We’ll be very honest with you here, dear readers: When we woke up this morning, we were not expecting to spend several hours of our day tracking down the identities of the guys who sang one of the most irresistibly annoying ear-worm jingles of our generation, a song that’s been used as audio poison by such intentional pop culture irritants as The Office’s Michael Scott and Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard. But then we came across the above behind-the-scenes footage of a recording session for Chili’s ubiquitous “Baby Back Ribs” jingle, and it was just so damn energetic and interesting that, well, here we go.
First off: The video—which has been making the rounds on the internet today, but which was actually posted online late last year by singer Alvin Chea—is not taken from the recording of the original version of “Chili’s (Welcome To Chili’s)” that first debuted on TV in 1998. That version was written by ad guy Guy Bommarito, who’s gone on the record stating that he hates jingles, hates the song, and doesn’t much care for Chili’s itself. The vocals and music on that version were apparently done by Bommarito’s pal Tom Faulkner, while the deep-bass “Barbecue sauce”—the linchpin of the entire musical odyssey—was (we think) provided by Willie “Wolf Johnson” McCoy. McCoy died in 2013, and was apparently so enamored of his work on the commercial that his funeral—broadcast as part of TLC’s uber-tasteful Best Funeral Ever—featured pall-bearers singing the song, a barbecue sauce fountain, and a coffin designed to look like a giant smoker. Guy liked barbecue, is the apparent takeaway there.
Anyway, back to the original video: According to Chea, it comes from the recording session for the second version of the jingle, which Chili’s decided to take a little more seriously, instead of hiring two guys who didn’t give a shit about barbecue, and one guy who liked it way too much. All four singers on the video—Chea, Dorian Holley, Louis Price, and Oren Waters—have some pretty serious musical chops, all of which are in clear display as they throw themselves at the infectious song.
First up: Chea, who provides the all-important “baby back” baseline. He’s the bass singer for Grammy-winning gospel a capella group Take 6, while his other credits include national ad spots for McDonald’s and back-up vocals on Michael Jackson’s “This Is It.” Speaking of MJ: The clean-shaven guy providing harmonies in the vest and tie is Holley, who performed as one of the King Of Pop’s regular backup performers for years, from the Bad Tour on. (He also spent several years as a vocal coach for American Idol.) Waters, meanwhile, is the guy with the mustache, taking lead on those soaring “Chili’s”. Featured in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, he’s a member of the Waters Family, who provided back-up vocals on Thriller. (There’s a lot of Jackson in this song, as it turns out.) Finally, that’s Louis Price, lead singer of The Temptations from 1977 to 1980, laying down that sweet line of “Barbecue sauce.”
As it happens, Chili’s has recorded a lot of versions of this song over the years—hey, ’N Sync:
But there’s something especially warm and infectious about this version, much of which stems from the fact that these guys are stone-cold professionals who’d spent entire careers devoting themselves to making damn near anything sound good.
Just don’t ask us who that drummer or the thumbs-up producer guy at the end are; we’ve got no goddamn idea.