Why Georgia Satellites Were Surprised to Have a Big Hit
"Keep Your Hands to Yourself" was the first single released by the Georgia Satellites. It caught a lot of unexpected air, soaring all of the way to No. 2 on the singles chart.
As vocalist Dan Baird recalls now, they were unprepared for the "moon launch," as he terms it. "There's no handbook for that." Producer Jeff Glixman, known for helping to craft similar hit records for bands like Kansas, was behind the board for the band's self-titled debut. He called the singer and told him, "Put on your space suit, you're going places you ain't gone."
Guitarist Rick Richards was similarly gobsmacked, noting how the Georgia Satellites didn't fit into what was going on musically.
They were, as you might expect, out of step with new wave music and British pop, quite naturally – but also other the current trends in music. "Even country at the time, really wasn’t what it was," he tells UCR. "It was us and Jason and the Scorchers who were the only people I knew that were actually doing that, taking country songs and bastardizing the hell out of ‘em to turn them into a Ramones song, that kind of thing. It was amazing."
More than a year in, they landed their ship in Cleveland for a sold out gig that was packed to the rafters, in spite of snowy and treacherous conditions outside. The band's 90-minute set was recorded and has now been released as Lightnin' in a Bottle, their first official live album.
In addition to Satellites staples like “Hands,” “Battleship Chains” and the then-recently released take on “Hippy Hippy Shake,” from the soundtrack to 1988’s Cocktail, they wrapped in additional musical ammo. Covers of favorites by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and yep, the Ramones, helped to round out the night.
Richards, who later spent a number of years recording with Izzy Stradlin, recently shared his memories of the golden era for the band in an interview with UCR.
It's great to have this concert being released. What sort of memories do you have from that night?
You know, at that time, we were coming off the big song and tearing up the road. We were firing on all cylinders, man. So yeah, it was a good show. I vaguely remember it, but I do remember it to an extent.
The band always put a bunch of great covers into the set. How did you end up recording "Don't Pass Me By" for the Open All Night album?
I think we were at a gig and there was a bar here called [Between The] Hedges that was kind of like Atlanta’s CBGB’s, if you will. One night, I think we were tuning or something between songs. I started playing the riff intro. Everybody’s looking at me like, “What are you doing?” [Laughs.] I looked at them and i said, “Just trust me!” I went up to the mic and started singing the first verse and everybody kind of knew what I was doing, so they hopped in and took it from there. It was off the cuff.
Listen to Georgia Satellites Perform 'Don't Pass Me By'
This Cleveland gig features a version of "Games People Play," which ended up on the next album, In The Land of Salvation and Sin. Did you guys know Joe South?
Oh yeah, we started doing that song. We got nominated for some sort of award in Atlanta, a songwriter’s thing or a new band thing or something. I don’t remember what the accolades were. Joe South presented the award to us on stage at the event and man, he was so cool. We were already huge fans. So we said, “Let’s do one of Joe’s songs, man.” We did that one and I’m glad. I certainly hope people would go back and touch base with some of the artists that we covered. I think it’s part of the deal, to keep that kind of thing going. It’s almost like folk music. You have to carry on a musical tradition that hopefully, people will delve into it a little bit deeper. But it was mainly for us. [Laughs.]
Are there covers that you recorded that didn't make the albums?
That’s interesting. I don’t know. I can’t really recall right now off the top of my head. But we used to do “I'm Waiting for the Man.” That came about from a gig at the Ritz in New York City. It was the night that Andy Warhol died. So during the middle of “Nights of Mystery,” I think it was, there’s a lull and Dan just started singing “Waiting for the Man.” It’s kind of a tribute to that whole scene, the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol. We were in New York City, so it seemed appropriate at the time.
You can really hear the bar-band roots of this band listening to this show. I love how you would just pull out something like "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones.
We actually became friends with Joey Ramone and he was a huge supporter of us, even before we got a record deal. When we’d play New York, he was good friends with our A&R guy, Kevin Patrick. He would come to the shows and hang out and we’d go back to the hotel and shoot the shit. So it was like, “We gotta do a Ramones song, c’mon!” [Laughs.]
Yeah, it was awesome to actually hang out with Joey. What a sweet guy. He was like the salt of the earth, and hilarious.
If I’m remembering correctly, you’re a little bit tall, but Joey was a really tall guy.
Yeah, Joey made me look like Pee Wee Herman.
The Anthrax guys were in the audience at this show, because they were opening for Ozzy Osbourne the next night. Did you meet them?
Yes, I saw Scott Ian and I spoke to him briefly. I wasn’t really familiar with Anthrax. While I was playing, I saw him in the audience and I’m going, “What is he doing here? Why is he here?” [Laughs.] It all came to me, like, both bands [and] different genres, but still live rockin’ loud music. I was really impressed that they would show up.
Listen to Georgia Satellites Perform 'I'm Waiting for the Man'
The band eventually ends up playing some gigs with David Bowie in that era.
Man, it was really cool. It was the Glass Spider tour [in Canada] and [Peter] Frampton was on guitar. I got to meet him in catering, and I was so gobsmacked. “Hey Mr. Frampton, it’s nice to meet you!” That kind of thing, when you don’t know what to say. You know, what are you going to say? “[Humble Pie's] Rockin’ The Fillmore is one of the greatest live albums ever made?” Yeah, you know. But I was just geeked out and couldn’t put two [words] together because I was so awestruck.
Duran Duran were also on some of those bills. Did you meet them?
We did a show in Vancouver on that tour headlined by Hank Williams Jr. It was Hank Williams Jr, Duran Duran, us and someone else I can’t recall. We were all thinking, “Wow!” But back then, everybody had more eclectic tastes about music. There weren’t well-defined parameters where, “If you like this guy, you must be an asshole.” It was well-received. I was in our dressing room and these two cats walk in. The one cat, I looked at this guy and I said, “Man, I know you from somewhere.” He goes, “Yeah, I’m a friend of [Georgia Satellites drummer] Mauro [Magellan]. Down in Florida, we used to hang out a little bit.” “That’s cool.”
I kept thinking, “Who is this guy? Who is this cat?” I got back to the hotel and I went, “That was Johnny fuckin’ Depp!” But this was 21 Jump Street Depp. [Laughs.] So we’re talkin’ way back, but it was still him. He had one of our guitars in his hands, he’s sitting down and playing it, eating off our catering, drinking our booze. “Who is this guy? What is this shit?” That’s Johnny Depp. That’s all. But he wasn’t “Johnny Depp” at the time. He was, but he wasn’t Captain Jack Sparrow. [Laughs.]
How'd you meet Bob Dylan?
We played Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles with Tom Petty. Backstage, this cat walks up to me and gets closer and closer and I go, “That’s fuckin’ Bob Dylan.” We used to do a little interlude of “Amazing Grace” on slide, just as an interlude between certain songs. He walks up to me and says, “Man, ‘Amazing Grace’ was really good!” “Okay, thank you!” Then, it wore off and I realized who it was.
[Later], we did a show with him in Denmark. I was at the side of the stage watching him. He’s playing this really cheap, I think it was a Harmony guitar. [Laughs.] He had like four or five of them with strange bridge cables and the action was really high. I was right there by Carlos, his tech. The next day, we’re leaving to get on the ferry and there’s this huge map of Denmark on the wall. Bob was sitting there staring at it. I said, “Hey, Bob!” He goes, “I don’t remember taking a boat over here! [Laughs.]
We were friends with Al Santos, his manager, who had worked for Tom Petty. I said, “Hey Bob, we’ve got a table over here, if you want to come sit down with us.” “Okay,” he said. So we’re sitting there with Bob Dylan and what do you say to him? I immediately think of [the guitar]. “Hey Bob, I like those guitars. I’ve very rarely seen you play those.” He goes, “Yeah, do you like those? I get ‘em for 50 bucks a piece!” Oh man, it was so cool.
You also worked with Warren Zevon and eventually, Warren covered "Battleship Chains" with Hindu Love Gods as well. What was it like working with Warren?
I was an incredibly huge Zevon fan since the beginning. My friend Andrew Slater, who is from Atlanta and he was always hanging out. Later on, he became this mogul. He was managing Warren. I think Irving Azoff was going to fire Warren – or not work with him anymore, because it was just too much at the time. Slater goes, “Look, I'll work with him and I’ll make it happen.” Azoff said, “Yeah, go ahead and good luck!” It was the Sentimental Hygiene record that was cut during the same time as the Hindu Love Gods [album] on which they covered “Battleship Chains.”
Listen to Hindu Love Gods Perform 'Battleship Chains'
I got a phone call mid-afternoon and I was probably just waking up. It was Slater and he goes, “We’re in the studio with Peter Buck and Mike Mills [of R.E.M.]. We want you to come down. I’m doing this record with Warren and we want you to play on a song.” I went, “I’m there, man.” He goes, “Well, let me play it for you over the phone, so you know what you’re doing!” He plays the song over the phone and I could barely make it out. The song was called “Even a Dog Can Shake Hands.” I don’t know if you remember that song, but it’s about the music business! [Laughs.] We get in there and knock it out. I thought I did pretty good.
The record comes out and first thing, of course, you look at the credits. I’m looking and looking and my name’s not there. The guy from the restaurant down the street, his name was on there, but I wasn’t! So I called Slater up and he goes, “Yeah, man, I’m sorry. That was a misprint. We’ll get it on the next printing.” I said, “That’s cool, that’s fine.” But actually what happened was that Waddy Wachtel ended up doing all of the guitars over again on that. But however, they left in two guitar licks of mine. So I’m on there.
Warren is just such an interesting and unique songwriter.
Oh man, yeah. I got to hang out with him a few times – fortunately, when he was sober. As you would imagine, he was really smart, really witty, really caustic. I remember him saying, “Did you see that chick, man? She was all over me like a cheap suit.” [Laughs.] We actually recorded some stuff with him while he was in Atlanta. I don’t know whatever happened to those tapes, but I recorded some stuff with him – me and him and Brendan O’Brien. I don’t know what happened to that stuff.
So that was stuff with Warren singing?
Yeah, we were just jamming, with him playing guitar. Brendan was on the bass. I can’t remember who the drummer was. But it was another moment, like, “Pinch me, I can’t fuckin’ believe I’m doing this.” I sure would like to hear that stuff. I don’t know what happened to it.
We mentioned the bar-band mentality of the Satellites earlier. There's a real magic to the chemistry you all had as a group. How quickly did that come together back in the day?
Pretty much immediately. The first time we ever got together was the night John Lennon got shot. We were sitting around, [bassist] Keith Christopher and I and the drummer, David Michaelson. We’re sitting around in this pub, watching Monday Night Football. They broke in with the breaking news. We were aghast. We didn’t know what to do. We used to rehearse in the bottom of this barbecue joint. So we went over there and just started playing. Dan [Baird] shows up and that was the first actual time we ever got together to jam. I think there was a couple of originals that he had that we were smacking around a bit. I had a couple that never came to fruition, but it was then that it happened.
What do you think it is that made it work? And when did you get a feeling that it was going to work out?
It was several gigs into it. We went out on the road and played roadhouses, dumps, bars outside of Atlanta. In Atlanta, we had kind of a built-in audience, because there were our friends, but we didn’t really know if anybody actually gave a shit about what we were trying to do. Once we got out there, it was kind of a universal thing. People want this; they want to hear a bar band. It was unpolished with a devil-may-care attitude about things. That’s when we started thinking, “Well, maybe this could work.”
Listen to Georgia Satellites Perform 'Keep Your Hands to Yourself'
You know, it didn’t work, apparently. So we split up for a time, briefly. It was at that time, I was in a bookstore in Atlanta, going through the magazine section and I picked up a copy of NME – you know, New Musical Express, from Britain. We had just put out the Keep the Faith EP. Our friend Kevn Kinney [of Drivin' N' Cryin'] had taken that over to England and we’d gotten signed by this label, Making Waves. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” was on there, actually. There was a review of Keep the Faith in there.
Brits are notorious for being tough, and this was a glowing review. We were compared to the Stones and one of my all-time favorite bands, Rockpile. To be compared to Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams? Now that’s a band – and they’re comparing us to them. I’m going, “This could work.” So I put that down and picked up a Melody Maker and there’s another review – glowing. So I went, “Man, we gotta do this.” We got back together and that’s when we gained management. We were playing up in Nashville and that’s where we met Jack Emerson and Andy McLenon. Praxis was the name of their agency.
They said, “We’d like to work with you guys” and we said “Fine.” We started getting a lot of A&R people flying down to see us. We played for [legendary A&R man] John Kalodner (Aerosmith, Foreigner). Dave Robinson from Stiff Records came in. A couple of other labels came in – to no avail. Later on, we were playing this gig downtown and these two cats walk in the door. I’m up there getting ready to play and my amp completely fries, before the first song. I’m going, “Oh, shit. This is not good. This is not professional!” [Laughs.] Which we were far from professional. But Kevin Patrick, the A&R guy, comes up on stage and says, “Hey man, just relax. There’s another amp over here. Let’s hook it up. No pressure.” After that gig, they expressed interest. It was Elektra Records. We got signed and all of that. The rest is infamy.