Rose Royce - Biography
By Nick Castro
Best remembered for their tremendous hit single "Car Wash", Rose Royce were one of the most successful and talented soul groups to emerge out of the 1970's. Hailing from Los Angeles, the band was formed by high school friends. They were soon working as studio musicians and then began a slew of hits themselves. Their music has been sampled and covered by artists as diverse as Madonna, Mary J. Blige and Christina Aguilera. Other songs they are famous for include "Do Your Dance", "I'm in Love" and "Wishing on a Star".
Rose Royce began as a group called Total Concept Unlimited, and were working as session musicians for Norman Whitfield, legendary Motown producer, who was responsible for much of the Motown sound and was using the group to record with The Temptations and the Undisputed Truth. The group remained a staple for Whitfield during this period.
Whitfield became so enamored by the group that he decided to produce their debut album. At the time, Richard Pryor and George Carlin were working on a new film, Car Wash, and Whitefield convinced MCA to hire Total Concept Unlimited, who were now called Rose Royce, for the job of soundtracking the film. It was perfect timing, although the band had to shelf much of the material that they were planning for their debut release for this endeavor instead. Car Wash (1976 - MCA) was a huge hit for the group. Many of their finest work came from this Whitfield produced album, including not only the title track, which is one of the most famous songs of the 70's, but also the tremendously hooky "I Wanna Get Next to You", whose seductive melody and smooth rhythm is surely responsible for the conception of much of the late 70's progeny. Unfortunately, rumors began to spread about Rose Royce not being a real group, and rather a conglomeration of hired guns. They had to prove their legitimacy to their audience.
In 1977, Rose Royce released the album Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom (1977 - Whitfield). The band was now being fronted by singer Gwen Dickey and still being produced by Whitfield. They had a big success with their latest release, which had three singles make it into the top 20 of the r&b charts. The album rides the line between disco and funk, and the band is in top form on songs likes "Wishing on a Star", which was a huge hit in England, making it up to number 3. The song is still played on radio on a regular basis both there and in the US. the band is also allowed to stretch out, as was becoming the norm in the face of the increasingly cocaine fueled dance floor culture of the disco age, with extended funk jams, as on the song "Do Your Dance", which was a success on the r&b charts, reaching number 4.
Rose Royce followed up the next year with the album Rose Royce III: Strikes Again! (1978 - Whitfield). They released the single, "First Come, First Serve", which was a lukewarm success for the group on the r&b charts but failed to garner the success of their previous efforts. They had better luck with the song "I'm in Love (And I Love the Feeling)", which was another top ten hit on the r&b charts and a mild hit in the UK. Whitfield incorporated a lot of classical influences on the album, as he was famous for doing on the Motown hits he produced.
The next album by Rose Royce was Rose Royce IV: The Rainbow Connection (1979 - Whitfield). The album featured the hit single "Is It Love You're After", which did well both domestically on the r&b market but once again in the Uk as well. The band continued to explore the funk rhythms that they were becoming known for, such as on the Whitfield penned song "What You Waitin' For" and the song "Bad Mother Funker". The album also features some straight disco songs, such as "Is It Love you're After". Kenny Copeland was beginning to come more to the forefront as a vocalist as well, which can be heard to fine effect on songs like "Lock It Down".
Unfortunately, in 1979, Dickey left the group to pursue other interests. The band record their next record, Golden Touch (1981 - Whitfield), without her and still managed to find success with Dickey's replacement, Richee Benson. Copeland continued to take lead ona number of songs, including "Would You Please Be Mine", "Love Is In the Air" and "I Wanna Make it With You". Benson proved herself on songs like "And You Wish For Yeasterday". Her voice was completely different from Dickey's, and many fans were turned off this, but Benson was a strong vocalist worthy of praise on her won.
By 1980, the band began to suffer from a loss of popularity, but they continued to find work and record, still maintaining a decent status to their loyal soul fans. They released the albums Jump Street (1981 - Whitfield) and Stronger Than Ever (1982 - Epic).Their single "R.R. Express" surprisingly went to number 8 on the US national charts in 1981, where their previous 6 releases failed to even make a mark at all.
In 1984 the band released the album Music Magic (1984 - Montage). This album marked their move to a smaller record label and unfortunately went largely unnoticed due to the lack of promotion the album received. Those who have heard it can attest that it is as solid as much of the late 70's material, but the production does suffer from some the mechanical rhythms of the 80's.
Rose Royce has continued to tour and record throughout the remainder of the 80's and recently released a live album, recorded in Hollywood, California. They are considered giants in the world of soul music by those in the know, but are largely forgotten by most casual observers of the genre.