Emperors kick off Concerts in the Park

Kings of So Cal cover bands have been going since ‘60s

Pictured, from left, Chris Roberts (keyboards/vocals), Jamie Knight (bass/guitar/vocals), Randy Budihas (Drums/vocals), Dave Quintana (guitar/vocals) and Steve Watts (drums/keyboards/vocals).

Concerts in the Park are returning to Seal Beach, with four shows scheduled this summer at the base of the pier. The schedule kicks off on July 21, with The Emperors. The Emperors bill themselves as a classic rock band, but they will perform hits from the ’50s up to contemporary music.

The Emperors just might be the kings of So Cal cover bands. Founding member Steve Watts said they play everything from Chuck Berry to Bruno Mars. Watts was one of the original members, when he helped form the band in the ‘60s, when he was a student at Millikan High School in Long Beach.

Over the years, the players have changed, as well as the name. They have performed as “Emperor” and other similar names, as well as recorded some of their own songs. The band has played in shows that included the likes of, The Rolling Stones, The Righteous Brothers and Steely Dan. But even Watts said he sometimes looks back with amazement and gratitude at having kept the band going for close to six decades.

Steve Watts, right, started The Emperors while a student at Millikan High in Long Beach in the ‘60s. Randy Budihas, left, is the second-longest tenured member of the band.

“I was thinking how special it is to still have the band in my life at this point,” Watts said. 

Watts plays drums, but so does his longtime friend Randy Budihas, who has been a member of the band since 1968. Budihas took over while Watts was in the Navy, but he was so good they decided to split drumming duties, with each on singing when the other was behind the drums. 

Watts said the band developed a reputation for successful performances, which he said usually drew other artist to want to join when they needed a replacement player. He also noted that they have always found guys who enjoyed preparation almost as much as performing. 

“We love it so much we’ve even been rehearsing twice a week,” Watts said. 

Along with Watts and Budihas, the current band includes Dave Quintana on guitar. Quintana was a youngster in Watts’ neighborhood, who used to watch the high school band practice in Watts’ Long Beach garage. Jamie Knight, who plays bass and guitar, also taught music at Huntington Beach High. When the band recently needed a replacement at keyboard, one of his former students, Chris Roberts, was brought in to take over keyboard. 

And they all contribute vocals. Watts said the band has always stressed the importance of solid vocals. He said audiences appreciate crisp vocals. Most of all, Watts said the band has always had high energy on stage. Watts said the band prepares its set list, but will feed off the energy of the crowd and find what they want to hear. They will also take requests.

The Emperors want to get the audiences up and dancing. They work on anything they think will engage they crowd. And with the past year that we’ve all had, Watts said the Emperors are hyped up and ready to get back on stage. 

“Just talking about it puts a huge smile on my face,” Watts said. 

The Emperors will be at Seal Beach Pier on July 21, performing from 6 to 8 p.m. For more on The Emperors visit emperorrocks.com.

Ted Apodaca is the editor of the Sun News and Catalina Islander. He can be reached at editor@sunnews.org, or 562-317-1100. Follow him on Instagram: @tedapodaca