ARCHIVE: The Skids Are Alright

Rocking-mocking-to-a-Southern-beatOriginally published in the Asbury Park Press, October 29, 2004

“Songs, potions and spells are all the same thing,” as per the online manifesto put forth by the band Southern Culture on the Skids. “They mess with your head, get stuck in your craw, make you feel good, make you feel bad.”

For well nigh twenty years now, the North Carolina-based trio known more succinctly by the acronym SCOTS have bathtub-brewed, bottled and barnstormed a heady elixir made up of three of rock’s most essential oils: dirt-road rockabilly, pre-psychedelic Sixties garage stomp, and a swampwater strain of surf that attests to guitarist-vocalist Rick Miller’s youthful roots in both Carolina and California. It’s a road-tested medicine show that the threesome (Miller, bassist-vocalist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman) take to the center-alley stage of the Asbury Lanes on November 4, in what has to be one of the merriest matchups of band and bandstand within recent memory.

For those unacquainted with the boardwalkside bowl-o-drome and its recent modification by Asbury artist, auto customizer and promoter Mel Stultz (late of the short-lived Oddfellows Lodge on Cookman Avenue), this coming Thursday’s show is an excellent place to come aboard. Stultz’s smartly retro-fitted flash and flair has supercharged this old favorite haunt (next door to the Fast Lane nightclub), without compromising any of its fully pedigreed early-1960’s charm and streamlined functionality. Add the snack bar, cocktail lounge and pool table and you’ve got a pleasing and comfortable alternative to the archetypal cramped and smoky rock club; a setting that would seem to welcome the Skids as if they’d been conceived on the polished hardwood of the lanes themselves.

Not that the band members are any kind of strangers to the kegler’s cathedral — they’ve played a bowling alley in New Brunswick, in fact; along with the Hoboken Elks Club, the Old City at Nuremberg, Mount Fuji, and (according to Miller), “all the prisons in North Carolina, including the women’s.”

“We’ve also specialized in playing the yards of dead presidents,” the group frontman (who cuts a figure not unlike Mr. Ziffel of “Green Acres”) vouches in a call from the band’s home studio. “We’ve appeared at the homes of Madison, Jefferson and others —no stage too small or too strange.”

Having originated in the fertile band triangle of collegiate Chapel Hill, SCOTS might appear at first to be lampooning the Southern culture they profess to celebrate in songs such as “White Trash,” “Dirt Track Date,” “Carve That Possum” and “My House Has Wheels” — and their thriftshop esthetic of beehive wigs, bowling shirts and straw porkpies might be a tad too-too even in a John Waters flick. Still, there’s a lot of love behind everything they do; witness the recipes for Dump Cake, Baloney Cups and Fried Catfish (“if you’re gonna eat fish, you gotta taste a little bottom”) collected and displayed on their official website. And the band’s taste in cover tunes (they’ve released a box set of cover singles, and have laid plans for another all-covers collection) is the mark of a bunch of true musicologists.

“My dad made mobile homes; a truly Southern thing,” offers Miller in encapsulating the SCOTS mindset; adding that his upbringing helped nurture an appreciation of the “wild characters and freaks — it’s a culture in which you always feel like an outsider.”

Having lurked around the outskirts of numerous record company rosters (including a brief stint with major label Geffen), the Skids look to have found safe harbor in Chapel Hill’s earnest little imprint Yep Roc Records. While the new release “Mojo Box” covers some familiar Dixie-fried turf (“Doublewide,” “69 El Camino”), it also includes well-chosen nuggets (the moody Jody Reynolds psychobilly “Fire of Love” and The Creation’s “Biff Bang Pow”) — as well as such sublime, multi-dimensional, perfectly wrought compositions as “Where Is the Moon” and “The Sweet Spot.”

“We’re a better band than most people give us credit for,” the guitarist maintains. “We still enjoy the ‘white trash’ angle, but we’re using this album to break out of the mold.”

Asked to offer his own knee-jerk impression of a typical Jerseyan, the cheerful purveyor of Southern stereotypes laughs and says “somebody that’s gotta have a sense of humor — I like people from New Jersey and Michigan; it seems everybody’s got a bad opinion of us.”

“Just take a look at Jersey and Philadelphia hairstyles,” he offers as proof. “They’re Yankeefied, sure, but there are definite cultural similarities.”