Miller lives and records just a little ways up the road from nowhere in North Carolina, where he took up the torch that the Cramps lit in the late 1970s, when they infused punk with rockabilly to produce something entirely different and just a little bit weird. But the Cramps always were a little bit on the outside looking in at the countrified culture of their "psychobilly" sound-alikes. Miller, on the other hand, was not. But after putting out 1985's Southern Culture on the Skids, he did more or less nothing for the next seven years. The mid- and late 1980s were difficult times for folks of Miller's vision. Punk had gone by the wayside in favor of big hair and whammy bars. In many ways, Southern Culture on the Skids has grunge to thank for its success.
When Nirvana and company brought a new form of punk back to the forefront of music, a fusing of punk and rockabilly was not far behind. But instead of the campy approach of the Cramps and Mojo Nixon, new bands such as Reverend Horton Heat sang of white-trash heaven with a mix of comedy and homage. The time had arrived for Rick Miller -- now backed by bassist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman -- to send his sound out again.
And now, more than a decade later -- after picking up keyboardist Chris Bess just before the release of its latest album, 2000's Liquored Up and Lacquered Down -- the band's position in the industry hasn't changed a great deal, but the sound itself definitely has improved.
Although Liquored Up and Lacquered Down doesn't have the manic energy of earlier releases, Bess's debut and the addition of occasional Mexican horns, as on the title track, or a new rhythm-and-blues approach ("Hittin' on Nothing") have made the album the tightest, most impressive SCOTS record to date. And besides, this many odes to drunkenness can't all be wrong. Tales of feasting on barbecued goat and moonshine and lyrics such as "Pours herself a drink of gin/She likes the booze 'cause it keeps her thin" are nothing if not entertaining.
But some places just don't take to cornpone and chitlins (Miami, for example). Despite an average of 200 shows a year, Southern Culture on the Skids will make its first appearance in Miami Monday (although Tuesday's show in West Palm Beach is not a first). Because the band is playing at punk haven Churchill's Hideaway, the welcome mat should be large and beer-spattered.