' 84 (MFA) wasn't a great student. He didn't rise to the top of
his class or take his degree to New York to
win Carolina national fame. Instead, the
laid-back, banana puddin'-
years spent living in San Diego
gave him a deep appreciation
for a good piece of fried
chicken-started his road to
stardom with a reprimand
from the dean of students.
Miller and a fellow art
student often got together to
create tunes when they weren't
in the studio or teaching
introductory drawing classes.
Their music-making venue
was the art lab off Airport
Road in Chapel Hill. Unfortu-
nately, one of the deans in the college of
arts and sciences lived nearby.
"One day I got a phone call from the
dean of students wanting to know what
was going on out there," Miller said.
What was going on, which even Miller
himself didn't know at the time, was the
birth of a band and a musical genre. After
16 years, multiple albums and concerts at
locales from Chapel Hill's Cat's Cradle to
the Ross Gilda Festival in Denmark, the
band still holds its original name: Southern
Culture on the Skids.
"We wanted to come up with a name
that would sort of irritate some people
and be funny at the same time," Miller
said. "It was meant to poke fun at the
South but honor its institutions at the
Miller and his cohorts, drummer Dave
Hartman and bassist Mary Huff, don't sing
Gone with the Wind,
Confederate, controversial South. They
prefer the cheap-motels, dirt-track-racin'
and traile"'park livin' South.
"We're not mean-spirited," he said.
"We're basically just singing about our rel-
atives. I go out of my way not to write
songs that would be politically charged."
Now, in true SCOTS fashion, the band
has freed itselffrom its most recent
recording label, Geffen Records, to go its
own way- down an unpaved road, no
doubt. Miller and Co. have set up shop
near where they got their start: in a house
with a nearby mechanic's-garage-turned-
recording-studio in rural Mebane, where
they are working on their first indepen-
dently produced album. Fittingly, you have
to pass a trailer or two to get there.
Miller, who grew up helping his father in
the mobile-home business in Louisburg,
said the band just wanted to concentrate
on making a living rather than trying to
make it big.
"We've traveled all over, and I've yet to
see any place as diverse as the South in
music," Miller said.
Rock 'n' roll was born in the South, he
points out, and as it spread, so did other
parts of Southern culture."If people like
rock 'n' roll, they're somewhat familiar
with poke salad. No matter where they are
in the world," he said.
The same goes for fried chicken, and
each of the band's shows includes a ritual
to honor that finge,..lickin' goodness. The
tradition, started when the group, which
often got dinner from the
owners of the small clubs in
which they played, was
given a bucket of chicken
before a show. With no
time to eat beforehand,
they set the box on the
corner of the stage.
"While we were playing,
some drunk comes over
and pops his head in the
box and starts eating,"
Miller said. "So we said,'If
you're going to eat our
chicken, you have to eat it
on stage.' So he got up on
stage and started eating it and did a little
Now, at each performance, Miller
invites audience members to eat chicken
on stage while dancing. "If we don't do it,
somebody will always yell, 'Where's the
chicken?' " he said.
Despite the group's overalls, big-hair
appearance and songs with down-home
titles like"Liquored Up and Lacquered
Down," Miller isn't the only educated fellow
in the bunch. Hartman holds a master's in
music education and Huff spent her college
days studying classical cello.
Miller and his band are all taking home-
made courses in cultural studies now,
doing tours that put them on stages in
North Carolina jails, Atlanta nightclubs,
small town courthouses and festivals as far
away as Australia.
"You just find people all over the place
that are incredibly interesting and talented
in their own special way," he said."It's my
"SCOTS Tapillg": Miller, right, Ulithfellow recording artists Dave
- Robin C/emow
CAR0LINA ALUMN IREVlEW
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