Royal Crown Revue
Royal Crown Revue
Royal Crown Revue debuted in 1989 and ignited a full-on swing revival—a music-and-fashion fad that recalled a “time gone by.” The group laid the groundwork for the swing revival of the 1990s that was epitomized by vintage 1940s clothes and energetic musical blends of traditional swing, jump-boogie, hot jazz, bebop, and rock. Swing revival bands Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra all rode the wave that filled clubs with jumping, jiving, jitterbug-ging fans, and for a time, inspired film, fashion, media, and advertising.
Former punk vocalist Eddie Nichols and guitarist James Achor first met in a Los Angeles, California, rockabilly band called the Rockomatics. By the late 1980s, Los Angeles punk and rockabilly were dead, Achor said in an interview with the Washington Post. So he and Nichols teamed up with tenor saxophone player Mando Dorame who was a fan of “screaming” saxophone players like Big Jay McNeely. The three “decided it was time for something completely different,” according to Side 1 Records publicity materials. The trio developed a hybrid of musical styles from the past and present, and added bassist Veikko Lepisto, baritone saxophonist Bill Ungerman, trumpeter Scott Steen, and drummer Daniel Glass. The group would pioneer the new swing, or neo-swing, revival. By the time they started playing in 1989, the group had a ready-made audience at the Club Deluxe, the “first retro-swing hangout in the nation,” according to Michael Moss, publisher of Swing Time magazine, in the Washington Post In 1991, Royal Crown Revue released its debut album, Kings of Gangster Bop, on the independent record label Better Youth.
In 1993, Royal Crown Revue began a residency at a newly renovated nightclub in Hollywood, California. The Derby was a stylish setting for the group’s high-energy stage show, and for two years, the house was regularly packed. It was at the Derby that Royal Crown Revue was discovered by the makers of the 1994 comedy The Mask starring Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz. The band performed their swinging “Hey Pa-chuco!” in the film, “providing neo-swing’s first mainstream break,” according to Richard Harrington in the Washington Post. Young writer and actor John Favreau was also taken by the jumping revival action at the Derby, and used the club as inspiration for his 1996 film Swingers. Royal Crown Revue appeared in the film, as did fellow neo-swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
After being discovered at the Derby, the band was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1995 and released their major-label debut, Mugzy’s Move, in 1996. “Hey Pachuco!” appeared on the record, alongside songs about Hollywood street life, gangsters, and a “time gone by—when women were sultry, men cool, and cars and music hot,” according to Royal Crown Revue’s.
Members include James Achor, guitar; Mando Dorame, tenor saxophone; Daniel Glass, drums; Veikko Lepisto, bass; Eddie Nichols, vocals; Scott Steen, trumpet; Bill Ungerman, baritone saxophone.
Released debut album, Kings of Gangster Bop, on independent label Better Youth, 1991; signed to Warner Bros. Records, 1995; released Mugzy’s Move, 1996; Caught in the Act, a live record on the Surf Dog label, produced cult hit “Barflies at the Beach,” 1997; second album for Warner Bros., The Contender, featured single “Zip Gun Bop (Reloaded),” 1998; released Walk on Fire, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Side 1 Records, 6201 Sunset Blvd. Ste. 211, Hollywood, CA 90028, (323) 951-9090. Website—Royal Crown Revue Official Website http://www.rcr.com.
press materials. The album peaked at number four on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart.
Donned in the sharp, flashy, double-breasted zoot suits, high-waisted pants, gabardine shirts, fedora hats, loud ties, and spectator shoes of the swing era, Royal Crown Revue was a sight to behold. Singer Nichols and the rest of the band “are walking homages to the tough guys of ’40s film and that era’s jazz musicians of Harlem and Los Angeles,” according to critic Ben Ratliff in the New York Times.
If their vintage fashions came directly from the swing era, the music was a bit more diverse in its roots. Like that of other neo-swing bands, wrote Steve Appleford in the Los Angeles Times, Royal Crown Revue’s sound was “a closer cousin to rockabilly than to the visionary likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.” The group’s self-described “hard-boiled swing” was less like the smooth, melodic dance tunes of the 1930s and early 1940s, and more like the more aggressive jump blues played by Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, and Louis Prima during the 1940s and 1950s. Though they freely mixed “traditional swing and jump blues, hot jazz and bebop, honky-tonk and western swing, boogie-woogie, blues, and rock,” Harrington wrote, the result fit Count Basie’s definition of swing as anything “you can really pat your foot by.”
It was with their live shows that Royal Crown Revue really wowed fans. They were a “hard-touring band radiant with professionalism,” Ratliff wrote. They played with a “contagious enthusiasm,” according to People, that infected their fans. Their sets were consistently aggressive, energetic blends of mostly original jump-boogie songs and some bebop standards. Revival swing fans flocked to see them, first in Los Angeles and San Francisco, then as they toured across the United States. In addition to touring relentlessly, they performed live on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the Today Show, and the Billboard Music Awards. They appeared on the Warped Tour and at the Playboy, Concord, and Saratoga jazz festivals. In 1997, they landed a six-night-per-week residency at the Las Vegas Desert Inn. The group released a live record, Caught in the Act, which generated the cult hit, “Barflies at the Beach,” in 1997.
Though called “the godfathers of the current swing renaissance” by Harrington, the band did not receive as much radio airplay or media attention as the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, or the Brian Setzer Orchestra. A popular television spot for clothing merchant the Gap, set to Louis Prima’s swinging classic “Jump, Jive, and Wail,” really got the revival rolling. The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies scored the only top 40 radio hit of the revival. MTV helped push the Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” and Squirrel Nut Zippers’ “Hell” to the forefront, and VH1 promoted the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
In 1998, Royal Crown Revue released The Contender, which featured the single “Zip Gun Bop (Reloaded).” With the record, the group finally received the credit it deserved, according to Bill Holdship in the Los Angeles Times. But the critic also noted that certain aspects of the record seemed “too campy to transcend mere faddism.” Shortly after, the revival began to fade. Like countless music-and-fashion fads before it, the neoswing explosion finally petered out, though some hardcore fans remained.
Kings of Gangster Bop, Better Youth, 1991.
(Contributor) The Mask (soundtrack), MCA, 1994.
Mugzy’s Move, Warner Bros., 1996.
Caught in the Act (live), Surf Dog, 1997.
The Contender, Warner Bros., 1998.
Hay Santa, Better Youth, 1998.
Walk on Fire, RCR/Side 1, 1999.
(Contributor) Three to Tango (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1999.
Billboard, November 1, 1997, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1998, p. 58; October 3, 1998, p. 6.
New York Times, June 29, 1999, p. 5.
People, July 8, 1996, p. 23.
Washington Post, October 26, 1998, p. B1; October 31, 1998, p. B3.
“Royal Crown Revue,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 30, 2001).
Royal Crown Revue Official Website, http://www.rcr.com (May 14, 2001).
Additional information was provided by the Side 1 Records publicity department, 2001.
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