The Royal Teens History
History of The Royal Teens
The Royal Teens have a rich and illustrious history dating back to the year 1956 when Bob Gaudio and Tom Austin decided to assemble the best musicians they knew in Bergen County New Jersey and start their own band and etch their own mark into the fabric of Rock and Roll history.
At that time Bergenfield’s, Bob Gaudio was only 15 years old and Tom Austin was 17. Fort Lee’s 16-year-old Billy Dalton was added on guitar along with Dumont’s 14-year-old sax genius, Billy Crandall.
After spending countless hours of writing their own music and endless hours of rehearsing, the “Royals” as they were known back then entered a battle of the bands at Father Donovan’s, Madonna CYO hall in Fort Lee. Because they were all so young and were going to be going up against more established bands made up of older musicians, etc. Tommy suggested that they rent white tuxedos with plaid lapels to look as good as they could when it was their turn on stage. It worked! The girls went wild and the band was launched on solid footing.
Some weeks later the Holy Trinty CYO in Coytesville NJ, (which was just a small enclave on the north end of Fort Lee) hired The Royals to be the opening act for their headliners known as “The Three Friends”. The Three Friends had a regional hit called “Blanche.” Their lead singer was a fellow named Joe Villa. Unlike, The Royals, who could sing and play their own accompaniment, The Three Friends were a Doo Wop type of vocal group and needed a backup band to accompany them. Of course, The Royals were asked to add the musical background for them on that evening.
The Three Friends were so impressed by the unique and professional sound of The Royals that they asked them to come to NY and play the musical background for them on their next scheduled recording date.
When The Royals made it to 1650 Broadway, Room 1111, they met Leo Rogers who was the Three Friends’ manager. Recognizing a good thing when he saw it, Leo enticed The Royals to play the background music for everyone in his stable of groups and singles.
As the weeks and months passed, Leo promised that someday The Royals would have a chance at recording a song of their own. With that promise indelibly printed on the boys’ minds, Tom and Bobby came up with a novel idea for a new song, after seeing some girls with cutoff jeans walking down Washington Avenue in Bergenfield while riding in Tommy’s ’57 red and white Ford Fairlane 500.
When the night came at Bellsound Studios in Manhattan for The Royals to get their turn at bat to record their own song, Tommy did the whistle, Billy Dalton mimicked the whistle on guitar, and Billy Crandal said “Man dig those crazy chicks.” With Tommy on drums, Bobby on piano, Billy Dalton on guitar, and Crandall on sax, along with the female vocal provided by Diana Lee a girl from Leo’s stable of talented youngsters, The Royal Teens became an overnight success.
Power Records was the label that Leo Rogers owned with a Californian named Lee Silvers. Before the record was released on Power, Leo made The Royals change their name to Royal Teens because there was another group called The Royals. Anyway, The Royals reluctantly added Teens to their name.
In a very short time Leo realized that he could not keep up with the demand and distribution for “Short Shorts,” and negotiated a deal with ABC Paramount Records to buy the master for $ 18,000.
Instantly, the song became a national hit and The Royal Teens became a household word. Success came fast and furious. Dick Clark, Alan Freed, Life magazine, Columbia Pictures, Mac Gregor Clothes, Beechnut Gum, movie magazines, and major Rock and Roll tours all found the need to feature The Royal Teens and their music.
Before the first rock and roll tour was launched which included The Royal Teens, Billy Crandall had to leave the group because his parents would not allow their 14-year-old to leave school. Tommy had just graduated from Fort Lee High School and Bobby Gaudio and his parents decided to allow Bobby to “temporarily” drop out of school to pursue his dream and Billy Dalton took a leave of absence from All Hallows High in Manhattan.
Larry Qualiano, an outstanding 17-year-old sax player from North Bergen, NJ took Billy Crandall’s place and The Royal Teens became whole again and ready to tour with greats like Buddy Holly, Sam Cook, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Frankie Avalon, etc, and everybody else of note.
Tours consisting of 90 one-nighters became routine for the boys. North, South, East and West, big towns, small towns, The Royal Teens played them all.
Needless to say, The Royal Teens needed to follow up with additional hits to keep their name up there so the boys went back to writing their own songs. The only song that the Boys did not write was “Big Name Button.”
Realizing that the group needed a good lead singer, Joe Villa from the Three Friends was asked to join them. He did and after Bobby and Tom wrote the song “Believe Me” Joe was launched as the lead singer of The Royal Teens as they transited from ABC Paramount to Capital Records. Al Kooper, prior to his Blues Project and Blood Sweat and Tears fame, came in and took the place of Billy Dalton while Billy Dalton went to college to become an engineer.
Tommy, being eligible for the military draft, joined the National Guard. When The Royal Teens were performing on the Lloyd Price tour (“Stagger Lee”), they met another “JERSEY” group called The “Romans.” The Romans had a medium-sized hit called “Como Se Bella”
At the end of that tour, Tommy had to report to Fort Dix for active duty and Bobby was approached by Joe Pecci to join The Romans. It turned out that The Romans morphed into the legendary Four Seasons under the talented leadership of Bobby Gaudio and the rest is rock and roll history.
The Royal Teens on the other hand got their second wind when the nationally known bathroom product NAIR decided to use the song “Short Shorts” as their signature song to promote their product. Coincidentally, it was The Royal Teens’ song “Big Name Button” years before, that became the jingle favorite for Beechnut Gum when it was the sponsor of Dick Clark’s nationally televised Saturday night show emanating from the Little Theater in New York.
Over the years The Royal Teens were fortunate enough to be able attract some outstanding talent to fill the ranks of the earlier members of the group. Saxaphone standouts like Frankie Coppola and Frankie Natalie did wonders to keep the sound fresh for many years, Guitarists like Bobby Block added top flight solos to the group as well.
For the past dozen or so years guitar impresario Joey Donato, keyboardist Pete LaRosa, who by the way is a classically trained opera singer, and Charles Fromer who has played with numerous the touring companies, including Grease, have added their names to the great talents that have passed through the ranks of Royal Teens as well.
Two new additions have been added to The Royal Teens: Kate Weston a dancer, choreographer and outstanding vocalist, and Nadia LaRosa vocalist and the daughter of Pete LaRosa, the keyboard player with the band. Both of these beautiful and talented young ladies add so much class and character to the visual aspect of the group, as well as adding their solid harmonies to the group that the boys wondered how they could have gotten along without them for so long.
When the show Jersey Boys came to Broadway, Bobby Gaudio told Tommy that “Short Shorts” was being featured in the show. When the two original Royal Teens met once again at the August Wilson theater the night of the premiere of Jersey Boys, Tommy said he was so proud to have traveled the first leg of Bobby’s historical musical journey with him.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in Cleveland, Ohio, you will see an exhibit called the EARLY YEARS OF ROCK AND ROLL, that has featured the band jackets worn by Tommy Austin in his early days with The Royal Teens.
Under the leadership of Tommy, The Royal Teens have always remained intact and over the past 50 plus years, have found their rightful place on stage with the greats of their era.
As their recent Royal Teen recording called “Cool” says, “We’ll always be cool, till the end, we’ll always be cool my friend. We’ll play rock and roll till the party ends, we’ll always be cool my friend.”