The Emperors

The Emperors Wickwire PS Laughin' Linda
from left: Stan Foat, Steve Watts, Bill Hughes, Randy Siegers, Brian Cameron and Mike Elam

The Emperors were a southern California group based in Long Beach and not from San Bernadino as I’ve read elsewhere. Their sound had origins in a pre-Beatles rock and r&b style. They toured throughout southern California, including the Balboa Ball in San Diego.

As Steve and the Emperors they released their first 45, “Great Balls of Fire”/“The Breeze and I” on the Best label.

Then came two records on the related Wickwire label. The first was “A Fool For You I’ve Been” / “Searchin’ Around the World”, both written by Bill Hughes (Wickwire 13003). (See this page for more info on Wickwire and Best.)

Emperors Business CardThe next was a cover of Australian pop singer Tony Barber’s “Blue Day” backed with a good rocker, “Laughin’ Linda”, which was written by Cameron-Watts. This 45 was produced by John Hodge and Larry Wilson, and arranged by William F. Williams. Despite the bleached moptops on the sleeve, at this point their forte was strictly 1963 era pop, as the ‘Wipe Out‘ intro on “Laughin’ Linda” attests.

Stan Foat has noted the band’s lineup at this time:

Stan Foat, bass
Steve Watts, drums
Bill Hughes, guitar
Randall Seiger, guitar
Brian Cameron, saxophone
Mike Elam, saxophone and vocal on “Blue Day”

In the spring of 1965 they released their next 45 on the Sabra label. The A-side is a fine jangly ballad, “And Then“, but for the flip they fashioned an entirely different sound. A pounding bass and drum beat punctuated with staccato guitar notes sets up the leering vocal “Let me tell you a story …” and then the refrain: “He-e-e-y woman … I want my woman”! This is the kind of intense, demented record garage fans live for!

Both sides were written by Bill Hughes who also sang on “I Want My Woman”, arranged by Glen Spreen, and produced by Lelan Rogers before he returned to Texas. For a long time there was confusion over whether this was a Texas group because Rogers included “I Want My Woman” on Epitaph for a Legend, which compiled rare tracks of bands on the International Artists label.

The Emperors have one last 45 on the Two+Two label that I really want to hear, “You Make Me Feel So Good”/“Love Pill”. I wonder if there was a change of band members before recording “I Want My Woman”. If not, I’d have to say the Emperors did an incredible job of adapting to the trends in the music scene at the time. One change that definitely happened was Bobby Cochran replacing Randy Seiger on lead guitar, but I don’t know if this happened before or after the Sabra 45 was recorded.

John “Chris” Christensen of Opus 1 recalled the Emperors:

Steve Watts, (the leader of that group) and I met early in 1963 when he offered to help me set up my drums at a gig at the Poly Hutch, which was The Poly High School Youth Center.

I used to have a copy of “Love Pill,” but it seems to have gone away. It was a novelty song, in a sort-of Coasters style. The lead guitarist, by then, was Bobby Cochran, whom, I believe was Eddie Cochran’s nephew.

Bill Hughes was a member of the band indeed, and is the lead singer on “I Want My Woman.”

They changed their membership many times over the years, with the constant always being drummer/singer Steve Watts.

They also released an album in the late 70’s, when they were know as “Emperor.” The keyboardist from that version of the group who was also a member of early 60’s Long Beach band “The Illusions” was Mike Lobbett. Mike and I had a really hot duo in ’78- ’79 for about 8 months.

Spider Taylor (Emperor, Delaney Bramlett, Hey Taxi, and Red Wedding) was also the guitarist for my group, Midnight Flyer, in ’75.

Fan club president Renee Bagley wrote to me about the group:

I am not sure who the members were of Emperor. I knew them more intimately when they first started and had the white hair (The Emperors). I saw them later but I was there at their beginnings.

Steve sang then but was not the lead singer, Mike was the lead singer (the one on the far right of the picture). He left because he didn’t like having his hair bleached white. People made nasty remarks. Most of them at the time were going to Long Beach City College. He was engaged at the time so he just wasn’t into their image.

Then Steve started singing more lead parts. Bill did a lot of the singing too but he left and I think he got drafted … don’t remember now. Then Randy, the guy who is Javanese went I believe it was into the Navy (Vietnam War). I wrote to him a couple of times but don’t know what happened to him. He was a very nice guy.

Then there was Stan on the far left who was my favorite at the time who had a g/f who was always there when they played. He was the bass player.

I think Randy was the lead guitarist. Then they got Bobby who was youngest of them all at that time. They weren’t wearing their hair white when he came into the group.

 

27 thoughts on “The Emperors”

  1. Greetings,

    I just visited your great website and congratulations on a fine design. It is very user-friendly and informative. I am hoping you can help me with information on the Wickwire Record Company from California. I am the coordinator of the Wickwire Family History Group and although we have a huge database of family members, no one knows anything about this record company. I have copies of all the records and have searched quite a lot of databases to no avail.

    It would be very much appreciated if you could add any information to our files.

    All the best,

    Rick Wickwire

  2. I became familiar with the Emperors in my late teens. They played in Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and LA counties frequently. I live in Corona and they played at our Armory back in the 60s. When the Javanese guitarist left for Vietnam they took on another guitarist singer, Bobby and it was then that they played in Corona. I have the newspaper article somewhere and photos of the group and other things. I was a fan club President and heard them play many, many times as well, I knew Steve casually and his Mother. They were a serious group about their musical careers. Steve was a person who strived for excellence. They played in a very large Ballroom in Long Beach with Mary Wells on the bill. In the 70s I saw them play at such places as “Big Daddy’s” in the City of Orange when they went by Emperor and Steve had long hair his natural color. They actually did get on the I think it was top ten in Southern California on the lists for radio stations like KMEN. I don’t remember the other one that was in San Bernardino but they both played their songs, especially Laughin Linda. Live, they were an excellent band for the time period.

  3. Hi everyone,

    I have had the honor of working with The Emperors/Emperor from 1968-1980 and then again during our “Reunion” at The Galaxy Theatre in Orange County in 2002 through present day. The band was already well established when I joined in 1968 and I had major shoes to fill in taking over the reins of Steve Watts who was going into the United States Navy.

    F.Y.I./ I was not there to “replace” one of the founding members, (Steve Watts), I was there to “fill in” during his military years! After serving his country honorably, Steve came back to Long Beach with the goal of rejoining his beloved band, The Emperors. The group had “morphed” into a rock-horn group that his guitar player, (John Hunt) had taken over and moved in another direction. Steve was not interested in rejoining that group so he took it upon himself to reunite himself with a combination of Old and New Emperors of the day.

    Steve put together a great group of vocalists and players that consisted of Steve, (Drums and lead vocals), Randy Budihas, (Drums and lead vocals), Terry Brent, (Bass and lead vocals), Joe Middler, (Lead Guitar and lead vocals) and Marc Zavatsky, (Keyboards and lead vocals).

    This group of players started from scratch with Steve’s leadership and his incredible Mother’s management skills and took off like a bat out of hell.
    We began our “club circuit” career at a memorable spot in Gardena California called “Baby Huey’s” on Crenshaw Blvd. After which, we began a long successful stint at “Santa Ana Clubhouse” on Main Street in Santa Ana. This club had a raised dance floor that was lighted from underneath and was really a cool place to work with a packed house almost every night. From “The Clubhouse” we finally felt we “made it bigtime” when we got to audition for “Isadore’s” in Newport Beach. I must mention that we had an incredible guitar player by the name of Jim “Spider” Taylor playing with us at this time and he blessed us with his talent for many wonderful years along with a wonderfully talented Marc Zavatsky on keyboards!

    I’ll never forget when the “buyers” came to see us at The Clubhouse in Santa Ana. They walked in and immediately walked out! Steve and I were determined! We called them up and “begged” them to let us have an off night at Isadore’s to prove our value and potential draw power. Needless to say, we “wowed” em at our audition and then spent the next year and a half performing at Southern California’s premier nightclub hot spot! Lines around the building to get in and hundreds of loyal followers to stay with us for years to come.

    Following Isadore’s, we worked at all of the Big Daddy’s chain clubs in the City of Orange, Marina Del Rey and Woodland Hills. The clubs had a “three story” level format that were filled to capacity most of the week when we were performing. There were night when we had over 1000 people in a nightclub!!
    In fact, (Jonathan Cain, current keyboardist for Journey, was one of the artists that played in the “lounge” at Big Daddy’s in Marina Del Rey while we were the “headliners”!!) We also played clubs in San Pedro, (The Rain Tree), (Saint George and The Dragon) in Tustin and a number of other hot spots in Southern California. We even “opened” for Steely Dan at a concert at the University of California Irvine when Michael McDonald was a keyboardist and backround vocalist for Donald Fagen! (Who’d of thunk it!)

    Finally, the band morphed once again into the “Album Group” (EMPEROR) in 1975/1976 with members Mike Lobbett,(Keyboards/vocals) Joe Alexander Deleski,(Lead Guitar/vocals) Randy Budihas,(Drums/vocals) Steve Watts,(Drums/vocals) and Joe Marques,(Bass guitar/vocals.

    Our first single “Dreamer” had moderate success nationally along with the songs “Woman” and “Time That It Takes” to round out the play list. We also had a song called “I’m Alive” that had a very Emerson Lake and Palmer/Yes feel to it with soaring harmonies that got some attention as well. The bottom line was Private Stock Records/EMI was willing to spend almost $100,000 in record production but only $25,000 in marketing. Unfortunately for us, that was the kiss of death from a promotion standpoint. We never really got the “exposure” necessary to make it to the next level. No hard feelings, as the saying goes, “It is what it is”!!

    I left the group in 1980 to do some solo work and had the opportunity to work as a backround vocalist on a few projects with recording artists. My heart still yearned for the friendships formed for years with Steve and my Emperor band mates.

    In 2002 I put together a “Dinner Night” for the Emperor fellas at El Ranchito in Newport Beach. Reluctantly, Steve joined Mike, Randy, Joe and Joe for dinner and we decided to give the “Reunion” a one time shot. The Galaxy Theatre was the place we decided to do the show and we pulled in almost 700 fans from our past to join us at the event! The rest is history as they say! The band officially was “Re-born” in 2002 and we’ve been going strong ever since!! Unfortunately, Mike Lobbett, and Joe Alexander Deleski are no longer with us but Steve Watts, (Founding Member and performer plus) and Randy Budihas and Joe Marques both from the 60’s and 70’s era along with Dave Quintana and Tom Engel now make up the current nucleus of the band………..The Emperors/Southern California’s Premier Classic Rock Group!!

    Please visit our website:

    http://www.emperorrocks.com

    for updates on where we are performing. We would LOVE to see any and all of you at a show in the near future!

    God Bless and Keep Rockin………..

    Randy Budihas

  4. Left to right: Stan Foat, bass; Steve Watts, drums ; Bill Hughes, guitar ; Randall Seiger, guitar ; Brian Cameron, saxaphone ; Mike Elam, saxaphone (volcal Blue Day)

  5. As I was cleaning my apartment today when I stumbled across this garage podcast from Paris I listen to on occasion.
    http://www.popmeter.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=47&Itemid=56

    That is for sure my pop on the far right.
    As I recall he told me they almost got kicked out of school
    (Millikan High in Long Beach) for bleaching their hair.

    He also told me about the time they tried out for a bit part in Frankie and Annette’s
    “Bikini Beach” but lost out to the Pyramids.

    Mike is now a lawyer and lives in Upland,CA. He still plays.
    Man how I wish I could of been around in those times. I work in the music industry now and for the most part, it’s a real drag..!

    Kindest regards,
    “Son” of an Emperor,
    Andre Elam

  6. I have to add, as one of the former managers of Isadore’s in Newport Beach (and there when they closed their doors), circa 1978-1979, Emperor was indeed one of the strongest draws we had – always a full house!! EXCELLENT talent! So, here I am, some 30 years later, still reminiscing of their talent. Thanks again, guys!!

  7. I picked up this 45 yesterday at the Allentown Record Show. The A side is a decent cover of the Zombies tune. The b side is negligible.

  8. ISADORE’S in Newport Beach! One of the VERY BEST night spots in all of Orange County in the late 70’s! Lines of people out the door and standing room only when The Emperors played. Thanks so much for the ‘shout out’ Mike. Hope all is well and perhaps you can make an event someday soon if you’re still in So. Cal. The website is http://WWW.EMPERORROCKS.COM to check on upcoming events. Steve Watts, Joe Marques and myself, Randy Budihas are still 3 of the ‘originals’ from the Album days! Amazing that we still have the following from the 70’s at our current shows but they all seem to keep showing up! Guess good vocal harmonies and solid musicianship are still appreciated in 2010!

  9. I knew Mike casually just before he left the group, not wanting to bleach his hair anymore. Many of the guys were going to Long Beach City College at the time. I wrote to him and kind of played a fan prank on him but called him and confessed :). I have letters from him I saved somewhere. I wonder how they would verify anything here people are saying? Some were from the Lakewood/Long Beach area and I remember going to Steve’s house to pick up fan club literature and things like that and meeting his Mom who was managing them at that time. I know Mike is singing lead on Blue Day but I can’t remember concerning the others. It was a very long time ago but has remained a fond memory. I am glad to hear Mike was successful. We always wondered what had happened to him and some of the others in the original band. I gave added information to the owner of the site but he didn’t use it when I posted prior.

  10. I started watching the Emperors when I was 17 years old. As time passed I wondered what happened and then one night I walked into Big Daddy’s and there was Steve with long hair singing in a band that had dropped the “S”. I was 33. That is how long I followed the group. It was a remembrance because two girls were at the bar saying that the band members looked ‘old’. I thought that was hilarious. Steve is only five months older than I am and I remember his birthday being in September so he has one coming up soon. Unfortunately I didn’t know who any of the other members were and wondered what happened to eveyone else. I listened to the 70s music and it was good. In 1981, I was babysitting for a couple who knew Steve and I showed him an 8×10 glossy of him with the white hair which they kept. He was in another band at the time that was big in Orange County and they were friends. He told me at that time Steve was getting married. It’s a small world.

  11. Hi Renee,
    I come back to Garagehangover every now and then to see who might post a comment. Saw your thoughts and wanted to let you know that yes, Steve has a birthday coming up on Sept. 14th and he’s still just as ‘Young’ and ‘Energetic’ on stage as he was in the 60’s with The Emperors. I joined the band in 1967 after Brian Cameron and Mike had already left and the white hair went by the wayside. However, here it is 44 years after I joined and Steve and I are still together making music! We are NOT OLD and honestly don’t look our age even today. We’ve introduced a whole new generation to “The Emperors” rock and roll passion. Maybe we’ll cross paths someday!
    God Bless,
    Randy Budihas Drummer/Lead Vocals

  12. Indeed it is a small world! I ran across the Youtube postings of the Sabra record a few days ago and then went this this site! I had some email correspondence with Steve a couple of years ago when I ran across the band’s website, but just haven’t had time to get together with him or see the group yet. However, I still have time for guitar lessons, sax, blues harp, etc – not a rock star, but it’s the thought that counts! I’ll be submitting a lot of information about the Emperors before I left and also the band Steve, Brian Cameron and I were in before the Emperors (The Stringlords – Jim Sykes guitar, Terry Gilbert bass, Mike Hoag piano, Brian Cameron and I on sax and Steve on drums. What a great time we all had! ‘Rock and Roll is here to stay, it will never die!’

  13. I am now married to Michel. The stories he told me did not include he was tired of bleaching his hair. The band became a job rather than fun. He still does music for fun. Would like to hear from all who knew him then. I have heard the record and love it.

  14. Mike,
    It was a long time ago, but the memories are still vivid in my mind.
    I have often wondered what you, Bryan, Bill and Stan have been doing all these years.
    I saw Steve a few years back while visiting my family in Huntington Beach.
    Sure would enjoy hearing from you guys.
    Randy Siegers

  15. Just an update for some of our ‘past Emperor Brothers’…..Would love to touch base with each and every one of you again before we go on to the Big Rock Show In Heaven someday! The current website is http://www.emperorrocks.com and Steve Watts can be reached at 949-361-3101 if you want to touch base with an old friend! We’ll be playing an ‘unplugged’ gig in Long Beach at McKenna’s On The Bay November 19th from 3-6pm and then we will have our 3rd annual New Years Eve celebration at Meadowlark Golf Club in Huntington Beach on December 31st. Sold out the last three years in a row. (There are still a lot of “mature” rockers that love the great music from our past!) Check the website for details. Steve still Rocks like he always did on stage. Maybe we can get some of the past ‘crew’ to join us on stage someday soon!
    God Bless,
    Randy Budihas (Lead Vocalist/Drummer with Steve

    1. One of the BEST clubs we ever played at! The place was packed every weekend with a line outside the door down the block! Denny was the owner and Big Rod was the doorman back in the day. Still stay in touch with the boys whenever possible. At the time, it was Steve Watts, Myself (Randy Budihas), Terry Brent, Joe Middler and Marc Zavatsky. Of course Steve and I (Randy) are still going strong with Joe Marques, Chip Walsh and Dave Quintana still Rockin’.

  16. Were you not Randy Simmons in high school, or have I mixed you up with someone else. I knew Randy played horn and drums in a band, and was in Wilson Marching band, and I thought you had joined the Emperors, my favorite L.B. Band. we used to play basketball across the street from Wilson after school, you were tall, I was not. Sorry If I was mistaken.
    Rick

    1. Hi Rick,
      Yep, you got it right! I’m the same Randy that played in the marching and stage band with Roland Sandberg at Wilson. And yes, we had a good time playing hoops after school across the street. I played a lot of hoops until I got into college and realized Tarkanian didn’t need a tall white guy that couldn’t ‘jump’! Went on to collegiate rowing for 4 years instead where long tall guys we’re the majority! Hope all is well Rick.
      God Bless, Randy ‘Simmons’ Budihas

  17. Well he probably doesn’t remember because he doesn’t really remember me in all actuality. I have a small stack of letters from him back then. He is the one who told me about the hair thing. I would have to get the letters out and see what he said about other things because it is so long ago. He was very talented and I hated seeing him leave. So did a lot of people but we still loved the band and over time they dropped the hair style.

    I also, after he left the group and Randy as well, got them to come to Corona to play at our National Guard Armory. A lot of us wanted that because we loved the band and they were having a lot of bands play there off and on. I believe they opened for Duane Eddy at the time and Randy Cochran was playing lead and he did some of the singing. He was really young then, only 17 or 18 I think. I have the newspaper article somewhere. I even have the radio station bills that show Laughin’ Linda on the charts in San Bernardino and a lot of other things. Glossies of the group signed. I was wondering if this Bobby Cochran was the one that began relatively well known. Now I know. Nice to meet you Denise. Those are my recollections back then at 65.

  18. Were you in the band when they played at Big Daddy’s near Garden Grove in the mall? I was around 33 then and it was Emperor that played that night and there was someone that switched off playing drums and singing in the band? It would have been around 1980? I lost track of the band for awhile but when I heard you were playing there I came. I use to sort of hang out there but that night it was pretty empty. I don’t think many knew who you were honestly. I only recognized Steve, he wouldn’t have recognized me. I talked to him a few times in the past but you know he met a lot of girl followers in the day. Most I am sure he doesn’t remember. My last name back then was Cramer.

    1. Thanks for the upload! I just transferred 8 or so takes of “The Breeze and I” from 1/2 track reel-to-reel on to CD. Wish I still had the actual record, which is a little different.

  19. I saw the Emperors play in Long Beach from ’62 to ’65. I also own their five 45s. Though the Pyramids had a big national hit with Penetration, the Emperors were the most popular local band due to their entertaining (and often comical) stage show. They were polished musicians, played well arranged material, were accomplished in many styles (surf, r&b, frat, British invasion, garage, etc.) + could rock out. The group members primarily went to Millikan + Wilson high schools + after they died their hair white, the group had to carpool to school in a station wagon to avoid being picked on. Also, its rumored they were on stand-by for several episodes of Shindig, but obviously never made it on the show. After 1966, for me, the group was never the same.

    1. Hey Daniel! Mike Elam here! Great comment. I had the station wagon (’57 Ford), but I don’t recall us carpooling to Millikan (Steve and I went there), but the hair did create quite a commotion. I was in the band (sax) from around summer ’62 until late ’64/early 65. I assume you went to the Airport Club/Marina Palace – I ran across a reel to reel 1/2 track tape from a gig we did there (one of many) in ’63. Great that you have all 5 records (I only have two). Feel free to shoot me an email anytime – michaelhelam@yahoo.com.

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