Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Georgia Satellites

The Georgia Satellites
Mauro Magellan, Rick Price, Rick Richards, Dan Baird
photo: Gwendolen Cates

By the mid-80s, NYC's New Music Seminar and Austin's South By Southwest were reasonably successful music biz conventions dedicated (mostly) to showcasing loads of 'fresh', new talent to record labels' a&r departments too lazy to scout the clubs every night. Since Nashville was 'Music City', after all, it decided to get in on the act and position itself as a viable source for 'alternative' acts, too - alternative to country, at least. So I went to have a look and found myself traipsing between 4 or 5 clubs checking out a dozen artists - give or take - over a couple of nights. Kevin Patrick was also there and both of us felt we'd have done far better just sittin' in Tootsie's Orchid Lounge drinking Jack listening to someone murder Mickey Newbury, which I experienced once. I didn't know whether to cheer, cry or commit grievous bodily harm. Still, an up-&-coming attorney in town, Jim Zumwalt, managed to talk us into taking a meeting at the offices of Praxis Management where Andy McLenon and Jack Emerson played us some tracks by a 'new' band from Atlanta, the Georgia Satellites. As we listened, both of us kept our true feelings to ourselves, but it was clear this was the best thing we'd heard in quite a while, let alone the last couple of days. Jack and Andy were good people, huge fans of good music and also managed Jason & The Scorchers so the meeting was very positive and we left with a 4 or 5 song tape, thinking we could easily work with these guys. Might even be fun. The tape - which we later discovered were demos released in the UK on Yorkshire indy, Making Waves as 'Keep The Faith' - showed a band, influenced by the Stones and the Faces, performing some decent songs very well indeed. They had a distinctive sound and a tried and tested style that worked for us, despite (or because of) its lack of originality. Every time Kevin and I played the tape, it made us feel good and sometimes ya gotta do something because it just feels right. Besides, trying to do something different all the time made the Monday morning VP meetings with the promo and marketing departments just a little tense sometimes. Mostly, they weren't really interested in trying to move music forward, they just wanted to get it played. Album radio in America is, with a few exceptions, conservative and boring. When I delivered the first 10,000 Maniacs album, someone high up in the promo dept. told me, "don't give us this hippy shit, give us more stuff like Dokken and Mötley Crüe". So this should be no problem, then...

I asked Kevin if he'd check
the Sats out 'live' and a couple of weeks later, he told me 'they were basically a tremendous bar band who could do solid Savoy Brown-type business in the midwest, where radio - and its audience - couldn't give a crap about much of the, uh, modern stuff we (and a couple of labels) were trying to push. He suggested I see them as soon as possible. It would be a lot easier to get Bob Krasnow's approval if we both wanted this one. I think the show I saw was at a club in Atlanta called Hedgens and I remember it was really loud and they ROCKED the joint. Apparently, they were the 'house band' there. They were utterly fantastic, and I felt I was in some glorious time warp where the likes of the whingeing REM or the puffed-up U2 didn't exist. I came home thinking Kevin and I should do this one together. He'd been at Elektra maybe a year and was working with a Marietta, GA band, Guadalcanal Diary, so it made sense economically.Not that that really made much difference in those heady, extravagant, expensed days. Elektra (now Elektra Entertainment, no longer Elektra Records) was on the verge of a new phase but apart from Howard Jones, Shalamar, Motley Crüe, the Cars, Teddy Pendergrass and the odd one-off (Peter Schilling) it still relied largely on the Eagles and the Doors to make its numbers, so when the band and management chose us over Patrick Clifford at Epic Records - the only other company interested - it felt like, finally, Elektra was back in the game. Due to some previous commitment, the band wound up with Jeff Glixman (Kansas! Paul Stanley!!) in the producer's chair (he'd done the 'demo' and was probably owed the album if a deal was secured) and he delivered an album that, despite the monstrous 80s drum sound, sounds as fantastic today as it did blaring from my office at the time, much to the bemusement of the international department, who had to slam their door to get some work done, or just come in, relax, grab a beer from the fridge.
It's weird to think about it now, but I remember there was much discussion as to what should be the first single. Should we appease rock radio and go with Railroad Steel? What about the hooky Battleship Chains? In the end, head of promotion, Mike Bone, insisted it should be 'Keep Your Hands To Yourself' and suddenly the Satellites were all over the place, playing 5 different clubs in one week in New York City, with a 'breakthrough' video on MTV, an MTV New Year's show appearance, a tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, a ton of European dates including the Montreux 'Jazz' Festival, the Reading Festival ('87) and practically single-handedly bringing rock&roll back to the airwaves.
'Keep Your Hands...' wound up at #2 on the Billboard pop charts and the follow-up, the fantastic 'Battleship Chains', did pretty well for them as well, especially in Europe.
The Georgia Satellites
w/Joey Ramone, ht, Kevin Patrick, Lisa Levine, WCMF's Candi Clarke & Roger McCall, Monte Melnick

Manhattan Center, NYC
, 12/31/86
photo: Corinne Atias

In Dan Baird, the Satellites had a tremendous singer, a fierce guitarist and songwriter whose knack for a lick, a hook and a clever couplet filled their albums with rock & roll classics you could dance to, bang your head at and grin with. His sense of humour was never so prevalent as in 'Mon Cheri' when he sings
Well I introduced myself and I said "Nice night for a walk"
But I couldn't understand a thing she said when she talked
And I said "Honey, let's get something straight between you and me"
Well that's when she sat herself down over on a park bench
And her skirt rode up and I could see she was French
And my heart said "toujours l'amour avec mon amie"

Chuck Berry
couldn't have said it better. When he could be bothered, guitarist Rick Richards penned some terrific rockers too. Here, rock 'n' roll itself is personified in another Mr. Richards, and his 'Can't Stand The Pain' shows what a great a slide player he is. 'Hand To Mouth' is a killer tune and when Rick came over, excellent times were had, if you get my drift. I tried to get him to write more, but Rick moves at his own pace. The band's cover choices - Ringo's 'Don't Pass Me By' (they didn't feel they could do justice to Lennon/ McCartney, so it fell to Ringo and it was between Octopus's Garden or this, so...) the Velvet's 'Waiting For The Man', Joe South's 'Games People Play', Eddie Cochran's 'Somethin' Else', Chuck's 'Let It Rock', Chan Romero's 'Hippy Hippy Shake', Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood's 'Every Picture Tells A Story', Jerry Lee's 'Whole Lotta Shakin'' and the Jimmy Gray-penned George Jones hit, 'The Race Is On' display a righteous sensibility and the fact that these guys lived to 'play' made this particular signing a solid favourite. There's really nothing like a musician who just wants to play. Furthermore, the band's success was a big "f*** y'all" to those who said we'd never get music like this on the radio again. And there were MANY.

invite to 'platinum' party
courtesy: Kevin Patrick

So props to Bone and his team for doing such a great job and getting some decent music back on the radio. The second album, 'Open All Night' had Ian McLagan guest on it and the band were really stoked about that. During a mix playback, however, I remember mentioning the colossal, processed drum sound was way too over the top and this caused a big stink. Relations got strained for a while. Glixman got all sulky and I was forced to back down. I should have fired him. Then those first two records could have been timeless.

These days, Dan releases solo albums and tours with NoFoSo faves the Yayhoos. Drummer Mauro Magellan records occasionally with Dan, plays locally with Wisconsin's the Crashers and has a successful career illustrating books. When Rick Richards isn't out with Izzy Stradlin's JuJu Hounds, he and bassist Rick Price play as the Satellites with Todd Johnston in the drum stool. Nearly 24 years later, I'm happy to say all four guys still play music for people and that makes me feel good.

Dan Baird, Rick Richards
Ardent Studios, Memphis '89
Slideshow here:


Rich said...

hey! last nite i put the G Sats up at non-tour diary, then i wake up this morn and here they r at No Fo.
Great minds run in the same, wait, how does that saying go? Great gutter-balls, uh...Goodness gracious great balls...uh, oh never mind.

ht said...

thanks for checking in Angel, and not being afraid to comment...