by Al Lozano

They're lining up by the hundreds outside Joshua's in Huntington Beach and inside, backstage, the members of Emperor are shaking hands with friends of the management. Their first album, Emperor, on Private Stock Records, has just been released and many who followed the Orange County group for nearly a decade are smiling with pride. You'd have thought the scores of well-wishers moving in for congratulatory gestures were members of the band themselves. "This is local time makes good," says a smiling face belonging to an excited young man, "these dudes are going all the way." You'd have thought the scores of well-wishers moving in for congratulatory gestures were members of the band themselves. This is local time makes good," says a smiling face belonging to an excited young man, "these dudes are going all the way." Currently, Emperor's summer long appearances at Joshua's are breaking attendance records at the already popular Orange County night club. Bob Lannon, owner of Joshua's spares no superlatives in his praise of the group that's been packing them in night after night. "It's unprecedented, " says Lannon, "we couldn't ask more of a group. Every night they generate an excitement that nobody else can.  


The handshaking has about run its course and over in a corner sits leader/drummer Steve Watts. He looks as though he might be meditating but a quick smile reassures you he's just priming himself mentally for an act that he's been polishing for 15 years. In a few moments he'll be a whirling, leaping demon of electrical exuberance, rivaling the movements of a midnight medicine man, but for now he sits placidly with a face kind enough to say confession to. "it might sound corny," says Watts, "but this is the high point of my life." Watts is one of the founding members of Emperor. Born in San Diego, he started the first incarnation of the band in 1962. At the time he was only in the 10th grade. Singing some lead and most of the high harmony parts, Watts shares drumming duties with Randy Budihas, whose large, powerful frame complements the wiry, catlike Watts. On stage Watts is an awesome, almost hypnotizing figure. Behind the scenes, his power is not subdued, but transformed into a kindred generosity.

"We've grown up with these people," says Mike Lobbett (keyboards), one of the newest members of Emperor. "They've given us the support and inspiration you can't get anywhere else." A native of Fullerton, Lobbett has been musically active since the age of four, making him a veteran early in his career. His association with Joe Alexander (lead guitar) eventually led to his current role in the band. Alexander, who grew up in Arizona and first took up music at age six, has contributed a great deal of original written material as well as brilliant guitar play. The disco music is beginning to blast as the
club fills and conversation backstage is becoming inaudible. Joe Marques (bass and many lead vocals) walks over to shake hands with photographers. What's said is drowned out by hard disco, but everyone knows what's going on.
Emperor at Joshua's - Circa 1977
Joe's saying something about the album and there's a big smile on his face. He sings lead on "I'm Alive," a popular cut from the album and indicates the group will perform it at the end of the first set. I'm Alive" connotes vibrantly the spirit and form of Melodic Rock (a Mike Lobbett coined phrase) that gives Emperor its headliner potential. The tempo of "I'm Alive," shifts fluently to form and odyssey of almost mystical vocal harmonies ("life is like a dream") blended with powerful insturmental intonations that solidify what could otherwise be a somewhat mystifying experience.
If the sound of Emperor is one of warmth, power and confidence, then Randy Budihas' performances contribute greatly to the revelation of these qualities. The third founding member of the group (joined in 1968), Budihas was born in Kansas City, taking up the trumpet as a kid and playing it right through college. He began drumming not long before joining the group and has developed into a first rate percussionist. Providing much of the showmanship that excites the Emperor following, Budihas generates a macho manner (clenched fists with muscles bulging) unparalleded by any performer appearing on local stages today. His dramatics, however, create only one dimension of the total Emperor style. Smooth and artistic, yet forceful, Joe Marques is the perfect counterpart to the antics of the Watts-Budihas combination. As the two drummers generate the electricity, Marques purveys the gravity, the mellowing effect that keeps Emperor immune from the limitations of being just another "hot" rock group in a crowded night club.

"I don't come here to dance," says a young woman sitting near the stage as the show begins. "I'm here to listen. I can't take my eyes off these guys."

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