A Brief History of Southern Culture on the Skids

There are few people working in the music business today that can say that they have worked in several of its eras. Rick Miller, Mary Huff and Dave Hartman are three who can, having started out in a time when radio airplay was the first step in becoming known outside of their home town of Chapel Hill, NC. Back then, in the mid to late 1980s, getting your music in the hands of your fans meant you would make cassettes, 45s or LPs. At first you would make them via the DIY route, sending those out to small regional record labels and select radio stations, usually radio stations in towns where you had some foothold by having played shows there and already being on that music scene’s radar. Once your band got airplay on radio (typically college radio), you would leverage that along with your successful shows to get picked up by an indie label, and keep going from there. Essentially, this is how Southern Culture on the Skids began. Many others did not make it past this era, but they did.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, and the CD era had firmly taken root. The success of bands like R.E.M., Pixies and Nirvana spurred the major labels into a buying frenzy for all things alternative, and acts from college towns and locales that were formerly an afterthought at best (hello, Flaming Lips) were being courted like they never imagined just a short time earlier. By mid-decade, Geffen came calling and scooped up SCOTS, too.

The major label ride did not last all that long (most were equally short), but Rick, Mary, Dave and the occasional fourth member of Southern Culture on the Skids leveraged that momentum into the next era, continuing to tour constantly and make records for a core audience that remained intact once the internet changed everything for the business. And now that streaming has become the music industry’s MO, our trio remains, as happy to make music as they ever were. If they exist, it would be interesting to see the statistics of how many artists have pulled off this particular hat trick. My bet is that there is a only tiny fraction who have done so.

Southern Culture on the Skids perform in Spindale, NC 09-11-21

I go way back with Southern Culture on the Skids, from when I was in college at UNC-Chapel Hill and they were still working day jobs in town, and gigging clubs by night. The first time I got to interview them, however, was September 2021, when they played a drive-in show produced by WNCW where they talked with me after sound check. They tell much of their history and some hilarious stories in this episode, where we bring in Ed Bumgardner to the conversation as well. Ed is the producer and bass player for an ambitious new benefit album called Be Good To Yourself, a double disc of North Carolina artists including Rick and Mary on one of its tracks. All that, and of course, plenty of their music awaits. Enjoy!

Songs heard in this episode:

“Tuna Fish Everyday” by Southern Culture on the Skids from Dig This: Ditch Diggin’ Vol. 2

“Cicada Rock” by Southern Culture on the Skids from Doublewide and Live, excerpt

“40 Miles To Vegas” by Southern Culture on the Skids, from Plastic Seat Sweat, excerpt

“Thunderbird” by Rick Miller, Mary Huff, Gino Grandinetti, Tim Gordon, Brad Wilcox, and Steve Stoeckel from Be Good To Yourself, excerpt

“Camel Walk” by Southern Culture on the Skids from Dirt Track Date, excerpt

“Billy’s Board” by Southern Culture on the Skids, from At Home With Southern Culture on the Skids

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the podcast. I also hope you might tell someone about Southern Songs and Stories in person or on social media. You can follow the series on podcast platforms everywhere, where it helps greatly when you give us a top rating and even more so with a good review, because the show’s visibility to everyone using those platforms depends largely on followers, ratings and reviews. Southern Songs and Stories is a part of the podcast lineup of both public radio WNCW and Osiris Media, with all of the Osiris shows available here. You can also hear new episodes of this podcast on Bluegrass Planet Radio here. Thanks to Corrie Askew for producing the radio adaptations of this series on public radio WNCW, where we worked with Joshua Meng, who wrote and performed our theme songs. This is Southern Songs and Stories: the music of the South and the artists who make it. – Joe Kendrick