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A cooked-up, down-home fling


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KICKIN' CHICKEN: Southern Culture on the Skids

Ron Keith


Anybody can cook a chicken. But when it comes to the art of flinging fried yardbird, there's nobody better than Southern Culture on the Skids. Col. Sanders might have 'em beat on a worldwide distribution level, but in the local market, SCOTS' own hands-on distribution program can fill a room with greasy, flying cluck faster than you can say "8-piece-box."

It's become a glorious tradition for SCOTS to fling cluck at their show, but founder/guitarist/frontman Rick Miller says the custom has an ignominious beginning. Back in the day when the band worked anywhere they could, they were playing to a Monday night crowd of five in a Mexican Restaurant in Virginia. Four of the five attendees were male, in hot pursuit of the fifth, who was of the female persuasion, and nobody was paying any attention to the band. Things were so dull that the highlight of the evening had been the bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken the club owner had delivered and set by the side of the stage for the band's dinner. The band was in the middle of number when a homeless guy walked in the front door, reached in the bucket and grabbed a piece of fried chicken with his grimy paw. "Heyyy, that's the band's dinner!'" Miller shouted. "And he goes, 'Well I'm hungry too.' And I said, 'OK fine. We're working for our dinner. You can work a little bit too. Come on up here and do a little dance for us.'

"It wasn't quite as glamorous as you might think, no scantily clad super models -- just some homeless guy from Harrisonburg, Va., doing a little soft shoe," Miller says, laughing at the memory. "But those four guys at the bar that were cock blocking each other trying to get that one chick, they all started to pay attention. So I thought hunh -- maybe you get a little more appetizing person with the chicken and it might be fun."

Nowadays, the custom has been upgraded a bit -- Miller usually picks a pretty girl to dispense the cluck into the crowd while the band plays their own version of the chicken song, "8 Piece Box." But the designated hurler only initiates the fling. Once the chicken starts to fly, everybody gets into the act. Over the years, Miller has perfected the fine art of flinging and offers pointers on what flies best. "Drumsticks of course," Miller says. "Wings have too many pointed edges and breasts are just a little too weighty."

Chicken is not the only Southern foodstuff the Skids are partial to. Nanner puddin' is a big fave as well. SCOTS has been known to offload 50 pounds of the stuff in the bottom of the Go-Go cage at Chapel Hill's Local 506 bar for Sleazefest. But closer to home, Miller is content to ingest nanner puddin' rather than dance in it. "Best banana puddin' I've ever had was at the Village Diner, in Hillsboro, North Carolina." He says he knows it's homemade 'cause it's sweet ... and greasy. "I don't know what they use in their pudding for lubricant, but its got a lot," he laughs. "Whips nice."

But for some fans accustomed to the band's odes to food and the white trash lifestyle, SCOTS latest release Countrypolitan Favorites was a real departure. An all-covers project, the band set out to cover '60s country pop. But SCOTS doesn't do anything straight, and the result was an off-the-charts romp that combined rare oldies with the band's own trademark exuberant "toe-suckin geek rock." It proved to be a tough job to retain the spirit of the originals and have it mesh with the liberties the band was taking. "We wanted to make everything quite danceable," Miller says. "So, it was almost like, how would Johnny Rivers do this?"

One of the most bizarre and interesting cuts on the record is CCR's "Tombstone Shadow." "You belt it out kinda like Wanda Jackson," Miller told bassist Mary Huff, "and we'll do bluegrass harmonies on it." The result is Huff wailing like a high and lonesome diva while Miller pursues her with a stinging guitar lead.

Miller says doing this country cover thing made him think about doing genre records.

"It'd be fun to do a lysergic jug band record. That would be our unplugged record," he says, laughing. "Or, I'm always up for just doing a good swamp pop record."

But don't go looking for a compete SCOTS makeover -- the evolution process does have its limits. "Then I think, why don't we just sing a song about living in N.C., like we have a lot," Miller muses. "It all comes out in the wash once you get started."

Southern Culture on the Skids plays the Visulite Theatre on Friday, Dec. 14, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $16 advance and $18 on the day of the show.

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