Poultry In Motion:
Southern Culture on the Skids
Do Chicken Right
Christopher R. Weingarten
The musical connections between food and sex have been rearing their appetizingly salacious faces throughout the history of popular song. From Bessie Smith (“I need a little sugar in my bowl/I need a little hot dog on my roll“) to The Rolling Stones (“Brown sugar/How come you taste so good?“) to Sir Mix-A-Lot (“Buttermilk Biscuits”) to the entire Cibo Matto oeuvre – musicians just love to cook up metaphors, creating sonically carnal cuisine and linking their loins to their lunch.
“There’s a lot of double entendres you can have about food,” said Rick Miller, frontman for extra crispy Chapel Hill rabble-rousers Southern Culture on the Skids. “The food/sex thing is always good because it’s all about orifices.”
Southern Culture on the Skids (or more succinctly, SCOTS), are no strangers to the culinary double entendre, seeing as their demi-surf shockabilly mini-anthem “Eight Piece Box” serves up a libidinous musical meal so shockingly sensual that it becomes hard to imagine it is even about food at all.
“I started on the thigh/Then I got me a breast/My mouth got so full/I had to save the rest.“
Since 1985, SCOTS have been serving up their deep-fried concoction of indie-friendly post-Cramps Southern rockabilly, infused through a meticulous eye for the sultriest sounds outside the Appalachian region – rhythm and blues, country, surf, funk, and exotica. This appetizing formula and a rigorous touring schedule pushed sales of their major label debut, Dirt Track Date, over the 250,000 mark. Their seventh album, Liquored Up and Lacquered Down, continues this tradition, sandwiching greasy soul workouts between horn-laden Tex-Mex and tear-in-yr-beer country. This fluid genre-fuck can be attributed to the new freedoms these eclectic twangers face – a freshly inked record deal (with Internet startup EMusic) and hot new digs (Miller’s recently erected home recording studio).
Fortunately, change hasn’t, well, changed the four members of SCOTS. They still swing a not-so-subtle food-sex double entendre with the best of them – as seen on the track “Corn Rocket.” They still relentlessly traipse the countryside and beyond – averaging 200 shows a year. Most importantly, they still indulge in the greatest SCOTS tradition of them all – the ritual offering of the chicken.
Traditionally, during the aforementioned “Eight Piece Box,” the members of SCOTS pass around a box of the Colonel’s finest to their hungry fans. As the fried bird makes its rounds, its fate is left to the personal whims of the greasy-fingered spectators. Eaten. Thrown. Worn. God knows what.
“You never know what’s going to happen when you just give a box of chicken to an audience,” Miller said. “It’s so much fun because the audience really gets involved and everyone lights up. They’re always more creative then we could ever be with a piece of chicken.”
It is safe to say that Southern Culture on the Skids is probably the only band on the touring circuit that has a clause in their contract, written in big, bold letters, that reads “No chicken, no show.”
“We totally won’t go on! Tell them to cancel the show! They’ll have to tell every one of those angry fans why,” Miller said. “We used to get it ourselves ’til we had a gun pulled on us in Mobile. So we decided that, from now on, we would make the promoters go get it. Because one less rock promoter in the world nobody’s gonna miss. Nobody has challenged it yet.”
Be-wigged bassist Mary Huff disputes Miller’s claim that no one has ever challenged their chicken clause, and takes a more understanding approach than Miller’s unwavering “no chicken, no show” ethic.
“One time, they actually stiffed us on the chicken. And literally, according to our rider, we could have walked out,” Huff said. “But of course, we didn’t do that. We went ahead and played for the fans.”
The tradition of the sacrificial fried avian started roughly a decade ago in Harrisonburg, VA. Only a tiny handful of fans braved the night to see a pre-majors SCOTS. The promoter had supplied the band with a bucket of fried chicken that they only partially finished and subsequently abandoned on the stage. A homeless man wandered in from the street and, while SCOTS were playing, began to partake in the fried bounty that lay before him.
“We just said, ‘Hey, if you’re gonna eat our chicken, at least get up here and entertain us while you do it.’ The guy got up there and did a little soft-shoe or something while he finished off a whole bucket of chicken and the eight people in the audience went crazy. So we said, ‘You know, we should really make this part of the show.'”
And so, the legend of the chicken was born. And from its humble beginnings, a series of post-scripts were written, each more tantalizing than the next, taking its most perverse frame of reference at a show in an Atlanta topless-bottomless bar. The protagonist of this particular saga? A black stripper named Blondie who peroxided her hair – both her pubic hair and the hair on her head – a shimmering white that, after not dying out perfectly, turned a greenish hue.
“We’re up there playing and she starts taking the chicken, and she starts putting it in places no piece of chicken should ever go. Inside the thighs, movin’ it around. She was lucky it wasn’t Cajun-spicy,” Miller said. “And then she was crushing beer cans with her tits. She was so popular. She started reading poetry with a microphone while we played behind her. After the show, she was signing those beer cans and selling them for five bucks a pop.”
Even injuries can’t keep the feisty female fans from fawning over SCOTS and their fried finger foods, as shown by the scenario of an unfortunate lass in a cast – leg broken all the way to her hip.
“She had this halter top on and kept pulling out her breasts and trying to lick the tip of ’em and rubbing ’em with the chicken,” Miller said. “And then she was taking the chicken and disappearing with it up her dress. Then she jumped on the headstock of my guitar and started working her way down it between her legs. I just kept playing higher and higher on the neck ’till I had nowhere to go. So, at that point, I just gave her a push and over she went.”
The ladies aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the buckets of baked bird, as shown by the frequent on-stage antics of wing-waving boyfriends.
“We’ll get the boyfriend up there and we’ll have him just kind of rub [their girlfriends] down with the chicken. Give ’em a bit of a sheen. Sometimes [the girls will] just nibble it off of him. It’s poetry. Poultry in motion. Bud pun, but it’s true.”
Southern Culture on the Skids specify that, if they are to be supplied with Kentucky Fried Chicken, it has to be original recipe, and not the ever-popular extra crispy variety. Apparently anything that gets thrown into an audience gets thrown back twice as hard.
“When you get hit with a piece of that extra crispy stuff, it actually can leave a bruise,” Miller said. “We’ve all gotten whacked in the face with chicken. Wings, breasts, you name it. One time, somebody brought raw chicken, and I saw a girl get taken out with half a raw chicken. It sounded like a wet washcloth.”
Living chickens can’t fly, and dead ones shouldn’t either. SCOTS encourages their audience to not pitch their poultry. Instead, Miller advises they “just nibble on it nice and easy.” But still, chicken does fly, and with the airborne edibles comes gallons of grease permeating every nook and cranny of SCOTS’ equipment, as well as the stage itself.
“After you get it all over the stage, everybody breaks out their James Brown moves,” Miller said.
But the grease is no match for the mess made when SCOTS used to throw whole watermelons down on the stage, covering everyone and everything with sticky pink liquid and tiny black seedlings.
“After one show, we got back to the hotel and [I think it was drummer] Dave [Hartman] taking a shower. He came around, ‘Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod! I’ve got a tick! I’ve got a tick in my asshole!’ It was a watermelon seed,” Miller said.
But chicken has always been the comestible of choice for the SCOTS. After attempts to remove the fowl flinging from their set, it quickly returned due to fan demands. It seems that everyone is enamored with SCOTS’ chicken-throwing antics. Everyone, that is, except the Norwegians.
“When we go to Europe, they don’t understand that it’s for the show, so they think that we have to have chicken to eat. So they prepare these incredible chicken dinners for us every night, just to watch it get thrown into the audience,” Miller said. “We’ve had quite a few irate chefs come after us. In Norway, chicken’s worth it weight in gold. Chickens don’t live up there, they have to import ’em all. They’re especially small. I remember I took one whole one and just stuck it on the end of my guitar headstock. The guy just shook his head after the show and said [in dejected Norwegian accent] ‘So, sad what you do to the chickens.'”
Disconsolate Europeans aside, the chickens help drive home the SCOTS experience. The SCOTS’ campy stage persona and dress, replete with both embracing and caricaturizing of Southern culture, is the definition of hyperbole. SCOTS are a bold, tangible representation of southern irreverence – making the spectator fall in love with the kitschiest parts of a civilization – doing for the South what The Beach Boys did for surfers or The Misfits did for ghouls. What better way to receive that message than by getting smacked in the mug by a piece of KFC.
“No chicken, no show. Gotta have that eight-piece box or people aren’t gonna go home happy.”