By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
"It's sort of strange to see how things blow up overnight," Achor observes. "The hardest thing for us, and for the public too, is that they're only hearing two singles on the radio [Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot" and the Brian Setzer Orchestra's version of Prima's "Jump, Jive an' Wail"], so they have this very limited view of what's going on. Both of those singles are fine, but they don't have anything to say about what I do, except that I'm being lumped into this pile. It's kind of weird the way this thing is going. If the people who have the power aren't careful, they're going to sell all the credibility out of it and screw themselves in the long run."
Also damaging to the music's integrity, according to Achor, is the media's emphasis on the clothing associated with swing instead of on the music itself. He admits that at one time several years ago he was too infatuated with the allure of the zoot suit, the oversize, double-breasted ensemble favored by many in the scene. Along with a collection of vintage hollow-body guitars, Achor spent plenty on vintage clothing, but he's mostly over that now.
"For each person it's a different thing," he says. "There are people who dress to the hilt and want to learn all the dance steps, and then there are people who just enjoy it on the level of the music. I guess the biggest drag for me in the popularity of it is that they're trying too hard to represent it with the style of the clothing and not the music. For me as a lover of music and a musician, music comes above all of that. It shouldn't matter what we wear."
Part of the reason the band stood out and eventually scored a record deal with Warner Bros., however, was the fact that they not only sounded but looked so different from their contemporaries. But they didn't plan that in some career strategy session. The elegant manner of dress, like their involvement with the music, evolved naturally.
Achor met vocalist Nichols in Los Angeles in the late Eighties. Back then they dressed appropriately for their rockabilly gigs as the Rockamatics. The two met tenor saxman Mando Dorame through tattoo artist Mark Mahoney (who has provided voice-overs on several Royal Crown tracks and appears in the video for "Barflies at the Beach"). Dorame led Achor and Nichols into the horn-laden world of early R&B; eventually their combined musical interests pointed toward swing.
By 1991 Royal Crown Revue had added Mark Stern on drums, Jamie Stern on alto sax, Bill Ungerman on baritone sax, and Stan Watkins on trumpet, and had released Kings of Gangster Bop on the Better Youth Organization label. The band continued a steady performance schedule around L.A. and began to take their show on the road, including frequent trips to San Francisco.
In 1993 they caught the ear of a Hollywood director who wrote them into the script of Jim Carrey's The Mask. During the filming of that comic thriller, the band took on a weekly gig at the Derby, a Los Angeles nightspot they helped transform from a quiet corner bar into a popular swing club. Royal Crown shows soon became a hot ticket, attracting the attention of producer Ted Templeman, who took the band to Warner Bros. Templeman produced the group's 1995 major-label debut, Mugsy's Move (Scott Steen, Daniel Glass, and Veikko Lepisto had taken over trumpet, drums, and bass, respectively) and this year's The Contender. In 1997 the band issued a self-produced live album, Caught in the Act.
Royal Crown Revue was unique when it first began to tour. "We spent a lot of years laying the groundwork for this thing before we ever even ran across another band that did anything similar," Achor recalls. And largely owing to their hard work, today they have plenty of company on the road.
Still, competition from up-and-comers doesn't much worry Achor. Neither does the thought that his band may never have a hit single. And he isn't too concerned about career longevity. He never figured the genre would have received so much attention, but he is unhappy about misguided industry meddling into what might otherwise have been a natural phenomenon.
"I think the scene is not drawing some of the cooler kids any more because they think it's square," he muses. "That's the way it's being portrayed in the media. Anything that gets this big becomes very superficial, though. So what are you going to do?"
Royal Crown Revue performs Sunday, November 8, at the Carefree Theatre, 2000 S Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach; 561-833-7305. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $23.75.