I first met Royce in the summer of 1977 at a second-hand record shop. Greg, the gray haired, pony-tailed, slightly obese proprietor had just gotten a mint vinyl copy of Mothermania, and had absent-mindedly promised it to both of us. His solution: to the highest bidder would go the spoils. Being that I was still in my teens, and Royce was about 12 or so years older and far more gainfully employed, he quickly outbid me and paid for the album. Dejected, I was just about to leave when he suddenly invited me over to his place to listen to the album while he taped it. “Sure,” I said.
By taping, I figured Royce had meant cassette tapes. But when we arrived at the house he rented with his girlfriend, Keri, I found out by taping he meant reel-to-reel tapes. Royce taped every LP record and 45 he had ever bought onto reel-to-reel tapes. I’d later find out why. His stereo was an elaborate mixture of different components, some German, some Japanese, some American. The sound it produced made me ashamed of my own little dinky stereo. I heard things on his stereo I never heard on mine. By the time we finished listening to Mothermania, I was almost glad that he had outbid me. Almost.
Given that I’d first discovered the music of Frank Zappa and The Mothers as an eight year old on my cousin’s turntable, I was a pretty cocky teen when it came to the music of FZ, and I was rather proud of my ever growing collection. Royce soon put me in my place, though, when he revealed his own private vault. On the main floor of the house his rented (and any other subsequent house he rented) was a room whose sole purpose was to store and protect of all the albums he collected over the years. Beyond a door secured with two deadbolt locks, and behind windows which had been blackened and insulated, was a room that was filled with at least five or six thousand albums (I never had the chance to actually count them). Among them were more Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention albums than I even knew existed. All in mint condition. Official releases. Bootlegs. Royce was more than just a collector. He was a completist.
Over the rest of that summer and into the winter, Royce and Keri became not just fellow freaks, but good friends, too. I received my education in all things Zappa and the Mothers listening to their reel-to-reel tapes, and their sordid stories about the times they saw them live at the Kinsmen Field House here in Edmonton in 1970 and 1971. Or the years they saw Zappa live in Vancouver at the Agrodome and again at the War Memorial Gymnasium. “It was like Christmas whenever we got back,” Royce would say. “We’d always come home with brand new boots to tape.”
It was through Royce’s vault that I first discovered the works of various Mother’s alumni like Lowell George in Little Feat, Henry Vestine in Canned Heat, Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Flo & Eddie, and Captain Beefheart.
Two years later, in 1979, when Royce and Keri got married, I had an old Serbian painter I knew paint a 4:1 scale copy of the cover of Shiek Yerbouti in oil on canvas as their wedding present. It cost a pretty penny, but it was worth every cent.