Stumbling into a Waffle House at 3 a.m. for a post-outing snack already brings a set of dilemmas.
Do you go for the scattered and smothered or scattered and covered hash browns? Chocolate chips in the waffle or old-school plain?
But then another question looms: Pick a hit song from Keith Urban or Khalid on the Waffle House jukebox or choose one of the 40-plus original songs produced by Waffle Records, the 35-year-old record label conceived by Waffle House chairman Joe Rogers Jr.?
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one doing a double take at that sentence.
Despite its existence since the ‘80s, Waffle Records is still a surprise to even the most hardened-arteries devotees of the chain.
“We’re a bacon and eggs place. That’s what we do best,” said Pat Warner, director of public relations and external affairs for Waffle House. “By no means are we trying to challenge the Capitol (Records) of the world!”
In the early days, the vinyl 45s of original songs with silly-fun titles such as “Raisins in My Toast,” “Exit 239” (named for the Georgia exit off I-75) and “Waffle House March” (recorded by Atlanta singer Billy Dee) were placed in the first two columns on the jukebox. Many were produced by Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, known for their extended version of the “WKRP in Cincinnati” theme song and the ‘80s novelty hit “Pac-Man Fever” (Garcia died in 2011).
But now, in the era of digital jukeboxes, the entire Waffle House collection is available.
Nadine Gillespie, who heads Waffle Records, is helping to modernize the consumption of Waffle songs.
Some are available on Spotify, and, on Nov. 20, the second installment of the Tunie Awards — the Waffle Records award show to recognize the most popular songs and artists played on the 1,900-plus Waffle House/TouchTunes jukeboxes this year, along with nods to their original songs — will be streamed on Facebook Live.
Last year, Imagine Dragons and Chris Stapleton proudly accepted their waffle statues via video. For round two, Mac Powell, formerly of Third Day and currently of Mac Powell and the Family Reunion, will perform during the live ceremony from the Red Clay Foundry in Duluth, and, said Gillespie, will debut a new Waffle House-themed song.
Powell is a lifelong Waffle House disciple, making this an obvious pairing. “I have honestly probably eaten at Waffle House more than any other restaurant in the world,” he said.
In addition to Powell, the Waffle House “Scattered, Smothered and Discovered” new artist of the year will be unveiled at the ceremony as well.
“She did a cover of a song and tagged us in an Instagram story,” Gillespie said of her secret discovery, demonstrating the updated approach to keeping the Waffle Records brand rolling.
The intersection of Waffle House and music is actually quite consistent. Hootie & the Blowfish — South Carolina natives and full-fledged WH cultists — named their 2000 covers album “Scattered, Smothered and Covered” in tribute to the chain and, on their current tour, utilize a high-tech virtual Waffle House backdrop during “Let Her Cry.”
When Katy Perry kicked off her 2011 tour in Duluth, she joked that she would “hit up every Waffle House,” while playing in the South.
And Sturgill Simpson joined Stephen Colbert — who grew up in South Carolina — for an original offering in the Waffle House canon, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads” in 2016.
Usually one or two new Waffle House specialty songs are produced each year, according to Gillespie. But whether it’s an established artist whose hits are regularly selected or a house-branded Waffle Records tune blasting from the jukebox, it’s all seen as a positive.
“It’s a celebration of the Waffle House experience,” Warner said. “It’s just about that fun factor that people come to expect from Waffle House.”
Especially during a 3 a.m. craving.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution