Throughout rock history there are many instrumentals that are anchored by an insanely catchy hook which sound like huge hits from the moment the needle drops.

There are others, like the flip side of this single, which are more like the sound of a party in full swing, sort of atmospheric background music to the action that swirls around you at such events.

But then there are songs like this which, while maybe not quite as good, find a way combine the identifying features of the two examples by featuring tight, economical tracks with melodic hooks and yet are more suited to be used as merely an aural backdrop to something else.

In many ways this one seems as if it’s the soundtrack to a documentary on rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s as conceived by its greatest auteur.


The Teacher
If anybody has the right to borrow from, tweak and reimagine their own vast song catalog for a new record which is not quite aiming to become a hit in its own right and propel the artist in question to star status, but rather is merely attempting to show their musical abilities while at the same time confirming his own status as the genius behind such songs, it is surely Dave Bartholomew.

His résumé goes far beyond his own work as a standalone artist of course, as he’s the one responsible for the string of great records from Fats Domino, Jewel King, Smiley Lewis and Archibald, as well as random sides from artists like Tommy Ridgley to more recently Lloyd Price and Shirley & Lee.

The only other figure who can boast such a deep playlist of classic sides in so many capacities for such a wide array of artists is Johnny Otis, and while he’s by no means finished as a vital contributor to rock ‘n’ roll, his days churning out one hit after another is slowing down considerably, while Bartholomew is now picking up steam.

In fact, in many ways November 1952 around here might just as well be called Dave Bartholomew Appreciation Month with all of the records he’s going to be be a part of, not the least of which is Teachin’ And Preachin’, a song that subtly recycles bits and pieces of past glories, reconfigures them and turns it into a record that can stand on its own as a testament to his brilliance… and that of his band, who finally get a name in The Royal Kings worthy of their talents.

But as good as they are here the kingmaker as it were is Bartholomew and while this record may not be his crowning achievement by any means, it could just mark the moment where he went from a contender to the throne to ruling the kingdom.


Preaching To The Choir
The term generic is usually meant to be an insult, suggesting that somebody wasn’t creative enough to come up with something fresh and innovative and so they took familiar elements of a thousand and one more original ideas and sort of picked their bones for the most obvious qualities and presented that as their own.

But the term is hardly unflattering for those many artists whose work was the basis for those thefts and the cocky irony here is that Dave Bartholomew is playing both roles at once… the one who steals and the one he’s stealing from.

You can find the melodic threads he weaves together on Teachin’ And Preachin’ in countless songs he was a part of, from Smiley Lewis to Fats Domino to his own stuff, helped of course by the fact that The Royal Kings – who previously were nameless sessionists he worked with day in and day out – had played on all of the original incarnations and thus knew the source material and how to subvert it for something new. But it’s never merely a cut and paste affair by any means, as Bartholomew makes everything work together as if organically grown.

We start with Ernest McLean’s guitar which provides the rolling oceanic riff the song effortlessly rides. What exactly would you call it though? It’s serving the same purpose as a bassline, but Frank Field’s bass is alongside of it, not playing the same rise and fall melody. It’s out front, but it’s hardly a lead, so is it technically the rhythm guitar part? Or more fittingly is it simply subsuming all three rolls at once?

Then there’s the horns which ARE more responsible for the melodic line, but they’re using enough embellishments to deviate from the strict progression of notes on the lead sheet. We also get Salvadore Doucett’s piano chipping in with little fills and then stepping out front for the instrumental bridge before sliding discreetly back behind the sax.

Every part stands out on its own when you focus on them, yet blend together seamlessly when you simply let the whole production wash over you.

Then there’s the question of what type of song this is, or maybe more accurately, what it’s ideally played for. A slow dance? Sure, it sways enough for you to sidle up to your sweetie on the floor, close your eyes and let the music gently carry you away. But then again, it’s hardly a slow song, full stop. There’s too much forward momentum, sort of like a car going around a series of curves, accelerating coming out of each one without ever getting fully up to speed because there’s no straightaway in sight.

The whole time there sounds like somebody should be singing something over it, yet the absence of vocals and lyrics don’t detract from the alluring quality of the record at all.

Maybe because it was adapted from so many tried and true ideas while still remaining adaptable for something different, it is a comforting sound, an almost spiritual affirmation of rock ‘n’ roll, something you might as well use as a lullaby for kids raised on the music to make them feel safe and secure as they drift off to sleep.

Thanks to people like Dave Bartholomew, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll world for a generation coming of age in 1952, and so it’s only right he reminds them precisely why that came about in such an understated manner as this.


Lesson Over, So Concludes Today’s Sermon
Though it’s said that each era has its defining musical characteristics, there’s actually quite a few depending on the specific style or smaller yearly subset.

Many people may choose to define Nineteen Fifties rock by the doo wop chord changes that were re-used over and over again to such great effect. For others it might be a distinctive instrumental attribute… the honking tenor solo or a electric guitar riff.

But if you’re looking for a total package… a mélange of sounds… that immediately places you in the midst of the era, you would be hard pressed to find one more all encompassing than Teachin’ And Preachin’.

Even so, like a lot of songs that are more emblematic than distinctive unto themselves, this record satisfies without necessarily standing out.

Yet the pleasure of it is being able to slide it into any playlist for the era and have it fit perfectly, providing a concise summation of the period while still blending into the background, everybody just going about their business as if it’s no big deal this music is in the process of taking over Western Civilization.


(Visit the Artist page of The Royal Kings for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)