ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 9, 1997
By Steve Newton
Some rock musicians search high and low for inspiration, while others just find it cruising around with a tow-truck driver high on crack.
That’s what happened with “40 Miles to Vegas”, one of the wildest tracks on the new Southern Culture on the Skids CD, Plastic Seat Sweat. On one of its West Coast road trips, the North Carolina band had been having car trouble for weeks, when things started getting really bad. The third van the band had gone through in 20 days blew a bearing in the differential at the California-Nevada state line, about 40 long miles short of a gig in Las Vegas.
“We couldn’t get hold of a tow-truck driver ’cause they were all busy,” drawls singer-guitarist Rick Miller, calling from Toronto before a show at the Horseshoe Tavern. “Then finally we found this one guy, literally driving in circles in the huge parking lot of this really sleazy casino. So without thinking we told him, ‘Look, we got a gig in Vegas, and we gotta be there within the hour, and we’ll give you an extra 20 bucks to get us there.’
“I noticed he was shaking real bad,” continues Miller, “and didn’t look too good when we all got in the thing. As he was pulling out he said he’d been on a crack binge for like three days, and then he started talking about all his friends who had fallen off buildings and stuff, so we were just like flippin’ out. He literally drove with his elbows because his hands were shaking, and Dave [drummer Dave Hartman] had to open his smokes for him. I just thought it was ironic that we were all sitting there praying, ‘Oh Lord, please get us to Sin City safe and sound.’ ”
The tow guy from hell got SCOTS to their gig on time, and the band had bizarre inspiration for one of the dozen fine tracks on its new CD. According to the guitarist, Plastic Seat Sweat is a looser collection of tunes than the trio’s previous effort, 1995’s Dirt Track Date.
“I just wanted to have fun on this one,” says Miller, who also handles electric sitar and banjo on the new disc. “We still have the kinda swampy groove, like ‘Banana Puddin’, and then more of the country-flavoured stuff, like ‘Carve That Possum’, the old Uncle Dave Macon tune. We wanted to stretch out, so we put some horns on it, and banjo, and a lotta B3 [Hammond organ]. We got a guy that’s gonna be playin’ B3 live with us, so we may even do a Booker T and the MGs tune here and there.”
Judging by the band’s heavy swamp-boogie leanings, its bountiful white-trash references, and its low-rent–yokel wardrobe, you’d guess that Miller and company were trailer-park denizens from way back. Drummer Hartman actually lived in one until a hurricane sent an oak tree right through the middle of it while the band was touring in Alaska. And even though main songwriter Miller doesn’t live in a mobile home himself right now, he still keeps his finger on the pulse of those who do. His dad builds them for a living.
“Not only did I grow up livin’ in some,” reveals Miller, “but I also built ’em every summer, so I met a lotta characters in that place. Like guys that are making minimum wage building mobile homes on an assembly line, yet have like eight kids, you know what I mean? Of course, what they’re doin’ on the side is they’re selling moonshine, or growing pot, stuff like that. There’s a lotta people on work-release programs, too.”
A little bit of the redneck vibe Southern Culture strives to exude was brought to Plastic Seat Sweat by the firing of an actual shotgun during its rowdy opening track, “Shotgun”. That isn’t Miller’s finger triggering the weapon between guitar licks, though.
“I hate to say it, but I don’t own a gun,” he relates. “There was always one around the house when I was a kid, and it always kinda freaked me out, I don’t know why. But a buddy of mine’s got a beautiful Mossberg 12-gauge and he brought that in and fired it up for us.”
If close-range killer weapons, Tex-Mex belly-dancing instrumentals, and tunes about the gourmet joys of roadkill aren’t enough to make you want to pack up and head for Hicksville, you can always get your backwoods fix at Richard’s on Richards come Tuesday (October 14). Or you could try to track down a bright-green vinyl La-Z-Boy with pinstriping and orange flames, like the breathtaking beauty Miller had custom-made to grace the cover of Plastic Seat Sweat.
“I always wanted to make a record with a La-Z-Boy recliner on the cover,” he reveals, “because when I was growin’ up it was the only way we could listen to music in the house. My dad had a La-Z-Boy with an 8-track stereo built into it, so this is kind of an ode to that whole thing.
“At first we had like a brown Naugahyde one [for the cover], but that wasn’t quite right, so we decided to get one and have it reupholstered by a hot-rod guy. And sure enough, it’s sittin’ in my living room right now. It was sittin’ on my porch until we left, ’cause I wanted everybody to see it, you know. Where I’m from you always put your best furniture on the porch.”