Although most storytellers understand that one of the first principles of writing is to write about what you know, putting that dictum into practice can be a tricky proposition. When conveying a sense of place, it often helps to get away from familiar surroundings in order to gain perspective. In the case of Baker Maultsby, however, living in “upstate” South Carolina his whole life has done nothing to dull his eye for the quirks and character of the area. His self-released debut CD, Bingo=Sin, paints a witty, dead-on portrait of an Old South region struggling to accommodate such modern abominations as theme restaurants, superstore chains and urban sprawl.
“I don’t want to draw too direct a comparison, but I was a fan of Southern Culture On The Skids before I started writing,” says Maultsby. “They sort of opened my eyes to the idea of doing funny, regionally oriented songs that are, hopefully, still intelligent. And there’s a songwriter named Terry Allen — out of Lubbock, Texas — who was an inspiration as well. [Allen] recorded an album that came out around 1977, called Lubbock (On Everything), that was filled with really hard-driving country songs about weird characters and local history. His stuff is a real reference point for what I try to do.”
Working at first with a four-track recorder, Maultsby and co-writer Peter Cooper began composing songs for Bingo=Sin in their spare time in early 1996, and finished the project a year and a half later. Among those who contributed along the way were Nashville songwriter Jim Lauderdale, garbage collector-turned-guitarist Roy Brooks, former Emmylou Harris backup singer Fayssoux McLean, Farmer Not So John guitarist Richard McLaurin, and two Wofford College professors — John Lane and Clarence Abercrombie — who allowed Maultsby and Cooper to adapt a decidedly non-highbrow poem of theirs (“Split Level Woman”) into a song.
Sporting titles such as “Four Wal-Marts”, “The Taco Belle”, and “Fatback And Egg On Bun”, Bingo=Sin treads just above novelty in a way that would do Roger Miller proud. Better still, beneath the album’s grit and sass lies a deep affection for its salt-of-the-earth characters.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm,” Maultsby says, “and I’m not a super down-home guy. But I do appreciate a lot of the good things the South has been about — the interesting people, the out-of-the-way places, and the independence and character that small towns have. Seeing a lot of that fall by the wayside is a bit sad. It’s interesting to watch the changes. On the one hand, people get upset by Wal-Marts and theme restaurants, but on the other hand they’re kind of proud when their town is big enough to attract those types of things.”