Since 1985, Chapel Hill singer/guitarist Rick Miller has been leading his merry band of North Carolina trash merchants, dressing up in hillbilly threads but playing bugeyed rock’n’roll, instrumentals, R&B and country swill with a lurid sense of humor, abundant skill and true historical dedication. The trio takes a loose and evidently well-meant minstrel-like approach to its Appalachian heritage, walking a strange line between the poles of taunting and exploiting a widely disrespected people. Southern Culture on the Skids’ records do neither, but simply take what they know and bend it into a cheerful caricature of a colorful personality.
The first album (also known as First Album) combines refried hillbilly twang and hot rod instrumentals with a slight nod to the Cramps: see such lo-fi wheelies as “Psycho Surfing,” “Primitive Guy” and “Atom Age Trucker.” It’s almost touching that “Demon Death” helps itself to the Outer Limits theme.
Other than a single here and there, SCOTS was little heard from over the next seven years. Then came the deluge. Unveiling a lineup with bassist/singer Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman, the Skids announced their return with Too Much Pork for Just One Fork (containing such delicacies as “Voodoo Cadillac,” “Back in the Woods” and “Eight Piece Box,” an ode to fried chicken) on the ill-fated Moist label, which went out of business shortly after. Demonstrating the group’s versatility, “Viva Del Santo” (on the four-song Santo! Sings) pays tribute to the prowess of the great masked Mexican wrestler and movie star to the sounds of a mariachi surf band.
SCOTS continue their excursions into trailer park camp with For Lovers Only, on which they discover the perils of the “Barnyard Ballbuster,” marvel at “The Man That Wrestles the Bear,” offer a creepy recipe in “Biscuit Eater” and pay tribute to the Wray-man in “Link’s Lung.” The comical “Clyde’s Lament” disgorges a lazy swampabilly moan last seen coming from Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club back at the turn of the last decade. “Nashville Toupee” sticks a collective tongue out at men who have taken advantage of the rug trade. Standing apart from the rest of the fourteen songs here is a cover of Jo Anna and Bob Neel’s “Daddy Was a Preacher but Mama Was a Go-Go Girl,” on which Huff takes the lead and proves that she could easily join the pantheon of hot rockin’ ladies like Wanda Jackson and Janice Martin if given half a chance.
If a good “Girlfight” is what you want, that’s just what you get on the title track of the 10-inch EP. Besides the joys of hair-pulling and nail-scratching, the group take the time out to tip their hat to past daddies, singing “Hey Chuck Berry” to the tune of “Hey Bo Diddley” and following that with a cover of Norman Petty’s “Wheels.”
Peckin’ Party serves up three new studio tracks (Link Wray’s “Run Chicken Run” and two originals — one a second serving of “Eight Piece Box” — that gain added instrumental depth from guest sax by Jim Spake) and three songs (including “Daddy Was a Preacher but Mama Was a Go-Go Girl”) recorded live at Chicago’s Lounge Ax.
Recorded in Memphis, Ditch Diggin’ makes it clear that SCOTS has developed into a band skilled enough to get its songs played on commercial country radio — if not for the mouthful name and the congenital silliness responsible for such demented lyrics as “Put Your Teeth Up on the Window Sill” and “Tunafish Every Day.” (Think of SCOTS as the snide but affectionate result of growing up with Hee-Haw.) Contributing to the laid-back attitude that permeates the album, co-producer Doug Easley adds lap steel; fiddler Roy Brewer and saxman Spake also play on the record. There’s a Louvin Brothers song (“The Great Atomic Power”) and another Link Wray cover (“Jack the Ripper, Parts 1 & 2”), but it’s not enough to turn the throttle to full.
Dirt Track Date introduces Southern Culture to the deep waters of major labels (with a vinyl edition on Telstar) and pulls the group out a little worse for wear. At best (“Greenback Fly”), the album recalls George Thorogood’s bar band raunch; more often, the processed vocals (see “White Trash” and the funkish “Soul City”) lead down a dead-end dirt road. Only when the band revisits its own back catalogue (new versions of “Voodoo Cadillac,” “8 Piece Box” and Santo! Sings‘ “Camel Walk”) does Dirt Track Date fetch up memories of the band’s wild past. Even Huff’s “Nitty Gritty” comes off bland. Lacking the ebullient sense of reckless fun that fueled their best work, Dirt Track Date runs on nothing but the fumes of shtick.