Southern Culture on the Skids at Rims on the River
Sat., 4/21 • 9:45 p.m.
Market and Water streets
No matter how one describes the musical stylings of Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS), it’s always got to include some form or function of “fun.” Judges will accept comedic, playful, and an entertaining, riotous romp in a backwoods trailer park with blue jean overalls, grandmama and some moonshine. They’ll also take punk infusion, surf-tastic or rockabilly.
The origins of this wacky yet utterly celebrated band began in 1983, in Chapel Hill, when guitarist and lead singer Rick Miller started the act with his college roommate. Their original bass player—a girl, like their current sex kitten, Mary Huff—threw in the towel after the first long road trip. Apparently, the touring life wasn’t her style.
Not discouraged by the loss, the boys hustled on. While in Richmond, Virginia, they played with Huff’s then-rockabilly band. When the bouffant babe found out they needed a bass player, she hitchhiked in the back of a pickup truck to audition for the gig.
“I think she came down for a Butthole Surfers show, and then applied for the position in the band the same weekend,” Miller recalls. “Of course we gave it to her.” Naturally, ‘cause that seemingly ageless chick rocks harder than most, jammin’ out with a heavy rhythm line and never giving up on her Mashed Potato.
Eventually the group needed a new drummer, too. Enter Dave Hartman. “Mary’d been playing in bands with Dave since junior high—like sneaking into frat gigs in Blacksburg,” Miller tells. “When the other drummer quit, she said, ‘Well, hey, I know a guy who’s just graduating out of college and will do anything to keep from getting a day job, so let me call him!’ So Dave came down and we moved into a little house in the woods. We’ve been the same three ever since.”
Dishing out a sound unlike most bands on the circuit today, the influences for SCOTS have to be just as diverse, and Miller’s childhood memories deliver. Until the age of 12, the wolf-howling, quirky lead singer lived in Henderson, North Carolina. The miniscule dot on the map is what he calls a “tiny tobacco town,” where his dad built mobile homes and only one radio station controlled the airwaves.
“The AM station had to service quite a diverse population, because the town was probably half black and half white,” he says. “So you’d hear soul and gospel music on Sundays to blues and rock ‘n’ roll and country. You’d hear everything from Aretha Franklin to Buck Owens. I just remember listening to that all the time on my little radio in my formative years.”
With one of many laughs, he remembers top 40 records used to be sold at the Singer Sewing Center (“Don’t ask me why,” he advises). Collecting all sorts of 45s from the store, Miller believes his first was by Booker T. and the M.G.’s. “That’s what it was like, and our music is the same way,” he notes. “We draw from all kinds of stylistic sources and kind of stick it together with our concept.”
Their sound has earned the group big- and small-screen fame, too. Their songs were featured in films such as “Happy Gilmore,” “Dukes of Hazzard” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” The band performed for a national audience on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in 1995, and many times on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Miller’s personal favorite accomplishment has been impressing his business-oriented parents.
“They had a very hard time with me being a musician and were always worried about me making any money,” Miller shares. “And we didn’t make any for a long time—like five bucks a day. I remember when we got on ‘Jay Leno,’ all of a sudden it went from, ‘Yeah, my son, the so-called musician,’ to, ‘My son, the celebrity.’”
Despite the loftiness of their New York and Hollywood fame, SCOTS has mostly been a DIY band. Riding with a label for only a two-record contract, they recouped the spending on both albums, but the label always wanted more. Offering to renew the contract, the company demanded they become more commercial and narrow the focus; it claimed the band had too diverse a fan base.
The trio said no thanks and each party went their separate ways. Today, SCOTS is still entertaining, and the label is non-existent. “I think feeling that you’re in control of your own destiny is very important so that you don’t get discouraged,” Miller details. “If we screw up, it’s something we screw up together.”
With no particular agenda, the band seems to be doing just fine. Miller says if they have any message, it’s just to enjoy life. “You’re only here for so long; let’s have a good time and forget about the troubles,” he offers. “I like people a lot, so it’s always fun to make people happy, to see them enjoying themselves. To be able to do what I do, I’m a very lucky person.”
Southern Culture on the Skids will play alongside the baddest hot rods this side of the Mississippi at Wilmington’s largest car show, Rims on the River (see map in the center of this issue). Downtown, antique cars will line Front Street from Red Cross to Orange streets, and up Market and Dock streets to Second Street.
The event’s free concert at Waterfront Park will begin at 5 p.m. with local yokels The Barnraisers ,and will continue with Charleston blues band Skye Paige and The Original Recipe at 6:30 p.m. At 8 p.m., Charlotte’s rockabilly men, The Belmont Playboys, will take the stage, and the show will be polished off by Southern Culture at 9:30 p.m.