Having fronted Chapel Hill's zany rockabilly-rooted outfit Southern Culture on the Skids for nearly three full decades, Rick Miller is a bona fide stageman who's begun producing albums as well, like this year's Dex Romweber Duo release, Is That You in the Blue? We caught up with Miller while he was looking after his 5-year-old son, Jack, to discuss his band's history with fried chicken and what some folks call rednecks.
That whole thing never would have taken off if it wasn't for a very slow night in Harrisonburg, Va. We were playing some Mexican restaurant, and there were three guys and one girl there. All the guys were trying to impress her and no one was paying attention to us at all; it was basically like a practice. The stage was by the front door and the owner of the club had bought us a bucket of chicken for dinner. While we were playing "Eight Piece Box," a homeless guy walked in and just reached in the bucket, which was sitting onstage, and grabbed a piece of chicken and started eating it. I said, "We're actually working for our dinner, so why don't you come up here and dance with us?" He came up and did a little homeless shuffle while he was eating his chicken, and all the guys stopped hitting on the girl and started watching. I thought, "If we did this with a pretty girl, it'd be unstoppable!" That's how the whole thing started.
Rock 'n' roll never really dies, because it's such a bastard thing. You can add anything to the mix. I don't know if it's the attitude, or it's just a place where things collide and it becomes something new. Rock 'n' roll has been able to absorb all sorts of different styles and changes over the years. Real rock 'n' roll, to me, is always dance music. It's something you react to physically, not mentally. It's not something you think about, like jazz.
It's as hard producing someone's record as it is making your own. The only difference is you don't have to spend a year coming up with material. The toughest thing about producing is having to listen and trying to listen to what the artist is all about and not getting too critical about technique, just making sure that what you're getting is the essence of what they do.
When we were on Geffen, they always wanted things to get bigger and bigger—that corporate mentality. But after you play some of these theaters where you're 10 feet up in the air and the audience is way out there, it's not the same as a club that holds two or three hundred people, where you're sweating on each other and you can talk to them. You can smell them.
I used to work at a mobile home factory, which was one of the most interesting jobs I've ever had. My dad actually owned the factory, and I worked with a lot of people that most would consider rednecks. I learned quite a bit from them, but the funniest thing was about a guy named Rabbit Rose who lived in Hendersonville. When I was a kid, every fall there was a low-budget fair that came around, the Vance County Fair. They used to have a muzzled, mangy bear that you could wrestle. If you could stay in the ring for a minute, you could win 25 or 50 bucks. Every year, Rabbit used to wrestle that bear, and I never saw him win. But the next day when he was at work, he'd say, "Next year's my year, man." His optimism was really impressive. I actually wrote a song called "The Man That Wrestles the Bear."
Rednecks are everywhere. There's as many in Maine as there are in North Carolina. I find them entertaining and not in a condescending way. I've worked with many, and I've been called one by a lot of people, too. Without them, I don't think we'd have a lot of material, but I hold nothing against them.