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.
Is there a sense that it won’t feel real for a few days? That you need to slow down to have time to process everything?
Probably so. But what might impact that is we found out early they had been inducted. It was in December. It was like, “When is the induction ceremony? Well, it’s in April.” We had a chance to absorb some of this, but it’s still been an anticipation thing. We couldn’t wait for April to get here. If it had happened all of a sudden it might have been a shock.
What was it like listening to Steve Cropper’s induction speech?
I’ve always admired Cropper, being a musician. I remember his days with Booker T. & the M.G.’s and all of that. I understand he was instrumental in pushing some of this through, and I just feel indebted to him. I guess it all came about from him being influenced by Lowman and the guitar playing. Then he started to push this thing. Had it not been for Steve Cropper this may not have happened. That’s how I see it.
What was that final thought you had in your mind right before you started giving the acceptance speech?
Well, I wanted to be sure I was coherent, because you’re elated and sometimes you don’t know what’s going to come out. So I just wanted to take time to gather myself, and I wanted to be deliberate and think before I spoke.