Saturday, January 08, 2011

Requiem for Unkgee

Gerry Rafferty, the Scottish-born singer/songwriter who gave us smash 70s hits like "Stuck in the Middle with You" and "Baker Street," died this week at age 63 from liver failure brought about by years of alcoholism.

While most will remember Rafferty for his music, I also remember him as the involuntary linchpin for a "Gerg and Zub's Fast Food Review" of Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits published by the weekly broadsheet 15 Minutes back in 1997.

This occasionally factual review appears below in Rafferty's honor.

I'm Popeye the Chicken Man!
Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits, 1978 Baker Street

Zub and I met when our dads formed the nucleus of the rhythm section behind a pre-"Stuck in the Middle with You" Gerry Rafferty. Gerry was like an uncle to us, hence his nickname "Unkgee." During the summer, our pops would let us traverse the country with the band in a dilapidated custom Chevy van with pot seeds all over the carpet. Those early tours with Unkgee made us wise beyond our three years.

We were also hungry a lot of the time. Our dads' cut of the gig take was even more meager than their share of the cocaine, so we subsisted mostly on crackers and Fresca. This lifestyle never set well with our mothers (whoever they were), but no piss-ant child welfare law was gonna remove Zub and myself from that happy, bouncy van.

One particularly joyful reminiscence of those high times is from 1972 when Unkgee pulled the van into New Orleans for a Tulane University show opening for Johnny Winter. It was raining, and we were cold, but our hearts were quickly warmed by the capacious hospitality of the promoter, a rotund Bossier City-bred cracker by the name of Sergeant Roofus Boudreaux.

To this day, neither Zub nor myself have heard words so sweet as those Sgt. Boudreaux spoke as we struggled to bring my dad's orange bass cabinet in through the back door of the auditorium: "Boys, drop your load and have some chicken!"

The Sgt.'s fried feast was the best darn food we'd ever tasted. Unkgee ate seven pieces of the delicious chicken along with several large handfuls of mashed potatoes and Cajun gravy. In fact, Ol' Unk would have choked to an early death if not for the whack of Zub's dad's hi-hat stand on the back of his fat neck.

"Hey, Roofus," uttered a blue-hued Unkgee. "Where's this good meat come from?"

"Why, I got it over at the Popeye's on Dopholopous Boulevard," said the proud Sgt. "Them spices will grow hairs on places your lady won't like."

Unfortunately, this batter-coated bash was short-lived. During that night's show, Zub's inebriated father played an unscheduled drum solo that went on for about 17 minutes. Immediately after the show, Unkgee fired him from the band. My dad protested by spitting a mouthful of Jax beer in Unkgee's face and calling him an ungrateful bastard. For his insubordination, he too was given the proverbial big pink slip.

Suddenly, us and our pops were shivering out in the smelly New Orleans rain without a song. Somehow, we'd all have to get back home to Worcester. Zub's pop said we could afford to bus it as far as Kentucky, but then we'd have to hitch. Unkgee had sold us right down the line.

The grounds for revenge were obvious even to the young minds of Zub and myself, but our dads could not decide the means from within their collective stupor. At that precise moment, a lightbulb went off in my tiny crown, and I began to shout, "Steal his wheel, Daddy! Steal his wheel!"

Our drunken dads began cackling like sailors. Zub's pop produced some tools, and our two heroes quickly removed the steering wheel from Unkgee's van. The journey home was rough, but every time things looked down, we pulled out that wheel and had ourselves a chuckle.

Of course, it was Unkgee who had the last laugh when "Stuck in the Middle with You" skyrocketed into the Top 10 shortly after this incident. Rubbing salt into the wound was the name of Unkgee's band: Stealers Wheel.

Which brings us back to Popeye's, the place where New Orleans is only a taste away. Sort of.

Popeye's modern chicken variation will never live up to the spice of that faraway evening, but this fried fowl still beats the cluck out of KFC. All fried material at Popeye's (fish, shrimp, onion rings, dogears, fries, etc.) has the same subtle seasoning to it that sneaks up on you like a flashback. And those red beans & rice and whipped potatoes are abused with an adequately Cajun-style gravy that makes other fast food taste vanilla by comparison. As an added bone-us, there's always plenty of Cajun Sparkle on hand to give your grub a bit of zip.

Let's face facts: Popeye's has about the biggest can of culinary whup-ass in the fast food industry, and Zub and I both will spare no measure to open up the aforementioned can on Mr. Gerry Rafferty's weenie-butt if he ever tries to play Sneakers.

Whastsa matter, Unkgee? You chicken?

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