The Amazing Royal Crowns
An Audience with the King
Friendships sometimes start in the strangest ways. My friendship with the Amazing Royal Crowns is an excellent example. I became friends with the Providence, RI-based rockabilly-punk band after writing negative comments about them “missing” a gig in an Ink Nineteen review! But I’ll let singer Jason “King” Kendall tell the tale… “When we first heard about that, I was reading Ink Nineteen in Gainesville, Florida about a year ago. We were playing with Less Than Jake, great show at the Covered Dish, and I saw the review. I’m like, `oh my God, we didn’t even know, we had no idea!’ We’ve never, ever backed out of a gig, never. It doesn’t matter. Come hell or high water, we go. I called Ink Nineteen and left a message saying, `yeah, we just want to rectify the situation, we didn’t know about the gig, we’d love to talk to you,’ we tried to get in touch with you right then and there. So basically, what happened was the person that books Skavoovie (and the Epitones), Ariel, I don’t think she called back and told them, because we didn’t even know about the tour. I guess she had talked to our manager about doing a tour with them and went ahead and penciled us in. We had no idea. I felt so bad, I really did!”
Misunderstandings aside, I eventually got to meet Jason and the rest of the Crowns in St. Pete a few months later, and there began a true and solid friendship. The Crowns are one of the only bands I’ve met that I think would be there for me if I ever needed anything, would have my back in a fight, or would give me the shirts off their backs. They’re that kind of people, genuine salt of the Earth. They’re also an incredible band, a smoking four-piece that includes Johnny “The Colonel” Maguire on guitar, Jack “The Swinger” Hanlon on string bass, and Judd Williams on drums.
As can happen when friends get together, I talked with Jason about a lot of varied subjects when we met up again in St. Pete at the end of a short tour with our mutual friends, Spring Heeled Jack.
I wanted to ask you if you had any stories to tell about touring with the Cramps…
That was our favorite tour so far. There’s so many, good ones and bad ones. I got really feverish and flu-ish on that tour, so a couple of the gigs I passed out at, like passed out in a back room, just out of my mind. Didn’t miss one gig. Our van broke down five times. It happens, if you tour enough, these crazy things are gonna happen. At one point, I’m all flu-ish, three sweaters on in the back of the van in the loft, just passed out in the middle of Indiana, maybe, and I guess we broke down. I didn’t know it. I woke up, and we were being towed, and I didn’t know we were being towed. I’d broke my fever, finally, and I woke up, and I’m like, “what’s going on?!?!” [There were] these big flashing lights right in the back, and no one’s driving the van, and it’s tipped up. I thought we were being abducted. Judd looks up from the seat, where he’s hiding, and he goes “shh, we’re being towed, we broke down, and we can’t afford to fit everybody in the tow truck, we can’t afford to get where we’re going, so we’re hiding.”
Another good story is we played Orlando with the Cramps, at the House of Blues. Walking around Disney World with Lux (Interior) and (Poison) Ivy, that was a trip. It was really funny, really weird.
The looks you must have got from the tourists, alone, must have been pretty funny…
And you never think you’d walk around with them. In all my years. It was crazy. There were a lot of really good times on that tour, like the Bomboras, we really got along with really well. We actually played with them in L.A. last week. That was the best tour ever, it really was. I think we connected to an audience really well. We’re used to being the underdog, playing to a different kind of audience and trying to get them into what we’re into. Just to play to an audience that was so open-eared to our type of music was big for us.
What first drew you to rockabilly, as opposed to just straight-out punk rock?
I’ve always been into the punk rock. Jack has always been into it. However, I was living in Germany in about ’85 or ’87 and I got into the big psychobilly thing there, and that kind of versed me a little bit in rockabilly. It kind of made me move over to rockabilly, you know, “where did this come from?” When I first heard rockabilly, when I first even heard the Stray Cats, which was modern rockabilly, it made me go down into more rockabilly. It hit me so hard, the energy, the music, just everything involved with it, that it was a natural progression. Johnny is kind of a throwback. He’s always been into it. So when Jack and I started playing with Johnny, he got us into it. That was it, from the beginning. It just happened that it was like a hybrid. That’s what we are. What we play is a definite extension of what we are.
What were the bands that influenced you, as far as rockabilly and punk?
I grew up seeing bands, I mean, I saw Minor Threat, I saw Operation Ivy, I used to go see Fugazi, I used to go see whatever. I saw so many bands. I used to go to hardcore matinees at CBGB’s, I saw Gorilla Biscuits, Underdog, whatever. I was always in hardcore bands, I was always in punk rock bands — it was fun, it was great to do. For me, the band that really made me say “wait a minute, this is what I want to do,” the band that made me want to do this forever, is Reverend Horton Heat. When I first saw Reverend Horton Heat way back when, when they released the “Psychobilly Freakout” single and they were touring behind that, and then when they were touring behind the Cramps — I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “This is what I want to do. This is it. This mixes the tempo of punk with the swing of rockabilly. This is what I want to do.” And it happened.
Have you had a chance to play with them?
Yeah, we played with him a few times. He doesn’t like to have a lot of rockabilly bands on the bill, and I understand that, but our second-ever gig was with the Reverend Horton Heat. We were nutty. We came out in masks at our first two gigs, `cause Johnny’s a big masked rock n’ roll fan. You know how it is when you first start out. That was our second time playing, and our first time was with Dick Dale. Talk about embarrassing! But then, we just played with Reverend Horton Heat not even a year ago, and he saw the improvement. They’ve always been really, really interested in what we’re doing. Whenever they come to town, we hang out with them, we drink with them, and they always ask “OK, what’s going on? How’s the new album? I like this song,” you know what I mean? They’ve been nothing but supportive. So it’s really cool to be able to play with them, and now, we can play, we’re like road warriors! We’re worthy! I remember, during that set, the crowd was going nuts, it was a hometown crowd, and Jimbo checking out Jack, our bassist, and just going [mimes jaw dropping], y’know what I mean? Because Jack is a really good bassist, I’d put him up against anybody. I really would. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, almost anybody that uses a stand-up bass in today’s musical marketplace.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you don’t like being called “retro,” but of course, a lot of reviews are going to pick up on that aspect. How do you feel about that?
Well, we’re definitely influenced by the music of yesteryear. Who isn’t? I mean, we wear it on our sleeve. I look at certain bands that act, dress, talk, speak, and their songs are about things that don’t even matter in everyday ’90s life, and to me, those bands are like Sha-Na-Na. It’s like, “what are you doing?” It’s just a big caricature. It’s like the whole swing thing. There’s a lot of good swing bands, I think the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are great, the Mighty Blue Kings are great, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are pretty cool, but there’s other swing bands out there that it’s literally like a sitcom. To them, retro is like “it’s retro, daddy,” and they talk in that lingo and everything, but it’s not gonna last. It’s just gonna sap everything out of it. You’re going to be tagged as a retro band and you’re never going to be able to get out from under that. With us, our music has to do with what’s going on now, I like to think. It’s definitely influenced by what’s gone on before, but… look at Rocket From the Crypt, perfect example. They take what was going on in the ’50s and ’60s, and yet kind of mold it to punk rock in the ’90s. I think they’re a perfect example of that, and I think that’s something we strive for. Not in the same way they do it, but more of a rockabilly fashion with us. So retro is a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. I just don’t want to devalue what we do.
Speaking of the whole retro and swing thing, do you have a lot of problems with being confused with the Royal Crown Revue?
You’re going to be the first person I tell this to, this just happened two days ago. We’ve been served with papers from the Royal Crown Revue. We have been sued by them. They have done such a smear campaign against us, it’s horrible. They dragged us into court, we don’t have the money, it’s been really bad. We’re finally giving in. We’re going to change our name to the Amazing Crowns. I hope that it won’t cause too much confusion. We’re begging them to let us say “formerly the Amazing Royal Crowns” for at least a couple of months. They’ve been real assholes.
Haven’t you played with them before?
Never. I’d have loved to. That’s what hurts a lot, is that we used to like them a lot. Johnny was a huge fan of theirs. We originally changed it to “Amazing” to suit them, because we thought it would be the right thing to do. So, there has been some problems with them.
How soon is the name change going to happen?
I think after this tour we’re going to start pushing towards it. We’re going to have to change all the merchandise. I hope it doesn’t hurt us. I guess word has leaked out in certain areas, and they’re getting a lot of shit from our fans. It’s weird, because they’ve always played into the 21+ thing, playing in Vegas and stuff, whereas we’ve always, always, always really concentrated on all-ages and being with the fans. I think that’s really helped us out in this thing, `cause once word gets out, who knows? They’ve had a lot of problems with Royal Crown Cola, because they got their name from a Royal Crown-sponsored program in the ’40s called Royal Crown Revue. We are being endorsed by Royal Crown Pomade now. That’s what’s happening. They love us. That’s where we got the name, and they’re actually gonna endorse us. Hopefully the name change doesn’t hurt it. I don’t think it will. They want to make us a banner, they’re sending us cases of grease… it’s really funny. So we’re going to be the only rockabilly band endorsed by a hair company.
Do you think it has to do with Royal Crown Revue being on a big label?
I do and I don’t. I know how it works, I mean, if you don’t want it to happen, it’s not going to happen. They’re the artists. I have to say it’s them, because I’ve dealt with them personally, and I’ve seen it. [Royal Crown Revue frontman] Eddie Nichols showed up at our show in L.A. a few weeks ago with yet another server, a [huge stack of] papers saying all kinds of shit about us, and he was out of his mind. He was nuts. He was just freaking out, yelling. They’re just too crazy. Johnny wrote this really nice thing on our message board on our Web site (http://www.amazingroyalcrowns.com), and they’ve since posted two really nasty messages on it. Johnny wrote something just saying, “you know, we’re all playing music that isn’t the `norm.’ There’s other Royal Crown bands out there. There’s room enough for everybody. Why don’t we go on tour together? That would solve it. We want to be friends.” We’re all really hurt about it right now. We’re the underdog, and we always are, it seems like. But that’s okay, people like the underdog.
You guys are going to Australia soon, have you been down there before?
Never. I can’t wait.
Is there a big crowd down there for rockabilly?
I don’t know, but we’re going with the Bosstones, so… [laughs]. It’s going to be the Porkers, us, and the Bosstones for two weeks. I’m really looking forward to it. Then we get home, we have one day to sleep, and then we do the four Warped Tour dates.
Why do you think you end up on so many bills with ska bands?
I think ska tours, ska shows, have a tendency to just be ska. We’ve always been lucky that we’re different — obviously, we’re not ska — but yet, our energy translates well, and it kind of mixes well. They’re both roots-oriented music, and I think it makes for a better bill. I think people see that, and say “okay, we’ll get the Crowns on.” It’s getting kind of ridiculous now, I think it’s time for some more changes for us. I definitely want to keep playing ska bills as much as possible, but the Cramps shows opened my eyes to a lot of different stuff.
Spring Heeled Jack played on your record, how did you hook up with them?
We were talking about this last night. We kind of, in a band way, grew up together. Our first show with them was opening for the Toasters. It was an early show, in our first year, and we just got along immediately, like that [snaps fingers], and we started trading shows in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Always trading shows, and that’s it. We always talked about touring, and we were always friends of theirs, would always come out to see them when they were in the area, and they do the same with us. It’s always just been a good friendship. I love them. We always say that Spring Heeled Jack is the one band we don’t want to follow on stage, because they have so much energy. They came down when we were recording that album, and that just happened like “Hey, wanna come down and hang out with us, play some horns? Wanna fuck around? Let’s have fun.” They just came down and we ended up just eating, drinking, talking, and they wrote that horn line [for “Do the Devil”] just like that [snaps fingers]. This whole [tour] we’ve had Spring Heeled in our van, hanging out, it’s been so much fun. I’m not kidding, we’ve talked about this for years, touring together, too. It’s pretty cool.
What do you have coming up?
In August, we’re going to go home after the Australia tour. We just got the Specials tour, the Surfrider Foundation tour. It’s the Specials, and I heard it was Rocket From the Crypt, too, but I don’t know who it is, and us. We’re doing that in late September. Between mid-August to that time we’re going to record a whole new album, and pop out a single. We have more than enough songs. We’re shooting for early Winter for the release. We’re going to keep our video [for “Do the Devil”] going, with the Betty Page stuff, but we have to take a lot of that out now for MTV, `cause they want to play it, they said, but we’ve got to take some of that stuff out. Everybody [at MTV] was like, “yes, this is great, yes, yes!” until it got to the censorship department, I don’t know what it is, they were like “NO!” It got to that final door — “NO! You have to take the ball gag out.”