It’s all too easy to make the analogy that Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are to musicians what Whataburger is to fast-food franchises. Both the pair of popular country singers, who released 2015’s acclaimed duets album Hold My Beer and Watch This, and the burger chain, which sports nearly 800 locations in ten states, have become symbolic of the highest order of Texas pride. Rogers and Bowen can sell out any large theater in the state, either together or with their respective bands, but Whataburger is even beloved by One Direction swooner Harry Styles.
The synchronicity between these Texas institutions reaches its apex on a track about halfway through Rogers and Bowen’s recently released live album Watch This, called — you guessed it — “Whataburger.” Or so it would seem. Unfortunately, the song itself is also something of a letdown, because it’s not really a song at all. “Whataburger” is instead a bit of between-song stage patter that doesn’t even last two minutes; about as musical as it gets is Rogers scatting a line about how much he fancies Whataburger’s fancy ketchup. True, it’s pretty funny, but it also represents a huge missed opportunity, more for Rogers and Bowen themselves than for the burger chain's marketing folks (but more on them later).
According to an August 2014 Forbes article, Whataburger is just one of seven fast-food chains in the U.S. that average more than $2 million per store in annual revenue. That figure, Texas Monthly reported last September, amounts to an estimated $1.8 billion in annual sales. That’s what sterling word of mouth and savvy advertising can do, not to mention invaluable product placement in the beloved Texas-set TV shows King of the Hill and Friday Night Lights. So with all that in mind, you’d think there would be more popular songs that sing Whataburger’s praises, but there really aren’t.
True, Whataburger, which was founded in 1950 and moved its corporate headquarters to San Antonio from Corpus Christi in 2009, is a major sponsor of Texas Music Scene, a weekly program that is syndicated to more than 100 TV markets nationwide. And it’s possible that there are a lot more homemade odes to the orange and white out there than just the ones we found on YouTube (or this Beatles parody), songs unlikely ever to catch the attention of the major publishing houses, and thus unlikely to end up in the databases of popular lyrics sites like Genius or azlyrics. There’s, er, South Park Mexican’s “Iatola,” where he praises Whataburger as “quite delicious,” but a convicted child molester is hardly an ideal spokesman for a brand that many Texans look upon with almost religious reverence. ZZ Top, whose inside-cover art on 1973’s Tres Hombres answers any questions about whether or not they know where to find good grub, gets in a nice plug on “Vincent Price Blues”; unfortunately, it’s buried on one of the trio’s least distinguished albums, 1996’s Rhythmeen:
I've dined at Spago and Eclipse
And Whataburger too
I've had mescal with lotsa gals
Along Fifth Avenue
I always shot the best they got
Dinero no problema
However, it turns out that the best song about Whataburger to date is by someone else from right here in the Houston area, Kingwood’s Anson Carter. Stylistically, Carter is not at all far removed from Rogers or Bowen; his songs have more grit than pop, and he seems out for a good time and the love of a good woman above all else. He plays joints like Bay City’s Neon Moon and Chuters in Pasadena, and some of his other songs are called “I Wanna See You Naked” and “Put It In Drunk,” so you know he’s legit. But of the tunes posted on his ReverbNation page, “Whataburger #5” is head and shoulders above the rest, not only because Carter tips his hat to bluebonnets and Stevie Ray, but because he has the good sense to fall for a girl who knows the No. 5 Whataburger is the one that comes with jalapeños.
A close second is Houston rapper Le$ of the Steak X Shrimp series, and let's not forget the trio of musicians who showed up to serenade workers at the drive-through of a Whataburger in the Rio Grande Valley with some custom-made corridos doubling as their order. (A bacon and cheese Whataburger, Whataburger with cheese and Triple Meat Whataburger, per the San Antonio Express-News.) Carter’s song and those corridos may have a lot more company if Whataburger’s crack social-media team keeps up its excellent work, though. Its Facebook page has more than 1 million likes, but the real action is on Twitter. Obviously, whoever is at the controls of Whataburger’s account is up to his or her onion rings in pop culture, tweeting messages like “Sweet dreams are made of cheese” over a picture of some positively Pavlovian breakfast biscuits. They’ve shouted out DJ Khaled, Adele and Beyoncé after her Super Bowl performance, and noted “.@kanyewest is what happens when you don’t have Whataburger in your life” after the whole Life of Pablo rollout fiasco.
Whataburger even got a fair amount of media attention when it hilariously stepped into the Drake-Meek Mill feud last year; the opening shot, seen below, has been retweeted more than 100,000 times. Then, not long afterward, it got caught up in the game itself when rival chain Wingstop blocked Whataburger’s Twitter account (Find a complete Whataburger/Drake/Meek timeline at the end of this article.)
Long before all that, though, Houston rapper Paul Wall proved himself to be Whataburger’s greatest musical ambassador there ever was or ever could be. Although the king of the parking lot’s lyrics are oddly lacking any explicit references to the chain (that we could find, anyway), he’s long been one of its greatest supporters. Wall has been known to take a selfie or two with fans while stopping off for some food, post pictures of his drive-through haul on Facebook, and his sipping cup of choice is of course Whataburger foam. Whataburger, in turn, follows Paul Wall on Instagram. But he was also once responsible for the kind of priceless PR any company dreams about, the kind you’ll never see in any official commercial.
Back when the term “going viral” was hardly even a thing, Wall and some friends stopped off at a central Austin Whataburger after performing at SXSW 2010. One of the other customers was a lout soon to be known as “Cheeseburger Josh,” whose belligerent demands took the form of instant-classic lines like “fuck you and your cheeseburger, motherfucker” and “I will beat you all over those french fries, boy.” Soon enough, Josh and one of his hecklers were wrestling on the floor as the other customers cackled with laughter. Wall, who took the video, managed to keep his composure enough to hold the camera steady. And not only do the Whataburger employees never lose their cool as Cheeseburger Josh loses his pants, they continue serving orders the entire time. That is a company anybody would be proud to work for.
BONUS: MEEK MILL, DRAKE & WHATABURGER
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