Dan Baird Can't Quite Get Out From Under the Shadow of the Georgia Satellites

When Dan Baird and the Georgia Satellites signed a deal with Elektra Records in 1986, they didn't expect much.

"We would record one record and get dropped, like everyone else," Baird says now in an e-mail interview.

But something weird happened. The first single from the Satellites' self-titled debut album, "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," turned out to be a huge hit for radio and MTV. The novelty hit, with its twangy Chuck Berry riffs and Baird's craftily cornpone lyrics describing a pre-wedding sexual standoff, propelled the band from the Atlanta bar circuit to national stardom.

"It changed everything—income, personal relationships in and outside the band," Baird says. "Nothing seemed the same after it. Expectations were way up. We were still the Lil' Bar Band That Could, but not."

After such immediate success, the Satellites' fortunes through the rest of the 1980s seem predictable, and almost inevitable: two follow-up singles from The Georgia Satellites barely charted, and two subsequent albums were positively reviewed but commercially invisible. Baird's departure in 1990 signaled the end of the band's decade-long roller-coaster ride.

The shadow of the Satellites' success has followed Baird—from Atlanta to Nashville, where he moved in 1989, through two solo albums, multiple collaborations and producer credits, and gigs with alt-Nashville journeymen Will Hoge and Trent Summar. Even the official formation of his current band, Homemade Sin, in 2005, was in response to the Satellites' legacy.

"I was touring in Europe and the U.K. every year and had to find a way for them not to advertise me as ‘The Georgia Satellites,' which, in fairness, I wasn't," he says. "The best way to do it was, give yourself a band name."

The fact that the new group includes ex-Satellites Mauro Magellan on drums and Keith Christopher on bass probably hasn't helped Baird shake off comparisons to his former band. (Long-time Satellites Rick Richards and Rick Price have, since 1993, toured on an irregular schedule as the Georgia Satellites.) But the recent addition of Jason and the Scorchers guitarist Warner Hodges to the Homemade Sin lineup has given the band a couple of new dimensions—a semi-legendary cowpunk shredder as well as a connection to one of the Satellites' great insurgent-roots rivals from their mid-'80s prime.

"I was helping Warner make his solo record, and he told me on a break at the studio, ‘If for any reason you need a guitar player and don't call me, I will be very upset," or something along those lines," Baird says. "I needed one. He'd just finished up doing his solo tour dates in England and came in, and with no full-band rehearsal we did a two-hour show, as well as the next two nights. We got lucky, schedule-wise, and had a couple of off-days and rounded off the edges where they needed it musically. Four shows in a row the next week, then rounded off the background vocals on the next off-days. Next two weeks, rock like almighty hell."

This final lineup recorded Dan Baird and Homemade Sin in 2008. The disc matches the basic riff 'n' roll of the Satellites with classic Southern rock and Hodges' instantly recognizable arena-sized leads. "Warner brings a fearlessness that you cannot imagine to our stage," Baird says. "If there's nothing or no one hanging it up, he will mash that gas pedal all the way down. You don't find that very often. You hang on to it when you do."

But Baird and the band have been slow to follow it up. ("Patience, young Skywalker," he says when asked about a new Homemade Sin album.) The band plays about 75 shows a year, mostly in Europe, in between the members' other responsibilities. Their current U.S. tour is a bit of test marketing.

"The Europeans seem to like us, and we like them right back," Baird says. "This American trip is the guys in the band trying to show me it can work over here, too. It'd be great if they were right."

Baird doesn't really see why it shouldn't work.

"This feels like teammates," he says. "We're all going for the same thing from four slightly different directions. We always have the same mission/problem: how to make tonight a living, breathing thing that has fun, gets mad, cries, reaches for the stars, laughs at itself, grooves, and everything else that makes up a full day—and include the nice folks that paid to come see us."