Southern Culture on the Skids’ Rick Miller loves Link Wray and Danelectros

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 8, 2001

By Steve Newton

True to its name, Southern Culture on the Skids has always endeavoured to promote the stereotypical lifestyles of the culturally challenged dwellers in the former Confederate states. On previous CDs like Dirt Track Date and Plastic Seat Sweat, the North Carolina roots-rockers told tales of backwoods barbecues (“Carve That Possum”) and white-trash romance (“Dirt Track Date”). With its latest CD, Liquored Up and Lacquered Down, SCOTS has focused on southern folks’ fabled predilection for cheap booze, as heard on the title track, “Drunk and Lonesome (Again)”, and “Corn Liquor”. When the Straight contacts singer-songwriter-guitarist Rick Miller at a Best Western hotel in Hollywood, he’s asked whether his own health was endangered at all while researching those odes to alcohol.

“Well, the liver is a mighty organ,” professes Miller between bites of a buttermilk doughnut, “let’s just put it that way. The trouble is, you never know when it’s gonna give out on ya, do ya? Because I heard that you could have just one square inch of functioning liver, and you would never know it. I guess a little bit is as good as a lot, you know, but then once that quits you’re history—or you turn into David Crosby.”

Miller and his bandmates—bassist-vocalist Mary Huff, drummer Dave Hartman, and keyboardist Chris “Crispy” Bess—are pictured clutching bottles of beer, wine, and whiskey in the kitschy white-trash portraits that accompany the new CD. But booze isn’t everything to these polyester-loving goombahs—they’re big on guitar legends, too. That becomes clear to me when I recognize instro-rock pioneer Link Wray’s signature on the red Danelectro guitar that Miller wields in a couple of the snapshots.

“Good eyes!” he exclaims. “We played with Link Wray on his 70th birthday in Minneapolis, and we gave him one of those new Danelectros, a black one, double-cutaway. The Danelectro he really played the most was a Longhorn, but they hadn’t come out with those [reissues] yet. I’ve got a nice Longhorn with me on the road, though, and there’s nothing like those to get that raunchy surf sound. Not a clean surf sound—not like the Ventures, not like Duane Eddy, of course—but with a little more raunch and a wild reverb sound. My theory is that they’re never in tune, that’s why they always sound so good!”

Miller claims that the 70-year-old Wray had tears in his eyes when the band presented him with the nifty instrument, and that he was also quite moved by a recent SCOTS gig in New York City. “The show was sold-out,” he relates, “and Link was over by the side of the stage all cramped in, but I could just see him grinnin’ and lovin’ it. We played ‘The Sweeper’, and I walked off the stage and Link grabs my arm and he goes, ‘Rick, that last song was incredible!’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, you like that one?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, man, where’d you get that one?’ And I said, ‘Well, from you, you wrote it.’ And he’s like, ‘You’re shittin’ me! Well, fuck me!’ ”

After Southern Culture on the Skids completes a four-week North American tour with a show at Richard’s on Richards on Sunday (February 11), Miller plans to immortalize Wray in a painting. He’s already done portraits of Hound Dog Taylor and Louis Prima on large pieces of plywood, which he primes with several coats of house paint. See, he’s got an art degree from the University of North Carolina.

“I haven’t been paintin’ very much because I’ve been so busy,” he notes, “but I’ve got a big old chunka wood painted up and ready to go. I’m just waitin’ to get home and finish it. And I’m tryin’ to think who to do after Link. I would love to do George Jones, ’cause that silver hair would look so good in paint. When I finish the paintings I set ’em around the studio and use ’em as baffles, because they’re big, like four feet by four feet.”

Liquored Up and Lacquered Down marks the recording debut of keyboardist Bess, who also plays in a band called Noises Dad Makes, which Miller favourably compares to They Might Be Giants. The portly carrot-top fits in nicely with SCOTS’ trailer-trash motif, but you gotta wonder: did they hire him for his keyboard skills or because he looks so funky in a Crisco Racing cap and suspenders? “Well, a little bitta both,” hedges Miller. “You can’t put one over the other. And he really does know how to handle a piece of chicken.”

Miller isn’t too sure how the addition of Bess has changed the live chemistry of the band, only saying that “it gives you somethin’ to look at over on the right-hand side of the stage.” But his southern hospitality shows through when he invites me out to Dick’s to take in the new lineup. “Come on down there and I’ll show you my new Longhorn. Hmm…that doesn’t sound very good, does it?”

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