“No chicken, no show.”
That’s something of a mantra for Southern Culture on the Skids — or has been, at least, since the release of their 1995 album Dirt Track Date, which features the cult hit “8 Piece Box.”
“Sometimes we get people on stage to help us with ‘8 Piece Box,’ and we like to have the fried chicken for that,” explained Rick Miller, the band’s singer and guitarist. “One time years ago we were headed to a show in Mobile and we were trying to find some chicken, and we got held up and were late. The next day, we had it in our rider that if we were going to play, we were going to have to have a box of chicken. No chicken, no show.”
The Chapel Hill-based three piece, rounded out by bassist/singer Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman, has been referred to over the years with terms like “psychobilly” and “cow punk” to describe their mix of rockabilly, surf music, R&B, garage rock, country, and other types of roots music (Miller describes it on the band’s website as “Americana from the wrong side of the tracks”).
They’ve been playing since 1983, but will make their first appearance in Sanford headlining at April 14’s Downtown Streetfest & Fireworks. The free concert, which begins at 12:30 p.m., will also feature the B-Sides, Whiskey Revival, and the Tuesday Night Music Club. Southern Culture on the Skids takes the stage at 7 p.m.
But hey, Sanford folks. A local show for a band of this caliber – they spent a time in the mid-90s on DGC Records, a major label which also released records like Nirvana’s Nevermind, and their tour schedule between now and June takes them to places like Charlotte, St. Louis, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Denver – might feel like a little bit of an anomaly, but Miller said it came together in a fashion fairly consistent with the band’s do-it-yourself roots.
“It was a friend of a friend, I think,” Miller said (he’s referring to the Smoke and Barrel’s Jeff Towson, who booked music for the event). “They gave me a phone number and I called and they asked if we could do it, and we could. It still happens that way occasionally.”
And though this is the first time the band will play the Brick City, Miller said he’s been familiar with Sanford for some time – although the quiet downtown he recalls isn’t exactly the same one his band will be playing on April 14.
“We used to go down to Sanford to go through the thrift stores downtown,” he said. “I would look at all these empty loft spaces and think ‘wow, I should put a studio here or something.’ I also took my dog to military school training in Sanford.”
Today, Southern Culture on the Skids released records on its own, smaller label, but musically, not much has changed. The records still reference, well, aspects of southern culture – “My House Has Wheels,” “Rice and Beans,” and “My Neighbor Burns Trash” are a few song titles from recent records, joining classics from earlier in their career like “Too Much Pork For Just One Fork” and “Banana Puddin'” – and the songs themselves still draw from such a variety of styles that trying to describe the band in one sentence is kind of futile. In other words, there’s something for everyone.
“I lived in Henderson, North Carolina until I was 12, and the town was like half white and half black,” Miller explained. “And so the one radio station we had to listen to might play Buck Owens or the Beatles one moment, and then Aretha Franklin the next. It informed me really early that there’s no boundaries to music. There’s just good and bad. Our music is kind of like a ‘meat and three’ plate – you have all these separate things that taste great on their own, but they all run together in the middle and that’s the best bite.”
You’ve probably noticed that the Rant has graciously been embedding YouTube clips from the band’s catalog in case you want to get a sense of what to expect, but Miller said the live show is where Southern Culture on the Skids truly shines.
“We’re all about people dancing,” he said. “We like a nice physical reaction to our music. We supply the background noise for a really good time. It’ll be a lot of fun, and it’s family friendly, so we’d love to see everyone.”
The band will also have a merchandise table with CDs, vinyl, shirts, and hats.