Southern Culture on the Skids tones down the white-trash shtick



By Steve Newton

When the Straight connects with Southern Culture on the Skids guitarist-vocalist Rick Miller, he’s on a cellphone in his band’s van, cruising through the Pennsylvania countryside en route to a Pittsburgh gig. The vehicle is a late-model Ford Econoline, a replacement for the trio’s previous set of wheels, which had clocked more than 350,000 miles before being retired.

“We had to get a new one before this tour,” Miller says. “We were a little worried about some of those 11-hour drives in Canada, actually.”

It’s a long way from the group’s base in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to the Drink nightclub on Richards, but that’s where Miller, bassist-vocalist Mary Huff, and drummer Dan Hartman will arrive come Sunday (May 9). As if to make the lengthy trek a tad more enjoyable, each member will have a special companion. Hartman’s girlfriend runs the merchandise table, Huff’s boyfriend is the sound engineer, and Miller’s wife is the stage tech. “That way the money goes in the right pockets,” points out the 47-year-old picker with a chuckle.

Lord knows little of that cash will be spent on stylish clothing. As is evident from the group photo included with S.C.O.T.S.’ nifty new CD, Mojo Box, the group is sticking to its tacky, Value Village aesthetic. But you’ve gotta give Miller credit for picking out cool-looking guitars, like the AC/DC–ish Gretsch Astrojet he clings to in that picture.

“It looks like an SG melted,” he says, “like if the SG was a Hershey bar and you left it on your dash. I play that one on the CD a little bit, but it’s a little heavy and hard to keep in tune. To be honest with you, it just looks good for the photographs.”

On Mojo Box, Miller brandishes whatever guitar is best suited to the vibe of a particular tune, whether it be the rowdy, highway-ready ” ’69 El Camino”, the Ventures–meet–Dick Dale instrumental “The Wet Spot”, or the exhilarating paean to trailer-park life that is “Doublewide”. All in all, the CD is a worthy successor to such memorable S.C.O.T.S. discs as Dirt Track Date and Liquored Up and Lacquered Down.

“Mary and I worked hard on our vocals on this record,” Miller relates. “This one really got that country harmony-vocal thing down, with like the surf guitar and the rockabilly kinda drums, you know what I mean? So we really concentrated on the songs, not depending so much on our redneck/white-trash kinda shtick.”

Mojo Box is Southern Culture’s first release on the Chapel Hill–based Yep Roc Records, current home to such road-tested acts as Dave Alvin, Los Straitjackets, and the Reverend Horton Heat. “I just thought it would be a good label for us,” says Miller, “because they support good rock ‘n’ roll bands that tour a lot, and that fits our description.”

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