I figure it’s time I paid tribute on Ear of Newt to Dan Baird, former frontman for ’80s riffmeisters the Georgia Satellites.
With singer and main songwriter Baird at the helm the Atlanta quartet only recorded three albums’ worth of southern-fried guitar-rock—1986’s self-titled debut, 1988’s Open All Night, and 1989’s In the Land of Salvation and Sin—before Baird moved on to a solo career and, in time, stints with the Yayhoos and Dan Baird and Homemade Sin (featuring guitarist Warren Hodges from Jason and the Scorchers). Some folks might only recognize Baird as the gap-toothed singer in the music video for the Georgia Satellites’ first and biggest hit, the Baird-penned “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”. (Watch for the part during the first guitar solo when he gets smucked by a roadside branch!)
While “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” was definitely a catchy tune and an entertaining video, it was far from the best song on Georgia Satellites, which boasted such superior barnburners as “Railroad Steel”, “Battleship Chains”, and “Red Light”, not to mention the gorgeous “Golden Light”. Open All Night wasn’t in the same league, although it did have its moments, the strongest being the exhilarating “Sheila”, which featured one of the coolest 30-second guitar solos of 1988, courtesy lead player Rick Richards. (After Baird left the band, Richards kept it going, and I saw it play the now-shuttered Studebakers in Burnaby several years back. Hardly anyone showed up, and it wasn’t the same without Dan.)
Before Baird quit the Georgia Satellites he exited on a high note with the Joe Hardy-produced Salvation and Sin. Baird wrote 12 of the album’s 14 tracks, the best example of his songwriting prowess being the jangley lost-love epic “All Over But the Cryin'”.
Baird made his solo debut in ’92 with the Brendan O’Brien-helmed Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired, a thoroughly rockin’, balladless effort that caused Rolling Stone to rave “This is how bluesed-up macho rock ought to be served: sizzling hot and extra lean, seasoned with a sneaky sense of humor.” Though executive produced by Rick Rubin for his American Recordings, Love Songs didn’t cause much of a stir, and neither did Baird’s last American disc, 1996’s Buffalo Nickel. But that album’s opening track, “Younger Face”, again showed Baird’s winning way with words and guitars. I love the way it opens with feedback, then brings in pounding drums before turning into a majestic stomper. Baird’s lyrics really hit the mark as he tells of an aging rocker being forced to surrender the torch to the next generation’s upstarts.
Let’s close off this tribute to Baird with a live version of “Battleship Chains”, which depicts the Georgia Satellites at their performing peak. Baird didn’t write this song, though; it was penned by his good buddy and former Yayhoos bandmate Terry Anderson, yet another unheralded American tunesmith. Ear of Newt might have to do a tribute to him one day.