Better late than never was a recurring theme for the “5” Royales, the pioneering R&B group that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday.
During his induction speech, Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper argued that “they’re long overdue for this kind of worldwide acclaim,” and family members of the original five-piece (John Tanner, Eugene Tanner, Lowman Pauling, Jimmy Moore and Obadiah Carter, all of whom have died) spoke of what the honor would have meant to each one. Fred Tanner, brother of Eugene and John, used his time onstage to stress that the music lives on even if its creators do not.
In an interview with Rolling Stone following the induction, he spoke about the “5” Royales’ musical legacy and how this “whirlwind” week has doubled as something of a family reunion.
What was it like up there onstage tonight?
It was a great experience. It was almost surreal. I’m the brother of Eugene and Johnny, and these are the children of the [other band members], so it was kind of different for me because I remember them from early on. At the time, none of us knew where this was going. It came to me: “Wow, if they had only known.” But these guys were just singing, and they didn’t know the impact what they were doing would have on the entire music world.
When did you first get that sense that the music was having that larger impact?
Gradually it came. There was a researcher in Greensboro whose name was J. Taylor Doggett, and he did a lot of research, kept up the discography – where they would perform, stories about them. And I’m saying, “They must have [meant] something, because this guy sees something in them to the point where he’s documenting it and getting information and writing books and articles. There must be something to this.” But we didn’t really know the impact it would have on people like James Brown and Ray Charles.
I used to play in an R&B house band, and the club would have these singers come in. I played behind a lot of people: Joe Tex and Brook Benton and Chuck Jackson. They would all come through, and they would mention, “Oh, you’re Johnny’s brother?” In fact, they would come by the house sometimes for a home-cooked meal. Especially Ben E. King [laughs]. I was a young kid just getting out of high school and college, and I didn’t know the impact it was having. I look back now and say, “What if? What if they would have known?”
What’s this week been like for you? Has it felt like a big family reunion?
Yes, in a way it has. Everybody has been super great. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I can’t say enough about them taking care of business and seeing that things were right. That made it easy. But it’s kind of been a whirlwind. We just came up for this yesterday. We flew in Friday, and we’re flying out tomorrow. We’ve been on the go constantly.