It’s time for another in our FORGOTTEN ARTISTS series, where we take a look at the career of artists who might just have slipped out of some people’s memory in recent years, and this time I’m taking a look at the career of one of the great mavericks of Americana; Country Punk and all-round Alt-Country hero, Dan Baird.
Baird is probably best known for his work with the Georgia Satellites, the band he formed in 1980, along with Rick Richards (lead guitar), Keith Christopher (bass) and David Michaelson (drums). The band started out under the name Keith and the Satellites, the bass player having been in another popular Atlanta band, The Brains, and being considered a draw for local gigs. By the time they came to record a demo Christopher and Michaelson had left and, with a new bass player and drummer, the band became the Georgia Satellites. The band broke up in 1984, feeling that they weren’t making any progress towards getting a record deal and they all went off to other bands – but they had an English road manager, Kevin Jennings, who took the demo tape back to the UK and to a small, Yorkshire based record label, Making Waves, who released the demo as the ‘Keep the Faith’ EP in 1985. The critical response to the release was positive enough to get Baird and Richards to reform the band, using the rhythm section Richards had been playing with in the interim and, in 1986, they signed to Elektra and released their debut, eponymous album. This contained the single ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself’, which gave the band a number two hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and they were off and running, becoming a regular on MTV with the video for the single. Unfortunately, they couldn’t maintain the impetus brought about by this first single and, although they achieved other chart hits, they never scaled the same dizzy heights again. Baird stayed with them for two more studio albums, 1988’s ‘Open All Night’ and the following year’s ‘In the Land of Salvation and Sin’ before quitting the band to pursue a solo career. The band did break up after Baird left but re-formed in 1993 and are still going today, though the only original member still playing in the Satellites is Rick Richards.
Dan Baird had been born in San Diego, late in 1953, but the family relocated to Georgia, Atlanta when he was still just a toddler. It seems that Baird was always destined to be a touring musician. He started playing in bands in his teens and quickly became a focal point for the bands he was in – a consummate showman who always knows how to work the crowd, regardless of who or how big they are. It’s hardly surprising that he lists bands like the Stones, the Faces and AC/DC as major influences, rather than any country bands, but his music has always had that Southern Fried feel that betrays his Atlanta roots.
After leaving the Georgia Satellites, Baird released his first solo album, in 1991, ‘Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired’, including the popular single ‘I Love You Period’. He also started to do some producing and appearing with other artists, such as Will Hoge and Chris Knight. His next band was The Yahoos, which re-united Baird with original Satellites bass player Keith Christopher. This band put out two albums, ‘Fear Not the Obvious’ (2001) and ‘Put the Hammer Down’ (2006). While working with The Yahoos he also formed The Sofa Kings and released their only studio album, ‘Redneck Savant’. Baird seems to be one of those gifted artists addicted to forming bands and working with other musicians; it’s the collaboration that seems to entice him but he’s also always been drawn to performing and, over the years, has racked up an impressive record of tours and miles covered; and some great band names!
In 2005 he formed Homemade Sin, who have been the stalwarts of his later recording years. With this band Baird would go on to record and release another eleven albums, a mixture of live and studio recordings; Baird has always seemed at his happiest fronting a band and playing to live audiences. He built a particularly strong and loyal following outside the US, most notably in the UK and Sweden, where his work has always been well received. Ironically, Homemade Sin has contained more original and early members of the Georgia Satellites than the band currently working under that name.
Given his enthusiasm and talent for live work, it was particularly sad to see him announce his retirement from the road at the end of 2019. On his website, he put up a statement that started with the lines, “Ok, I’m done. Uncle! I’ve come to the conclusion that life out of a suitcase, on a plane, in a van, another hotel, has taken the last bite out of me I can handle”. He went on to explain that, while he still gets a buzz out of playing live, it’s everything that goes with it that had taken its toll. Baird had over forty years of life on the road and that is a tough way to make a living. In 2017 Baird was sent home from a European Tour, diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, a condition that had, apparently, been building in his body for around four years. He made a good recovery and was back on tour the following year, but it’s a condition that causes fatigue and can also affect the body’s immune system, particular cause for concern at the current time.
So, one of the great road warriors has finally called time on the life of a nomadic musician – but you shouldn’t bet on this being the last we hear of Dan Baird. While he may have quit the touring circuit it’s hard to believe there won’t be plenty more music left in the tank.