Southern Culture on the Skids
Origin: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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True to their name, North Carolina’s Southern Culture on the Skids offers an affectionate parody of local white-trash trailer-park culture, matching their skewed outlook with a wild, careening brand of rock & roll. SCOTS’ music is a quintessentially Southern-fried amalgam of rockabilly, boogie, country, blues, swamp pop, and chitlin circuit R&B, plus a liberal dose of California surf guitar, a hint of punk attitude, and the occasional mariachi horns. Following an early incarnation as a relatively straightforward roots rock outfit, they morphed into a raucous, sleazy, tongue-in-cheek party band obsessed with sex and food; in fact, fried chicken became a crucial part of their live performances, whether it was used in eating contests or tossed into the audience. Southern Culture may play chiefly to an underground rock audience, but their gonzo tributes to the South aren’t as smug as some of their peers working similar territory, since the band has genuine roots in the area.
Southern Culture on the Skids was founded by guitarist/singer Rick Miller in the college town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1985. Growing up, Miller had split time between Henderson, North Carolina, where his father ran a mobile-home factory, and Southern California, where his mother lived, and where he first discovered surf and rockabilly. After earning a degree in art from the University of North Carolina, Miller started the first incarnation of Southern Culture on the Skids with original lead vocalist Stan Lewis, bassist Leslie Land, and drummer Chip Shelby. Lewis brought a distinct Cramps influence to the band, although their style was still much more subdued than it would later become. This quartet lineup released an EP called Voodoo Beach Party on the local indie label Lloyd Street, followed later in 1985 by an eponymous full-length debut.
As the band drifted more and more into country territory, co-founder Lewis split; two more members were added on accordion and pedal steel, but the band’s new direction alienated much of its local following, and the first version of Southern Culture split not long after. In 1987, Miller regrouped with a new, smaller lineup featuring bassist and sometime vocalist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman, both of whom had grown up together in Roanoke, Virginia. (Lewis, Land, and Shelby would later reunite as Stan Lewis & the Rockin’ Revellers, and performed on a mostly local basis.) The new Southern Culture spent a few years honing their sound and releasing the very occasional single. Finally, in 1991, they returned to the LP format with Too Much Pork for Just One Fork, which was issued on the ill-fated Moist label. Too Much Pork established the group’s lyrical obsessions, and featured the first recording of their fried-chicken anthem “Eight Piece Box,” a concert favorite.
Southern Culture’s next album, the rawer-sounding 1992’s For Lovers Only, began to win them a wider following thanks to better distribution from the band’s new label, Safe House. Among other fan favorites, it featured Huff’s first major vocal showcase, a cover of the Jo Anna Neel country obscurity “Daddy Was a Preacher But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl.” The half-live, half-studio EP Peckin’ Party followed on Feedbag in 1993, as did the 10″ Girlfight EP on Sympathy for the Record Industry. The more laid-back, country-flavored full-length Ditch Diggin’ appeared on Safe House in 1994, featuring covers of the Louvin Brothers and Link Wray. In 1995, Geffen subsidiary DGC signed Southern Culture on the Skids to a major-label contract, which was consummated the following year with Dirt Track Date. Although Dirt Track Date included re-recordings of several of the band’s most popular past songs, it received generally enthusiastic reviews and sold over a quarter of a million copies.
After releasing the Lucha Libre-themed EP Santo Swings! for Estrus Records (which included Spanish-language covers of “Scratch My Back” and “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”), SCOTS cut their second album for DGC, 1997’s Plastic Seat Sweat, which featured the band’s new keyboard player, Chris “Cousin Crispy” Bess. While Plastic Seat Sweat was a solid effort, its commercial reception disappointed both the band and their label, and it was to be the group’s final major-label release. After a few years of steady touring, 2000’s Liquored Up and Lacquered Down was released by TVT Records; the deal proved to be a one-off, and it would be four years before the band found a new recording home, with the North Carolina-based indie Yep Roc Records. SCOTS’ Yep Roc debut, 2004’s Mojo Box, was completed after the departure of Chris Bess, with the band back to the trio of Miller, Huff, and Hartman. Mojo Box was produced by Rick Miller in his new studio, Kudzu Ranch, where he also produced albums by the Fleshtones, Dexter Romweber, and the Woggles.
Southern Culture on the Skids released two more albums for Yep Roc, 2006’s live set Doublewide and Live and the 2007 covers collection Countrypolitan Favorites, but split with the company to go fully independent and start their own label, Kudzu Records. SCOTS launched their new venture with the 2010 album The Kudzu Ranch, named for Miller’s studio, and followed with reissues of the Too Much Pork album and the 1998 EP Zombified. In 2013, SCOTS released Dig This, a set offering new recordings of the songs from Ditch Diggin’, minus the Link Wray and Louvin Brothers covers from the original release. The band also briefly reunited with Yep Roc for the multi-artist concept LP Mondo Zombie Boogaloo, which also featured new material from the Fleshtones and Los Straitjackets; the three bands set out on a joint tour in the fall of 2013 to promote the set.
Southern Culture On The Skids’ new studio album, The Electric Pinecones, will be released September 16th, 2016 on the band’s own imprint, Kudzu Records. Featuring a dozen original tunes — 11 brand new songs and a whole-lotta NOLA remake of the SCOTS classic, “Swamp Fox”, the record will be available on CD and as a digital download. A limited edition translucent turquoise vinyl LP will be available in November 2016.
“The Pinecones was our folk-a-billy garage band alter ego,” singer-guitarist Rick Miller explains. “In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we would occasionally open up for ourselves as The Pinecones. What we played was not your typical SCOTS fare; more ‘60s west coast psych, folk and country. Those old set lists became the starting point for this record, The Electric Pinecones.”