Mike the Headless Chicken
After a short but memorable visit to Fruita, Colorado in the spring of 2006, I knew I had to write a song about its most famous resident, Mike the Headless Chicken. In 1945, "Mike" was the name given to a chicken who was headed for the skillet, but not enough of his neck was cut off, and he survived -- for eighteen months. He lost his head, but he became famous, and travelled all over the country for sideshows. Mike the Headless Chicken's story may not be the most uplifting one of the struggle to overcome adversity, but it certainly is my favorite.
Having little experience writing a song, I enlisted Carolee Rand to assist me by coming up with a melody and an arrangement. I knew that Carolee would treat my lyrics with the sensitivity necessary to convey the underlying social ramifications of displaying a headless chicken to the American public. "The Cluck Stops Here: The Ballad of Mike the Headless Chicken" is a song about the triumph of a brave chicken over adversity. There's a message for all of us in there somewhere.
The song had its first performance at the 2006 Tacky Treasures Road Show. Judging from the audience's reaction, we decided to take the song on the road. So, for the first time in about four years, I ventured back to the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia to enter the non-traditional band competition.
The band, called Road Show, consisted of Carolee, me, and our respective Bobs (Bob McCluskie and Bob Cantor). Carolee's voice really carried the song. I predict that her singing will always be considered the quintessential interpretation of the song, somewhat like Louis Armstrong's "Mack the Knife," or Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." I can't picture anyone else singing it. Bob McCluskie's soulful fiddle playing was a pleasant surprise. He's not just another old-time fiddle player. And the fiddle break gave the audience time to catch its breath from all the laughing. Bob Cantor played percussion on the shaky egg. He sang backup on the chorus, and as a bonus, treated the audience to a chicken dance. He's been telling people ever since that this proves that he'd do anything for me.
As for my performance, I think my greatest contribution was writing the lyrics. On stage, I was afflicted with the same malady that made me change my major in college from music to library science. Fortunately, my peformance anxiety is only limited to playing instruments. My banjo playing was shaky, but my voice was not. At one point, I had my fist in the air and was encouraging the crowd to sing "Mike! Mike! Mike! Mike!" along with us.
I would like to thank Lynda Folwick for taking these pictures during our performance. We had many friends in the audience, and I think we made some new ones in the process. I dedicated the performance to the memory of Kelly Perdue, whose absence was keenly felt by all who knew him. I know he would have enjoyed the ballad of Mike the Headless Chicken; among his many admirable qualities were a sense of humor and the love of a good story.
Although we didn't win any awards, I'd say our mission was accomplished. By Friday night, you could hear people all over the campground discussing Mike the Headless Chicken. I hope they went back to their communities to spread the word of this miraculous chicken.
View a performance of the song (via YouTube)
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