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The fine art of flinging chicken

by Chris Lowrance

Describing music is a weird science, an alchemy of adjectives and complex categorization, a foreign language known only to initiates. It’s easy to botch and hard to learn, but understanding it is key to turning a music review from lead into gold.

Then again, maybe they’re just making it up.

Take Southern Culture on The Skids, the North Carolina band known by its modest cult following as SCOTS. The following list of terms has been applied to the trio in reviews, online encyclopedia entries, and by SCOTS themselves: rockabilly, psychobilly, trashabilly, trash-rock, trash-pop, swampabilly, swamp-rock, swamp-pop and chitlin circuit R&B.

Surf, hillbilly, boogie, punk, and gonzo have also been used in various combinations.

Yeah, they’ve got to be making this stuff up.

Not to say any of those terms are inaccurate. They go a long way towards describing not only SCOTS’ stripped down roots rock sound, but also the band’s’… unique’… stage presence.

Much like Joe Bob Briggs and Reverend Horton Heat, Southern Culture on The Skids invoke a South that doesn’t quite exist, a South through the lens of a sleazy B-movie, full of colossal up-dos and too much pork. Three themes run through the band’s lyrics: Sex, food and booze. Actually, make that two themes ‘— booze is food around these parts.

There’s also a predilection for fried chicken to factor in. Anyone attending a live show is likely to catch a wing, breast, or ‘— if they’re lucky ‘— a drumstick, as the band hurls pieces into the audience during a performance of fan-favorite ‘“Eight Piece Box.’” In fact, ‘“no chicken ‘– no show’” is a clause in the band’s contract, according to frontman Rick Miller’s travel diary, viewable at Scots.com (yes, today even a band like SCOTS has a website).

Miller started SCOTS in Chapel Hill in 1985, and back then the band was a little calmer and a lot larger. The band quickly shed some members, all but Miller in fact, before picking up the bass, vocals and giant hatwigs of Mary Huff, and the stand-up drumming of Dave Hartman.

Twenty years, nine albums and a Trivial Pursuit question (‘“What indie rock band from North Carolina is famous for throwing fried chicken to the audience at their shows?’”) later, the band remains an underground favorite, having enjoyed a brief brush with stardom under the Geffen label with 1995’s Dirt Track Date, and 1997’s Plastic Sweat Seat. That major label deal didn’t last, but the band survived and is currently touring to promote their recent release, Double Wide and Live, recorded over three nights at Chapel Hill’s Local 506.

It’s a great intro for newcomers to the band’s greasy flavor ‘— the album contains performances of songs from across the band’s two-decade history. Tracks like ‘“Liquored Up’” sum up SCOTS perfectly, with lines like ‘“She’s liquored up ‘— and lacquered down ‘— she’s got the biggest hair in town.’”

There are also instrumental pieces like ‘“Meximelt’” that put the band’s guitar-driven surf influences on center stage. True to form, there’s nothing too fancy about Miller’s chords ‘— the sound is fast, solid and straightforward, hearkening back to the early days of rock when the idea of stringing your guitar up with steel and adding some magnets and an amplifier still seemed novel.

It’s little wonder so many terms and phrases have been thrown around when discussing Southern Culture on The Skids ‘— how else to describe the look, sound, and feel of a band like this? Just know that if you come to the show hungry, don’t worry ‘— there will be chicken.

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