a trio and so far have no plans to add additional musicians. Losing the pedal steel doesn’t really affect the song writing that much as the songs are written for guitar anyways. If anything, it leaves more space to play with.”

“The pedal guy usually took every January off and if we had any gigs, we’d do them as a trio. Eventually, we got to like the experience and as we’re always reinventing the rockabilly wheel, we took the opportunity to reformat the band as a trio. He was plenty pissed at first but we get along now”.

The new look RCs are Fury, guitarist Danny Bartley and new boy, US native Jason Adams on the upright bass and vocals. Dude looks a little like Chet Baker and he’s from Cheektowaga so you know Fury’s gonna claim he puts the cheeks in Cheektowaga. And he does. This too is new, an international status courtesy of Adams.

“ We feel bad dragging him up here for weekly rehearsals, like many roots bands another new thing for us, so we go down there to rehearse every now and then and it’s great”.
Not everything in the US music scene is great however, as the recession continues to kick US butt a lot harder than it did ours.

“ Touring in the US isn’t the big paydays it once was. The economy in some parts is in dire shape; there are places they expect you to play for $75. That’s somewhat balanced by the merch sales though; in the US they’re very willing to lay down their money for merch”.

Teddy cites the group's most recent merch item, a golf jacket with a devil's head cocking an eyebrow. Fury describes it as more funny than scary and calls it “ our middle aged juvenile delinquent jacket” and notes at a recent US stop they sold 2 while they were still setting up for sound check.“ Reverend Horton Heat is the Grateful Dead of rockabilly merch. He usually has like, ten items so cool you’d buy every one”.

The Royal Crowns are all about the fun, the rolling down the road in hot wheels and being in a music that’s still not quite acceptable in the mainstream. In cyberspace however there’s room for all so it’s not surprising rockabilly’s resurgence has been greatly aided by the Internet, the natural habitat for sub cults and sub genres.

Like most roots music, rockabilly goes through a roller coaster of highs and lows in terms of general popularity. Fury says it’s currently in an Internet-driven upsurge. He points to an event called Viva Las Vegas which started a decade ago as a small gathering of in-the -know pompadored, vintage car owning, rockabilly freaks and is now a major event on the sin city calendar. “ Rockabilly is kind of where blues was 25 years ago, getting attention and with a really good band every 300 miles or so.You don’t have to educate people as much; a while ago you walk into a bar in say, Bancroft with an upright bass and people are like, ‘What the hell’s that. Now they go, ‘Oh, that’s a rockabilly band’.

“ In Montreal, there’s a festival started by this one rockabilly woman a few years ago that’s now grown into an amazing outdoor event called the Red Hot & Blue that we’ll be playing this year. There are venues; like Cadillac Lounge (Toronto) all over that’s been keeping the roots music spirit alive through thick and thin and they’re benefiting now.
In the US, you need to play like 250 dates to make it and we don’t want to do that. We’re more like 6 or 7 a month and we’re cool with it”.

That said, The Royal Crowns are into a slow and steady ramp up to their 30th anniversary celebration later this year. Hopefully concurrent with the launch of their third, as yet untitled album, tentatively slated for a November release.
Rockabilly is more than just a musical genre, it’s a lifestyle and The Royal Crowns are living the dream in a ’59 DeSoto (Fury) and two ’53 Fords. So next time you’re rolling down the highway and see three cars like that, pull ‘em over and buy something. Teddy’ll be happy to see you.
Toronto natives can catch The Royal Crowns at Tattoo Rock Parlour (Jun.11) and Cadillac Lounge (Jun.13)