Beware of flying chicken
Tales of the road from Southern Culture on the Skids front man Rick Miller
The creation of backwoods rock-’n’-roll visionary Rick Miller, Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS) is a scrumptious fusion of honky-tonk, country music and old school R&B, all garnished with a big Link Wray-style rock guitar and a healthy dollop of Southern-fried humor.
Based in North Carolina but with an international touring schedule that approaches 200-plus shows a year, with time off to record an album once in a while, the band is legendary for its concert appearances where a high-spirited good time—and a piece of fried chicken dispensed from the stage—is virtually guaranteed. I caught up with Miller via e-mail at the beginning of the band’s current U.S. tour, and he was gracious enough to take time out of his busy day to send back the following exchange.
SCOTS delivers what I’d call pure party music with a very distinctive style. Can you give us a bit of band history?
SCOTS is my first and only band, started in 1984 while in college and in need of beer money. My background was in visual arts, though I always had a guitar lying around to pluck on. Dave and Mary have been in many bands. They started playing together in the early ‘80s in a new-wave cover band called the Trademarks. They played frat parties and dives around Blacksburg, Va., where Dave got a degree in music. My favorite photos from this era show Mary wearing her hair in the Tina Turner “What’s Hairspray Got to Do With It” fright wig style.
What goes into creating a new SCOTS song?
Each song has its own history. I usually come in with a rough arrangement and lyric sheet, and we work from there. Sometimes I’ll have a particular idea for the bass or drum part, but most of the time Mary and Dave come up with their own parts.
Quite a few of your songs have a culinary theme. When you need a meal while traveling, what kind of place do you keep your eye out for?
We’re always on the lookout to sample the local flavors. Club employees and fans are the best sources for good eats. The best places we have eaten recently are Louie Muller’s BBQ in Taylor, Texas—the jalapeño sausage is great—and Gene’s Soul Food in East Austin (Thursday’s special is a smothered pork chop).
A lot of dancing goes on at your shows. How do you get people out of their seats if the crowd’s a bit reserved?
Most times if we just start movin’ around on stage the audience follows. It’s sorta like being a teacher in school, but the classroom is a bar! If ya wanna pass, ya gotta shake your ass. If that don’t work we throw chicken at ’em.
What’s the weirdest and/or funniest thing you’ve ever seen from the stage while playing?
Some years ago, in a town in Kansas, a woman dressed in an evening gown with a full cast from toe to hip somehow managed to get on stage and grab a piece of chicken. She proceeded to remove one breast from her halter top and began rubbing it with a drumstick. She was having trouble standing while using both hands on the chicken and breast, so she just propped herself up on me. She was doing a sort of drunken one-legged strip tease, dividing her attention between the audience and me. That was fun.
But then she took that drumstick down to the lower 40 and started using it like it was battery powered. I was gettin’ worried, thinking maybe we were breakin’ some laws (Kansas is not the most liberal of states), because the audience had gotten a little quiet. I wanted to get her off the stage, but she was locked onto my leg like a friendly dog.
I figured if I just moved to the right and quickly shook my leg, there was a good chance she’d lose her balance and fall off the stage (it was only 2 feet high). I gave a wink to a couple of fellas to catch her when I made my move. I did my move and watched her teeter and fall like a felled sapling into the arms of my drunken compadres. All this to a standing ovation.
Do you have any favorite stories of gigs in foreign lands?
One time in Norway, because our contract says “No chicken no show,” the chef at the bar we were playing at thought we were some kind of worldly gourmets and spent all day preparing us Cornish game hens. He brought them out to us during the show on a silver platter only to see us rip them apart and throw them to a bunch of drunken Vikings. There were tears in his eyes, and I heard him repeat over and over, “My chickens, my chickens, my chickens. … They are like gold and you have squandered them on the barbarians.” We didn’t know it, but chickens can’t survive the climate in Norway and are very expensive. We gave him a T-shirt.
The Chico show will probably be the first live SCOTS experience for quite a few folks. What do you recommend people do to prepare for the show?
Wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. And don’t forget the moist towelettes.