Saturday, September 12, 2015

BBQ/Grill: "Texas Cookin'" and "Hot Dog"

I will admit straight off: I had to go searching for a song to fit our theme this month. Much as I love grilling, I really couldn’t think of any song in particular that dealt with tossing burgers, brats and steaks on the bbq… And, in looking around for tunes to use, and reading about grilling, I realized how much I  miss my grill. I live in the middle of mega-city, all concrete and asphalt, and I can’t really grill here without 1) causing a fire on my balcony, or, 2) smoking out my neighbors. This city of mine isn’t really good for the outdoor kind of cooking I dig. It’s much more about little hobo fires on disposable grills over charcoal on the side of the road…that’s something I suppose, but I dig a nice propane fueled, six burner Weber that I can drive like a tank commander, steaks, sausage, chops and more, all guns blazing, ice cold beer in one hand, tongs in the other. Damn…maybe I need to move to a place with a back yard…? I googled a lot of songs about meat. I also googled “grill” and came up with a lot of pics the look like this…

…uh, yeah…that’s not what I was looking for…

Funny, there are tons of websites that list songs about BBQs, but those lists are all about songs that will make for a great BBQ, aural party favors so to speak. And of course, good tunes do make the party—but, party songs, floor filling sing-alongs, are usually not about eating. Drinking? Yes. There are more rock songs about partying and boozing it up than almost any other topic, but eating seems to take a secondary as a theme to drinking in the anthology of rock n rock lyricism.

That being said, it was kind of fun to seek out food references in music. What comes immediately to mind is Howlin’ Wolf’s brag that he can “ more chicken than any man ever seen…” in the classic blues staple “Back Door Man.” That’s a hell of a claim. He talks about “pork ‘n beans”, too. And now I’m getting hungry… So, where else do we find food in our tunes? North Carolina's deep fried rockabilly throw back rockers Southern Culture on the Skids do food well a few times, particularly with "Fried Chicken and Gasoline", but if your drumsticks taste like gasoline, you are doing it wrong, amigo... (SCOTS is a hell of a band, deserving of their own time, perhaps)

How about a song that chooses from the whole menu? Guy Clark’s “Texas Cooking.” I'm going down to save my soul/ Get that barbeque and chili…" Texas is a strange strange, with its strange ethos and self-referential tendencies and seeming dislike for the rest of the country. Politically, I can’t really take the place, but Austin has given the world a great many musical gifts, and while I’m sick of hearing how great the state is, how above the rest of the union the place is, I could very happily eat my way from the gulf to the top of the pan handle and go back for seconds. BBQ, Tex-Mex…? Almost makes you forget about the whole “Don’t mess with Texas” silliness. Clark’s tribute to Texas cooking hits on all the menu options: white gravy, big ol’ sausages, “enchiladas greasy…steaks chicken fried”. It’s pretty much a soul saving journey, with Texas food being the communion that will deliver:  “I'm going down to Austin, Texas/
The course says it all, summing up what all the good ‘ol cooking is going to do: Oh my, momma ain't that Texas cookin' something/Oh my, momma it'll stop yo' belly and backbone bumpin'/ Oh my, momma ain't that Texas cookin' good/Oh my, momma eat it everyday if I could alright 

For a guy like me who lives in a country that doesn’t believe in sausage, and has never really heard of enchiladas, let alone nachos, Clark comes across as preaching Gospel, stomach-rumbling truth…and when one hasn’t had a taco in far too long, Texas cooking just might save a soul.  Hallelujah, and pass the beans. And the rice. And whatever else you got. Guy Clark, "Texas Cookin'"
 Watch, live from 1975 And because I’m getting hungry for grilled fare that is distinctly American, I’m going to throw in a bonus track from one of my old time faves, Buck Owens. Twangy rock-a-billy finger popping tunes, Owens is credited with creating the “Bakersfield” sound. And that sound was really just an electric, buzzed up country which borrowed elements from early rock and roll, especially  flashy rhythm guitars and a steady go go go backbeat. Nashville, at the time, was orchestral and overproduced, (kind of like today) and the "Bakersfield" sound, even at an early stage, was looking back to the roots of rhythm. 

Later on, Owens would be associated with the related and refined “Honky Tonk” sound which featured raw finger picking,  twanging Telecasters and pedal steel guitars, but still with that great backbeat and sense of what we would eventually call country rock. Buck is also known for and associated with the TV show “Hee Haw”, but the less said about that, the better… For obvious reasons, I’m including Owen’s 1956 rock-a-billy strutter, “Hot Dog.” (He went by Corky Jones at the time). Starting out with a stair stepping bass line and a roadhouse piano line, “Hot Dog” might not be profound in its lyricism, but it’s got that sweet tangly guitar and the thumpy backbeat that I always think must have been the greatest sound ever heard when rock music first hit the airwaves. I know I’m not talking about food anymore, but what must that have been like, to hear that thumping cadence, drums simmering, guitar and bass ready to pop, leading to a blow up like a burst of fireworks? Must have been amazingly cool to hear that sense of joyful abandon for the first time. “Hot Dog” the song is only called so for the fact that the protagonist’s girl, while totally hot and one of hippest hep cats around, happens to work at a hot dog stand.  She’s a looker, she’s a dancer, she’s an all around teenage dream. And her cumulative effect on the singer is too leave him dumbstruck and incapable of uttering anything more than, “hot dog!” every time he sees her…I can relate. What pretty girl didn’t leave me stumble-dumb and tripping over my own two feet when I was that age?  Buck Owens "Hot Dog"  

Alright, then…I wish you fond listening and hope your kitchen and your grill is hoppin’ tonight with good tunes, juicy treats and if you’re on a diet—which is so not rock ‘n roll!—I hope this post doesn’t make you as hungry reading it as it did me writing it…bon appetite! <  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

BBQ/Grill: Pigmeat Is What I Crave

Bo Carter: Pigmeat Is What I Crave [purchase]

I can admit that a perfectly smoked brisket is an amazing thing, burgers from the grill can be great, and smoked chicken wings are wonderful, but at the end of the day, the best meat to barbecue is pork. Pork ribs, smoked until they almost, but not quite, fall off the bone. Pork butt slow cooked until it falls apart into shreds that melt in your mouth. Pork belly cured and magically turned by time, heat and smoke into bacon. There’s nothing better. Although I suspect my kosher grandma is spinning wildly in her grave.

The picture above is from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, which is famous for their whole hog ‘cue. They only do that on the weekend, which was unfortunate, because we went there on a weekday night. When we arrived, they were almost out of food—we got the last two racks of ribs, one dry, and one wet, and most of the remaining sausage, leaving pretty much nothing for the poor guy who got on line after us. The food was great, and it was interesting comparing the dry ribs with the wet. I liked them both. A lot.

I’ve cooked a fair amount of pork this summer, mostly St. Louis style ribs and pulled pork, and considering my limitations (not buying fancy meat, using commercial rub and an electric smoker), the results have been delicious, and well received.

There’s something about the blues and barbecue that go together, probably because of their common southern based traditions. There is also a long tradition of blues songs that contain double entendres, and our featured song fits into both categories. Bo Carter, who wrote and performed the song, was really named Armenter Chatmon, and was a member of a well-known Mississippi musical family. But as Bo Carter, he was best known for songs that were meant to titillate, while ostensibly not about sex. A few of his song titles will give you an idea: “Banana In Your Fruit Basket.” “Don't Mash My Digger So Deep.” “Pin in Your Cushion.” “My Pencil Won't Write Anymore.” And "Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me." Beyond the sexual innuendo, his singing and guitar playing are also wonderful.

So, while there is nothing in the song that directly would get it banned from a family oriented radio station, I suspect that Bo isn’t talking about pulled pork. If you know what I mean.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


What's that then? Well, actually not anything until you use its alternate name of Soul Sauce, when it becomes something that would definitely liven up any ribs or burgerfest. Originally a Dizzy Gillespie tune, it was all a bit polite in his version, think paper plates and tinned hot dogs, served up at the prom, or that's how it seems all these years on. Actually a co-write with the fascinating sounding Chano Pozo who seems to have given Gillespie his post bebop Latin lilt, it wasn't until it fell into the hands of ace vibraphonist Cal Tjader that it really showed its chops. (SWIDT!)

Tjader was an interesting guy, and one I always assumed to have been Latino. He was actually of Swedish-American stock, and came from a vaudeville family, his father tap-dancing to his mother's piano accompaniment, becoming a tap-dancing prodigy himself in his teens, as well as developing proficiency in both percussion instruments and the piano. Upon demob from the army, he hooked up with Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, becoming drummer in their first band, teaching himself vibes and introducing them into the band. Latin influences were now gradually being introduced into the palette of jazz music, and Tjader gradually became drawn more into this sphere. Becoming Downbeat magazine's 1953 best new star on this instrument gave the confidence to start his own band, the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quartet. The next decade saw any number of bands and collaborations, with 1964's Soul Sauce, the album and the track, being the pinnacle of his career. Altogether a messier version than the original, this was a shirt-staining, chin-dripping gumbo of a tune, becoming both a radio hit and its parent album being in the years top 50 sellers.

Later years saw some decline, as he experimented with Asian scales and motifs, before a return to a heavier Latin sound, introducing elements of fusion, as well as contributing to the soundtrack of 1972's Fritz the Cat, the animated feature based upon the Robert Crumb cartoon, notably this, Mamblues. He died, whilst out on the road, aged just 56, but his legacy has lived on, through samples, with over 80 samples seemingly identifiable as being of his work, notably by New York hip-hoppers A Tribe Called Quest in their Midnight Marauders.

Buy Soul Sauce