It was one of those trivia quiz nights, where you form teams of seven or eight and sit at round tables while an MC fires questions from a microphone on the stage, and you try to be the first to hit the buzzer. The rest of the time you eat Bega Bar-B-Cubes and kabana on toothpicks from platters in the middle of the table and drink warm sauvignon blanc from disposable tumblers. I'm not sure why. It must be in The Rules of Trivia Nights.
We’d done politics and geography and climate change and celebrity nonsense and now we were up to music. Our table was doing well, but I hadn’t answered a single question.
For the music questions, the MC played a fragment of a tune and you had to name the band. The last fragment had been that six-steps-up-and-over-the-stile piano piece from She’s a Rainbow. Someone guessed Rolling Stones after the first note. Easy.
The MC hit the play button again. This time the tune fragment was mid-song. The voice of John Fogerty boomed out of the speakers: son of a gun gonna have big fun on the bayou. Hands all around the room hit buzzers simultaneously and the MC pointed to a contestant at random who immediately answered Creedence Clearwater Revival. Easy.
But wrong. Amidst the sea of perplexed faces were several indignant ones, certain the MC was mistaken. That was my cue.
I managed to excavate the correct answer from the vast sea of mostly dormant trivia that lies floating in my brain and blocks useful information such as my email password, my telephone number and, occasionally, the names of my children.
Bzzzzt! The MC swung around. 'The Blue Ridge Rangers,' I intoned, with all the seriousness of the late Jack Hamilton announcing a Brownlow winner, or a freak mathematician reciting pi from memory.
And that answer got our group over the line. Prizes that year were, as usual, donations from an odd assortment of local businesses and included a Collected Works of Shakespeare with a faux leather cover, a voucher for two nights’ accommodation at Melbourne University’s Mount Buller Lodge, six bottles of Galway Cabernet Shiraz and four running-socks-running-cap-and-drink-bottle packs. We split the proceedings and I came away with the Collected Works of Shakespeare. I must read it one day.
I remembered the song, of course. I was in fifth form or year eleven or whatever they’re calling it these days; in 1973 it was called Leaving. Jambalaya (On the Bayou) was a hit that year, reaching number 7 in March. (That chart position is not from my personal vast sea of trivia but from Thomas J. Guest’s indispensable volume Melbourne Top 40 Research, Maloney Publishing, 1991.)
This whole thing came to mind when I heard John Fogerty had released a new Blue Ridge Rangers album, this time with collaborators including Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley. Fogerty's band Creedence Clearwater Revival had previously been huge with my contemporaries many of whom, like me, had older siblings who were stuck in the decade-old Beatles and Rolling Stones era. The Creedence sound was different. Cosmo’s Factory was our soundtrack to 1971, a kind of precursor to my older children's Nevermind or Definitely Maybe a generation later.
Oh, Jambalaya: derived from paella, the ‘jam’ possibly referring to jamon. A kind of contraction of jamon-paella?
Chicken and smoked ham jambalaya.
Cook a kilogram of cubed chicken pieces with 500g cubed smoked ham in oil in a heavy-based pan until chicken is browned.
Add one chopped onion, half a chopped green capsicum, one chopped celery stick and two minced garlic cloves. Cook stirring until golden.
Make a spice of one tablespoon each garlic powder and onion powder; two teaspoons each white pepper, cracked black pepper and dried thyme; one and a half teaspoons cayenne pepper; and half a teaspoon dried oregano. Add two teaspoons of this mixture to the pan. Tightly lid the rest and store.
Add one tin diced tomatoes with juice to the pan. Add two and a half cups of long grain rice and three cups of chicken stock. (Stock: bones from chicken above, one chopped carrot, one small chopped onion, six peppercorns, two sprigs parsley, one sprig fresh thyme, four cups water. Boil, cool and strain.)
Bring to boil, then transfer mixture to baking dish. Bake until rice is slightly crisp on top.
(This is a standardised version transcribed from an unattributed Australian cookbook many years old, so I'm not sure how 'genuine' it is. I'd welcome other versions.)