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Chicken Songs for the Soul

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4: 30 p.m. July 7

Soul music comes from the church.
This also begins to explain soul’s connection with American foodways.
Several years ago I caught the Rev. Al Green preaching at his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, 787 Hale Rd. in Memphis, Tn. It was his birthday and the spread of neighborly food presented after the service was as abundant as his message. Last summer we returned to his church.
While Rev. Green was not present, I’m still recovering from brunch down the road at T.H. Hamilton’s Piccadilly Cafeteria, 3968 Elvis Presley Blvd. Green beans. Fried okra.
And sweet potatoes. Fried chicken. Crawfish etoufee. Chocolate chip pecan pie.
Herbert Wiley, vocalist-bandleader of the chitlin’ circuit legends Wiley and the Checkmates recalled the ambiance at an early 1960s juke joint before Sunday morning church in North Mississippi: “Hot in the summertime,” Wiley said earlier today while taking a cab to a New York lunch spot.........

" In the juke joint you had people drinking beer---illegally of course. We’d be frying fish and having rounds. That’s the slang for a bologna sandwich. The bologna had a terrycloth rim around it, not the plastic you see today. Grease would be flying every which way. Hot dogs were split down the middle and cut in four sections so you could make one sandwich out of each of them. But it was all good.”
Not surprisingly, one of the standout cuts (get it?) on Wiley and the Checkmates new album “We Call It Soul” (Rabbit Factory, www.therabbitfactory.net) is the gritty original dance track “I Don’t Want No Funky Chicken.”
“I was 17 years old and had a summer job out of high school,” said Wiley, 65. “I was building a house for chickens on an egg farm. It was a place for them to lay their eggs. The owner asked us to work overtime.” That was the good news for Wiley, who wanted the extra money.
The bad news is that he was instructed to round up loose chickens.
“We had to catch 40,000 chickens and put them in the chicken house,” Wiley reported. “They were hitting us in the face, clawing at us. It was rough. And I haven’t eaten a piece of chicken since then! Not even chicken pot pie. I complain about other guys eating chicken.
"After we played Ground Zero (actor Morgan Freeman’s club in Clarksdale, Miss.) there wasn’t anything open but Church’s Fried Chicken. Our drummer pulled up there and said to me, ‘Hey, would you like a piece of this fine chicken?’ And I’ve never seen a piece of chicken that big. I believe they put some steroids in that chicken. I said, ‘Hell no,’ and we made a song out of it.”
Stand back Herbert.

Here’s a few of my other favorite songs about chickens:
“Chicken Necks,” Don & Juan
“Do The Funky Chicken,” Rufus Thomas
“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” Louis Jordan
“Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat
“And Your Bird Can Sing,” Beatles

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on July 7, 2008 4:28 PM.

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