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Culture of the ’Noke
Indie rock group Southern Culture on the Skids shares its favorite Roanoke things past and present.
The Roanoke Times | File 1978
Hartman of Southern Culture on the Skids remembers the old King’s Inn as a sort of mythological place.
The Roanoke Times | File 2009
Customers head to Happy’s Flea Market.
When Dave Hartman comes home, Texas Tavern is always on the top of his list for places to eat.
Southern Culture on the Skids plays Saturday night at Growler's American Grill & Venue.
Courtesy of Bill Rutherfoord
This “What Really Happened” painting is by Bill Rutherfoord, one of Miller’s University of North Carolina classmates. “I like his artwork,” Miller says. “And now he’s settled in Roanoke, and we see him when we come up there and play, and we stay in touch.”
Saturday, March 16, 2013
As Roanokers, we sometimes lose perspective on our city. We’re here all the time. We take cool things for granted, or we don’t even know they exist. We tend to get mad at some of the new stuff and denigrate some of the old.
So it’s at least interesting to know what folks from other places think of the ’Noke. With Southern Culture on the Skids, an indie rock institution who returns to town for a show at Growler’s American Grill & Venue tonight, we can get a multi faceted perspective.
After all, two of the three core members — drummer Dave Hartman and bassist/singer Mary Huff — grew up here but have lived in the Chapel Hill, N.C., area for many years. Frontman/guitarist/songwriter Rick Miller has never lived here but has visited many times.
In a phone call to the band’s Kudzu Ranch Studio on Monday, the trio let us in on their favorite Roanoke things past and present.
The Iroquois welcome
Back when SCOTS first got out on the road, it stopped at The Iroquois Club in Roanoke. The building, which now houses condominiums, had previously been The King’s Inn, but we’ll get to that later.
The Iroquois’ owners, Shirley and the late “Chief” Thomas, championed the band early, Miller remembered.
“I always enjoyed The Iroquois, and Shirley,” Miller said.
“Yay!” Huff added.
“They were some real characters,” Miller said. “They used to have us when nobody would up there. It was kind of a regular stop for us. … Dave could sleep over at his dad’s house. And I could go over to the Huff house, which was another very interesting thing about Roanoke.”
Huff chimed in again: “Hey! Knock it off, buddy!”
Other characters assembled around the band, including one of Miller’s University of North Carolina classmates, Bill Rutherfoord.
“I like his artwork,” he said. “ And now he’s settled in Roanoke, and we see him when we come up there and play, and we stay in touch. He’s a very good artist, and a very smart guy, fun to talk to. I always enjoy seeing him.”
Another Roanoke character wound up doing some work with the band. Tom VanNortwick, whom Miller described as “a great pinstriper and a good artist,” pinstriped some guitars for him.
“I have one of his paintings at my house, as I do one of Bill’s,” he said. “He pinstriped a guitar that we gave away in a contest.
“It’s amazing to watch him work … and it’s all by hand. He had to do two guitars, identical. They were both Danelectro single-cutaways. … And they were perfect.”
Hartman remembered the old King’s Inn as a sort of mythological place. He was too young to get in when it was in its heyday, but he and his buddies would gather in the alley behind it, drinking beer — he wasn’t sure how they got the beer, because they weren’t old enough — and dreaming of being inside.
“We would spend the whole night down there,” Hartman said. “The bands would start at 9 and they would go till 2. And we would sit out back there and drink beer and party. And no one ever came out the back door.
“We thought it was the most glamorous place inside. We’d never seen it, and we could only imagine all the people partying in there and all the musicians. And we just dreamed of a day where we would finally be old enough to get in there.”
It was never to be, though. Hartman, 50, said that the joint shut its doors for good in 1980, on the day that he turned 18.
“Our image of what it must have been like in there and the reality of what it must have been like in there was really far apart,” he said. “We imagined it was like New York City in there or something, like Max’s Kansas City.”
But he and his friends were able to get into at least one bar before they came of age. The place was Shaky Jake’s, now the Backstreet Cafe on Salem Avenue, and it was the place where a young Hartman first realized the perks of playing in a band.
He was drumming with The Silver Street Band, his very first. Hartman said that the guitar player’s mother was a bartender and short order cook there, so Shaky Jake’s hosted the band about once a month.
One night, the band had run through the 13 songs it knew — “at least two or three of them were KISS, and at least two or three of them were Ted Nugent, because they were the easiest things to learn,” he said. Then a man Hartman described as a “big biker dude” walked up and offered the boys $20 to play one more song, for at least 15 minutes.
He told the boys: “We’re gonna do a get funky dance.”
“You couldn’t dance to … any of the kind of music we played,” Hartman said. “So we chose ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang’ by Ted Nugent.
“And he got two of his biker mama s out on the dance floor, and they stripped down naked. And we were like 14, and we had never seen a live naked woman before, ever, in our lives.”
Guitarists Bucky Schrader and Dennis Meredith stopped playing, in favor of watching the action. Hartman and bassist Kenny Paulin, Hartman’s best friend at the time, kept playing the riff for the dancers.
“And I remember thinking … yep, this is what it’s all about. This is what I want to do. Wow. I’m seeing naked chicks already, and I’m only like in my first band,” he said.
“But, you know, there are so many things wrong about it.”
Hartman has lost touch with all but Paulin, but he figures maybe they’ll read this and look him up on Facebook.
“We’ll go to Backstreet and have a reunion and play ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,’ ” he said. “I’m quite certain I could still play it.”
Happy’s & Kelley’s
Miller created the concept for Southern Culture on the Skids at UNC. Since its first record came out in 1985, the band has built a strong international cult following of people who love not just the band’s take on rock ’ n’ roll but also its trailer park hipster vibe. It seems natural that Miller is drawn to Happy’s Flea Market on Williamson Road.
“They had a little back room where just all the junk went,” he said. “The junk was what I was into, so I would just find all kinds of great stuff back there. You name it. … And it’s all under two bucks!”
Huff’s first bass guitar came from Kelley’s Music on Brambleton Avenue. Her mother, Mary Anne Huff, bought it for her when she turned 15.
“And it was a sweet little SG model that had bullet holes in it,” Mary Huff said. “I think it had belonged to possibly the bassist in Truckers Delight. I think he strapped it up to a tree and did target practice on it, but they glued it back together, and that was my first bass.”
She stopped at Kelley’s for her most recent bass purchase, a “sweet little orange” Fender Precision that she has been playing at recent shows.
“We’ve been to a lot of music stores all over, and I’d say Kelley’s rates right up there with the best of them,” she said. “They always have a great selection of guitars. Rick’s gotten a few guitars from there, right?”
Miller responded: “Right on, man. That guy gives great deals.”
There are a lot of places to eat out in Roanoke. But when Hartman comes home, Texas Tavern is at the top of his list.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten at the Texas Tavern, easily, more times than any other restaurant, period, like, even stupid fast food or anything,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever made a trip to Roanoke without a trip to the Texas Tavern — at least once, if not every day that I’m there.”
Huff added: “And then you take it to go, because your car smells like TT for the three-hour drive.”
While Hartman keeps Tavern relish with the ketchup and mustard in his home refrigerator, he has been unable to get the recipe for a more perishable favorite — the chile with beans.
“I was down there one day when the owner was there, and I asked him for the recipe — half-jokingly — but I was like, c’mon man, I live in North Carolina,” he said. “I mean, even if I did decide to go into business, it’s not going to hurt you. And he still refused. ”
Fortunately, the vinegar-based relish will keep, though transporting it is a process.
“Anybody who gets the idea to take it home, you have to transfer it to a glass jar, or it will leak through the Styrofoam,” he said. “Just a tip. It leaks right out, like it’s bleeding through its pores.”
“So what will it do to your stomach?” Huff asked.
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