Monday, March 28, 2016


25 word song review for “Royal Whirl” (New York, 1961, Goldisc)
Relentlessly optimistic / a regal climber that doesn’t lack for ensemble / bruising humility despite the illumination of its achievement / around us: embers & we? / jumping / yeah!

Information on The Royaltones, 1
Founded in Dearborn, Mich., circa 1957, the band would distinguish itself by appearing on American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark. Other notable appearances included the Howard Theatre (Washington, D.C.) and Royal Theatre (Baltimore, Md.) The host for the latter? One Redd Foxx.  

Information on The Royaltones, 2
To this blogger’s knowledge, the band exclusively played rock ‘n’ roll instrumental songs. The founder-saxophonist, George Katsakis, drew influences from early R&B saxophone players Sam “The Man” Taylor, Red Prysock, and Lee Allen, among others. It shows, in all the best ways.

Also listen to
“Poor Boy” (1958) (peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100).
“See Saw” (1959).
“Flamingo Express” (1961) (peaked at #82 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Some notable associations + Ace compilation
Legendary guitar player, Dennis Coffey, joined the Royaltones in 1962, along with Bob Babbitt on bass. The Royaltones would become the touring group for Del Shannon before disbanding circa 1965. In 2009, Ace Records released a 30-track compilation of the band’s output on CD.

Blogger’s response to criticism of the band
Allmusic dismisses the band’s sound as having grown passé, implying that saxophone-dominated records such as “Royal Whirl” don’t ultimately reflect the true spirit of (guitar-dominated) rock ‘n’ roll. Wrong. If anything, the band charges forward in pell-mell, uphill fashion not possible without horns. The record inherits plenty from bebop and jump blues, and from these formidable wellsprings, soars in texture and register alike. That a sound might grow “passé” (in the judgment of reviewers) says more about the flawed consumers of the sound than the producers.

How to categorize this here combo

The Royaltones contributed to a fertile, if now largely forgotten period of early rock ‘n’ roll, early R&B, instrumental rockabilly, surf, and early garage: we’ll call it The Shakers Era. Let’s not be afraid to admit this Shaking onto our modern-day queues. The blogger does not contend that “Royal Whirl” shakes the hardest of all Shakers. He knows several hundreds of “noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms”, but “Royal Whirl” reminds him that great rock reinvests itself in its own momentum, leaving propulsion and anticipation difficult to separate. Whirl on! 

Sources of information

45cat entry for “Royal Whirl”
Allmusic entry for The Royaltones
Dennis Coffey web site
Discogs entry for TheRoyaltones
Funeral home obituary for band member Michael Popoff
Rockabilly Europe entry for The Royaltones 
Wallace Stevens, quote from “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
Washington Post obituary for band member Bob Babbitt 

Likely personnel on “Royal Whirl”: George Katsakis (saxophone), Mike Popoff (keyboards), Greg Popoff (drums), either Bob Sanderson or Vern Parker (guitar), Ken Anderson (saxophone).


mark wallace said...

Just gave this one a whirl. Bright and groovy, it caused immediate dancing among all who heard it. This is a number that would make a good addition to a movie soundtrack, perhaps for a story about wayward teens in Pittsburgh, circa 1960, who are about to go seriously wrong, but for a moment are out on the town in a convertible, having a good time, before criminal behavior and jail time take their toll.


This whirl gives many great whirls, true. Bright is right. It's a dancer, as opposed to a "throw-rocks-at-the-train-er", but the same band played both types of songs, and they themselves probably knew something about throwing rocks at the train, even though they cleaned up nicely for American Bandstand. Interesting you say Pittsburgh as some of the Shakers music hails from that (blue collar, steel-making) area. I'd like to be in your movie. Could I play a guy named Danny, who is sweet and troubled, gets and loses the girl, fights the law and loses -- loses a few years of his life to the stir, but gets out and embraces alternative medicine? Or is that alternative rock? Or is that the alternative minimum tax?

Thanks for the comment. I agree with it 100%. -----------------BA

Ted Zook said...

Excellent! I see that the article mentions "flamingos"; Mark Merella, the fellow who introduced me to Mike Sebastian, penned an excellent account of touring with the Flamingos: . I took the liberty of posting the link to


Hi Ted,

Thanks for taking time to read the post. I'd have liked to be there when Zook met Sebastian! What a great event!

Flamingo in this context is part of a song title, "Flamingo Express", by The Royaltones. I don't know what it refers to in this case -- maybe it's an updated version of the jazz standard first performed by the Ellington orchestra, but I don't know. Earl Bostic had a version, too, and I'm sure there were many more.

I'll check out the link -- thanks! -- and much obliged for any postings to FB, a space that I no longer inhabit.


Utenzil said...

Not only horns, but instrumentals have fallen out of favor in consumerist rock n roll and in much popular music mass consumed by the mass considers.Instrumentals of course they thrive as ever in electronic and jazz, as do horns in the latter and on goats, antelope and water buffalo.


Hey Utenzil,

Thanks for taking time to check out the blog. Man, you were jamming the last time we saw you, a couple of Sundays ago!

My culture prefers the horn of the ram, as it were, but I hear you -- horns are thriving on animals who rely upon them to butt, abut, "lock horns", "unlock horns", and otherwise meander on the way to the farmer's market. I very much appreciate the instrumental animal, as you can tell.

A good point about instrumentals continuing in electronic music. Of course they do, it's so obvious that I hadn't really reflected on it before, and now having reflected upon it, I have to give credit where credit is due.


Heather Fuller said...

Is there also a sense of striving here, a sober marching forward? It may be the minor key bass notes that say, well, here we are in the year of Bay of Pigs, fire-bombed Freedom Riders, the trial of Adolf Eichmann. But we are also enraptured by West Side Story, Ham the chimp in his solo Mercury flight, Ken as cohort to Barbie, a glamorous POTUS & 1st Lady. So much reconciliation the psyche must negotiate. The best art is context.


Hy Hthr,

I think there's very much a striving, pleasant earnestness to the tune, and I'm grateful for you pointing that out.

What a string of events you've listed, and in that, a poem. Of course, we're hearing the song in our own era, in our own context, but we have to remember the late 50s, even, when maybe the song was first being conceived of, in the minds of the band members -- to be penned at the start of the 60s.

Of course, if a song still rocks about 50 or 60 years later, that says something, too. We don't march forward -- ehhhh, sober -- but I wouldn't trade our opinions for all the Stout in the Sierra Nevada.


Anonymous said...

Flamingo in "Flamingo Express" was in reference to the vocal group "The Flamingos" which at the time of the recording was a favorite group of the Royaltones and were under contract to George Goldberg, the same as the Royaltones.
George Katsakis


Hi George,

First off, it's an honor that you'd write me here, at Blood And Gutstein. I've heard many songs by The Royaltones and I'm amazed by their infectiousness, and their muscular through-action, and their ability to be optimistic hard rockers. I'm not willing to put either one of us through the wringer of comparisons -- to one great musician or another -- but rest assured that I hold The Royaltones in high esteem. Very, very high esteem.

I hope it's okay to post "Royal Whirl" here. By all accounts, several thousand people have been able to hear this moving song. I hope they are as jostled by it as I am.

When I first encountered "Flamingo Express", for some reason I thought of Earl Bostic's "Flamingo", which is a notable R&B accomplishment. Clearly, there was another explanation! Thanks for this information, which helps me to understand your vantage point.

Thanks again for writing. I hope this return note finds you well. Many friends have remarked on "Royal Whirl", and I concur -- it is a special song, and one that I continue play, for its abiding energy and brightness.

Best wishes, Dan Gutstein aka Blood And Gutstein