Southern Culture On The Skids, known affectionately as SCOTS, has peppered a three-decade career with their own wild brand of rock ’n’ roll culled from a cornbread mixture of styles and filtered through a parodied look at southern life.
SCOTS returns to Savannah on Jan. 16 to play The Jinx.
While a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, Rick Miller formed the band as more of a straight forward rock ’n’ roll group. When the original lineup parted ways, Miller got with drummer Dave Hartman and bassist Mary Huff and re-imagined the group. SCOTS would emerge from the woods with their tongues firmly planted in cheek, and an obsession with food and sex at the forefront.
During a rather bizarre show in the early days, a homeless man wondered in and began eating some fried chicken that was left on the stage for the band. Miller recalled later in an interview that he told the man that was their dinner and he had to get on stage to earn it. Fried chicken and SCOTS became inextricably linked after that show.
In 1991, SCOTS would solidify their musical direction and lineup for the next 30 years with the album, “Too Much Pork for Just One Fork.” Four years later, they would sign to Geffen Records (Aerosmith, Cher, Garbage, Guns N’ Roses, John Lennon, Mary J. Blige, Nirvana, Sonic Youth) their first and only major label contract. They recorded the albums, “Dirt Track Date” and “Plastic Seat Sweat” for Geffen. Buried in the middle of “Dirt Track Date” was a throwaway track, “Camel Walk,” which to the surprise of the band, became a radio hit.
The next year, they were playing bigger venues, and making appearances on "Late Night with Conan O’Brian" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." The brief major label appearance helped solidify a fan base for SCOTS. After several releases with Yep Rock Records (Gang of Four, Ryan Adams, The Reverend Horton Heat), SCOTS formed Kudzu Records out of Miller’s studio of the same name. They’ve released their past four albums on their own label.
“We’d always kind of been a DYI band,” Miller said. “Even when we were with Geffen, we co-produced our stuff. We didn’t ask for a lot of money. We were always ready to record.
“The hardest part of having your own label is actually just promoting your records. That’s one thing that the labels did a good job on. They spent money on it. That’s part of the budget that’s hard to come up with and it ends up breaking the bank. But, you got to do it.”
For 2018’s “Bootleggers Choice,” SCOTS revisited the two Geffen Records. Since the dissolution of the label, Miller had trouble regaining the original recordings of the now out of print albums. The songs have remained staples on the band’s tour setlist, but they’ve not had physical copies of the albums to sell to fans for some time.
So, they decided to pick 15 tracks from those albums and re-record them with the original producer, Mark Williams at The Kudzu Ranch. The only track on the new album that wasn’t re-recorded was “Camel Walk.” Before appearing on “Dirt Track Date,” “Camel Walk” was released on the 1992 EP “Santo! Sings,” by Athens’ Zontar Records. Miller had been sent the original recording, so they re-mastered it and put it on “Bootleggers Choice.”
“It was buried on the record,” Miller said. “It was just filler. That was the song that caught everyone’s imagination. That was the song we were known for and helped it sell a lot of records.
“We were all very excited when we cut those songs," Miller said. "That is part of those recordings. It was so much fun to redo them all. I think the new ones sound better. We play better. This new one everyone is really happy with. They’re still some of our most popular songs. We’ll have them now to sell live to our fans with versions that sound fantastic. We’ve learned a lot in the 20 something years. Not only about recording, but also about the songs themselves. I would say the basic arrangements are all the same, but some of the parts have changed. They’re basically played a lot better.”
Miller is still surprised that his band is still recording and touring. After 30 years with Hartman and Huff, SCOTS is still having fun.
“It’s been great,” Miller said. “Nothing I ever excepted. It’s a great way to make a living. It’s a lot of work. A lot of hours. But, you just don’t mind it. It’s a lot of fun. You can put up with the B.S. because the rewards are worth it. It’s not all monetary. It’s kind of emotional and satisfaction. We’re very lucky to be able to do it. Golly, how many bands are out there that it’s difficult to make a living?
“We were lucky, too, I think, to be able to be on that major label and get a good shot at getting a fan base that we’ve been able to keep a percentage of, you know? I remember playing big rooms when “Camel Walk” was on the radio and I am thinking, these people don’t know any of our songs other than that one. When we’re done with this record, we’re going to lose probably 50 percent of them. If we can keep 20 percent, we can have a career. I think we have, you know? Plus, every gig we play, I have someone come up and goes, where have you guys been? I’ve never heard of you guys, I love it. I bought all your records last week.”
Years ago, SCOTS played in Savannah at The Velvet Elvis, which is now The Jinx. But, they lost contact with Savannah and the scene for a number of years. In 2015, Savannah Stopover Music Festival brought them back for the opening night party. Miller is happy they did.
“We played The Velvet Elvis ages ago,” Miller said. “Then we kind of stopped. We couldn’t seem to draw people and the Velvet Elvis changed ownership. We just kind of lost our connections in Savannah. A few years back, we did Stopover. That was so much fun! We were like, why haven’t we been playing Savannah? This is great. We’ll be coming back every year, I hope.”