It’s difficult to imagine that Royal Torrence had no idea what rock and roll was as a young boy in the south. When the singer joined his Uncle Bill Weaver’s Washington, DC gospel group in his twenties he only knew spiritual songs. Torrence became the leader of the group, which transitioned to rock and roll at Weaver’s suggestion, and was therefore known as Little Royal and the Swingmasters.
One evening in 1963, Torrence had a chance encounter with James Brown at The Howard Theatre. The Godfather of Soul told him they looked like brothers and introduced Torrence to promoter James Dudley. Soon Little Royal and the Swingmasters were touring with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and The Temptations.
In 1967 Torrence released his first 45—“I Can Tell”/ “You Made Me Love You” on Carnival Records. In 1972 Little Royal and the Swingmasters, which featured horn player Andrew Sims, Marvin Shears on drums, and Burnett Jackson on bass, released their “Jealous” LP on Torrence and producers Huey P. Meaux and Stanley Little’s Tri-Us label. The LP contained the hits “Jealous,” “I’ll Come Crawling,” “Razor Blade,” “Panama Red,” and “Soul Train.”
“Jealous” was produced by Meaux and Little in Houston, Texas and recorded in Norfolk, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, and distributed by Starday-King Records, James Brown’s former label. Torrence created a popular dance for the instrumental track “Razor Blade” when he appeared on the Cincinnati, Ohio television program, “Soul Street.” In 1973 Torrence released another 45 on Tri-Us—“Keep Pushing Your Luck”/”(I Want To Be Free) Don’t Want Nobody Standing Over Me.”
Beginning in 1983 Torrence released several crossover beach music singles including “Groovin” and “Down On The Sand” on Firestone and Flame Records respectively, which played from Virginia to Florida.
Little Royal and the Swingmasters rarely play in Washington, DC but still perform on occasion at Westminster DC’s Blue Monday Blues. These days ambiguity surrounds Torrence’s exact location, which is exactly how he likes it.
“Even to today I’m in town and nobody knows I’m in town,” says Torrence. Little Royal & The Swingmasters have been sampled by Masta Ace, Ice-T, J Dilla, and Lord Finesse.
You can purchase Little Royal’s music here.