by Dianne Austin

One band has provided a universal and musical thread synonymous with "the good times" in SoCal... whether in the park, at the beach, or within the walls of a club in Long Beach or a sister city. Who? The Emperors of course! Remember them?

Everybody does. They were the hottest band of the '70s and '80s that everyone followed, first in Long Beach, and then throughout many cities of the Southland. Once you heard their sound and watched them perform onstage, you were hooked; maybe you even became part of their entourage. They were a performance band doing rock covers. And sometimes, they did it better than the original artist.

Steve Watts (keyboards, drums, vocals) was the Emperor Daddy of them all. He started the band in the 1960s with high school friends. The Emperors won all the "Battle of the Bands" competitions and cinched a spot on Sam Riddle's 9th Street West television show. Eventually, then went on the build a reputation that landed them shared billing with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Righteous Brothers and Steely Dan.

The Emperors

Since that time, the original band friends have come and gone, but Steve remained the driving force. He really knew how to put on a show, as he pranced, danced, and manhandled the microphone. Randy Budihas (keyboards, drums, vocals) joined the group in 1968 and became another focus. You may remember him as the very tall, handsome bearded fellow with the commanding presence and resonating voice. Joe Marques (bass, keyboards, guitar, vocals) filled in the core of the group with his lanky body, exotic face and wonderful talent across the board. These three Emperors were the heart of the group, and continue to be the dedicated musicians who keep the original concept going and the band strong

Those who remember the Emperors from back in the day, remember the excitement they evoke from their audiences in clubs that now have become almost legendary. Places like Houlihans, Big Daddys, Isadores, and Marina Palace created an environment where young people would flock to party "all night long." Although it was in the days of Disc, the Emperors were committed to keeping the classic from of rock in check by attempting the more multi-faceted tunes like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and The Who's Tommy.

Today, The Emperors are still regarded by many as the premier classic rock band in Southern California, and one wonders how and why this has come to be after all these years. Originating in the '60s, disbanding so many years later, and then reuniting in 2002 — that's a feat not many bands can claim they've accomplished. What is it about the Emperors that has enabled them to keep the original vigor going?

"I think we've always had more fun, which turns into more energy, which turns into a bigger, better performance," Steve said. "We love what we're doing. It's who we are. I think we all go to sleep at night thinkin' about it. In performance, what you get from us are those wonderfully melodic harmonies we all remember that came out of the ''70's and early '80s."

"Yeah, it's absolutely all about the passion." Joe explained. "We all come from work to our rehearsals. Our music is not work for us anymore. It's a great release for all of us." Randy added, "What makes us unique is our vocal talent. As an aspiring young vocalist, I wanted to be with a band that had the best voices around, and, in my opinion, this band has always had the best in the business."

There are two newer kids on the block, Dave Quintana (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Tom Engel (guitar, keyboards, vocals). Both joined the band in the 2000s, and it was interesting to hear what they had to say about the experience of being an Emperor and what the future might hold for them.

"I'd love to be able to do it full time again," Dave told us. " I used to be full time in music from a teenager all the way up to my 20s and 30s, and I'd love to be there again. I'd love us to get back into recording I think there's a market for this kind of music today with the 30+ crowd. Tom added, "I remember the Emperors from High School, and I would say, 'I'd love to be in that band!' Now, being with the Emperors has enabled me to really push my boundaries and play at the kinds of locations I didn't play at before.

The Emperors provide a universal, cross-generational element that beaks down all the barriers. Whether yo consider yourself to the "old", somewhat "mature", or "younger than springtime", you'll find that their music rings a familiar bell inside of you, gets you up out of your seat to move, and makes the moments you spend with this band something so much more than just memorable.

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