Chicken Songs for the Soul

4: 30 p.m. July 7

Soul music comes from the church.

This also begins to explain souls 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, Im still recovering from brunch down the road at T.H. Hamiltons 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. Wed be frying fish and having rounds. Thats 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, is the gritty original dance track I Dont 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 havent 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 Freemans club in Clarksdale, Miss.) there wasnt anything open but Churchs Fried Chicken. Our drummer pulled up there and said to me, Hey, would you like a piece of this fine chicken? And Ive 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.

Heres a few of my other favorite songs about chickens:

Chicken Necks, Don & Juan

Do The Funky Chicken, Rufus Thomas

Aint Nobody Here But Us Chickens, Louis Jordan

Dixie Chicken, Little Feat

And Your Bird Can Sing, Beatles

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