My colleague Lisa O’Donnell wrote this top-notch, and way overdue, story about guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling and the 5 Royales, a legendary R&B group from Winston-Salem that never got the kind of mainstream respect they deserved.
Lisa is a heckuva writer, and the story couldn’t possibly have been in better hands. Check out the first few paragraphs of her article, which ran on the front page of the Winston-Salem Journal Sunday:
“A small obituary, lost in a wash of gray newsprint appeared halfway down Page 5 of the Winston-Salem Journal on Dec. 28, 1973, announcing the death of a one-time city resident who had lived in New York for the past 10 years.
Beyond his survivors, the obit contained nothing of the man’s life, the miles he traveled, the musical masterpieces he created, the impact he made on pop culture.
More than those errors of omission, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it obituary of a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, arguably the most important musical figure to emerge from Winston-Salem, included one other egregious mistake.
His name was misspelled.
Which is all sadly emblematic of the life of Lowman “Pete” Pauling (misspelled Lawman in the obituary), a visionary guitarist and songwriter who transcended his impoverished upbringing in the coal camps of West Virginia and the streets of Winston-Salem to become one of the pillars of early rhythm and blues, only to die alone at the age of 47 while working as a custodian at a Brooklyn synagogue.
Pauling was the guiding light for The 5 Royales, a groundbreaking Winston-Salem band whose fusion of gospel and R&B in the 1950s laid the groundwork for soul and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Great writing can take a reader to a lot of amazing places, but when it comes to understanding Lowman Pauling’s genius, hearing is believing. Lisa came to me with a great idea — to ask guitar shopkeeper Michael Bennett to deconstruct some of Pauling’s licks while we recorded him on video.
Pauling and the 5 Royales are winning some new fans these days thanks to guitarist Steve Cropper’s recent project, “Dedicated: A Salute to the Five Royales.” Cropper cites Pauling as one of his most important early musical influences. The recording features an all-star supporting musical cast including the likes of Lucinda Williams, Bettye LaVette, Delbert McClinton, Buddy Miller and B.B. King, and it’s been getting some mighty good press in the wide world beyond our beloved Winkytown.
Take a listen and I think you’ll see why. And if you see Santa, remind him that I’ve been a very good girl this year.