Photos by Trudi Night
I don’t care who ya’ are, when “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” rolls around on your radio or preferred streaming platform, the air guitar and toe-tappin’ abound. The Georgia Satellites hit it big with that single back in 19 n’ 86. The song is immortal, destined to be revived for television, film, and your local watering hole for epochs– but if that’s the end of your experience with that outfit and Dan Baird… shame on you! I can sit and debate the definition and philosophy of rock n’ roll ad nauseam (lean my head over the rail, hurl, and get right back to the topic at hand), love to do it in fact. One thing I’ve learned during my life-long musical catechism is that Dan Baird is the rocker equivalent of the secret handshake– know it and you’re in the club. Dan’s a tireless songwriter and performer. After leaving the Satellites, Dan released Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired in 1992. Since then there’s barely been a year that didn’t see him recording and touring solo with multiple entities in The Yayhoos and The Bluefields or playing guitar and producing for artists like Chris Knight, Will Hoge, Stacie Collins, Hayes Carll, the X-Rated Cowboys… In 2008, Homemade Sin became Dan’s main core of co-conspirators. Today, the band features fellow Satellite Mauro Magellan and Scorcher Warner Hodges with bassist Sean Savacool augmenting the sound. Last year saw the release of Solow, a lone wolf project for Baird, as well as Rollercoaster. For me, it’s not the fact that Dan Baird is still active and making records; it’s the fact that he’s still writing songs and making rock n’ roll music that defies age and era. Need a recommendation of where to start? How ‘bout D&HS’s new album, Screamer? It’s everything true rock n’ roll music should be– real, live, and bleeding. You can expect a mix of old and new from the band when they join Drivin-N-Cryin at the Hargray Capitol Theatre on December 29– but you can bet on possibly the last great rock n’ roll show of 2018!
AI: I thought the SoLow album was amazing (it made my Top 5 of 2017, for what that’s worth)– but you released that sans Homemade Sin. What was behind that decision?
DB: Well, thanks. Two factors at play… I’ve wondered what it would sound like if I did go and make one by myself, at least until we get to drums– which I really can’t do. And background voices– which I like another voice. Two of me singing is kinda grating. It didn’t cost anything as I had a recording rig in the basement and some songs that for one reason or another didn’t work well with Homemade Sin and a couple of new ones. Plus I wanted to be the solo guitarist. I mean, Warner’s gonna play circles around me and if he’s involved, I don’t get to be “the guy”.
I enjoy playing bass, I could put too much fake B3 on, too many acoustics and see how much trouble I could get in. Lots! Very fun to do.
And then you and Homemade Sin released Rollercoaster directly after SoLow… I hear that album, and it’s as mean and angsty as anything a garage band full of twenty-somethings has written this century. How do you stay rock n’ roll in a world that clearly wants to bend towards pop music?
Thanks again. Actually, it’s pretty easy for me. I just try to play what my body likes, bring the mind in when I have to– but body/spirit intelligence is way smarter than the brain. I value intuition and physical truth above anything else. You KNOW when you’re really there, first-person, and everything else is second place. If I get stuck, I’ll ask the brain to help, but I prefer the trance when I write. That said, the brain is nice to be Mr. Editor, Mr. Finish-the-last-verse-asshat, Mr. Did-you-steal-that lock-stock-and-barrel-from-Nick-Lowe? I love pop music, I can’t make it. When I say “pop”, I’m talking ABBA, The Monkees, BeeGees. I love that stuff. I turned off my radio in 1996, so pop music is frozen in time for me. I’ve always, always been attracted to playing music with some ass in it. I think the last band to hit me where I live was The Replacements, so that was mid-80’s. Paul’s [Westerberg] got a wonderful sense of drive, melody, that angst, and it was just his version of mashing everything he liked and could do into music. Which is what I still try to do. Hard to find that in new music and have me understand it at the same time.
You gave us all a pretty good scare when you revealed your diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia last year. I’m sure you’re tired of answering the, “How’re you feelin’” questions– but how are you feelin’? And what were you binge-watching during your recovery?
Well, I look and feel pretty damn good for a dead guy. I’ve been in remission since January. It’s holding so far. That’s the best a cancer survivor can actually hope for. Might come back, who knows? But once you’ve had it you’re more likely to have it pop back up again. Right now, it’s in a locked cage in the corner with a blanket over it, and I do hope it stays there. FOOTBALL! I was in treatment September through January. If I had to be laid up, no better time for me. I also wrote a lot of songs. Wasn’t too sick 10-11 days in my every 2-week chemo cycle. Most of Screamer was written then.
Legend has it that you never, ever use a setlist. How do you balance a live show with new material and fan favorites? Or do you?
I saw NRBQ do the “no setlist” thing in ‘80 or ‘81. Admired it so much, so when I got a band good enough to “just f’n go!” I gave it a shot. Now, if I do have less than 90 [minutes], and we’re trying to make a statement, like at a festival, I’ll have a list, but it ain’t the same. Safe sex. Opening for DnC, I’m not gonna use one. Tear it up for an hour, try and remember the huggy kissy song. If I do a new song, I like to follow it up with an older song, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. I’ve been telling audiences lately that I know most of them came to hear old familiar songs, and we want to play nothing but new ones, so let’s meet in the middle. When I’m picking tunes well, it can get an alchemy going that’s pretty easy to convey to the audience.
Within a show, you mix it up with songs you’ve recorded solo, with various bands, and some choice covers. What’s the weirdest segue or combination of songs you’ve ever performed live?
Oh man, I can’t judge that! When we play “Dang Me” by Roger Miller, it always lights up the band and crowd, so whatever comes before and after have a way different feeling to them. I try real hard to keep Warner, Mauro and Sean a little off-kilter, so they might find something new to play inside the song I just called out, even though they played it last night or last week. It’s really fun to pull out some tunes once a month, listen to us remember it and go after it hard.
About 13 years ago, I busted an eardrum at an Olympic Ass-Kickin’ show. I was terrified of seeing the Yayhoos live because ya’ll were known for being… Well, LOUD! Having said that, what are the odds of a Yayhoos show coming back around for some live dates? Or maybe an album?
Better than they were. Yayhoos are gonna play a bar we opened in North Carolina 20 years ago this spring. Just sounded like fun. No other plans right now. Sorry ‘bout your ears!
If there’s a story, I haven’t heard it– but is there tale behind that top hat? And do you use it for any kind of storage?
Ok, my wife bought it for me for Christmas 4-5 years ago, and I realized it was a good idea to wear it in the Bluefields while playing bass. I CAN play bass, but it takes every ounce of concentration to do so. I really can’t even move much while I’m doing it. So the hat became my persona. I then realized it was a really good looking headband. I could go on stage with that hat, old boots, jeans, and a t-shirt and look ok. I pack it in the suitcase filled with socks, so it doesn’t get crushed.
What’s the strangest billing you’ve ever shared with another artist or band? Did it work?
Sats days. David Bowie (Glass Spider tour), Duran Duran, the Satellites opening. It did work on two of the three dates.
You just released Screamer (which will make my 2018 Top 5 in this issue)– and that’s what it is, a rock n’ roller that exceeds expectations. Did you have any reservations about making a new album and jumping back on the road?
Making the record, no, I was so ready for that. End of February the chemo fog lifted, so when the end of March hit, I was chompin’ at the bit to start making these songs go to work. It was the first time I was really playing with Sean. Both a little nervous but made it through fine. Warner and Mauro took Joe Blanton, our buddy and producer, out as vocalist/guitarist for Homemade Sin (I wouldn’t have given my blessing to it with anyone else). Our old bassist, Micke Björk, HAD to bail. Family stuff, and it was real, so we had to get a new guy. Made a bunch of calls, nope. Then I asked Brad Pemberton (Bluefields drummer) who he thought would fit. Sean Savacool was his answer. He said yes, and got thrown in the fire with Joe to fulfill our shows while I recovered. Warner and Mauro loved him. Touring, I was a little worried at first. I was rusty as hell. Nine months off. Second week I was fine. Took a little while to get hand strength back. You just don’t play the same way at home. We called it “getting back in football shape.” Practice just ain’t the same.
If you could go back in time and see one live performance from any other artist or era– who would it be?
Otis Redding. I could care less what show.
Other than Homemade Sin, what projects are you involved with going into 2019? Any producer roles? Films? Any new artists getting the “Dan Baird Stamp of Approval?”
Well, I’m playing on a new Chris Knight record in December right before Christmas. Producing isn’t gonna happen much anymore. For the price of a producer, you can buy your own recording rig and DIY, and figure it out. Studio time price was the driving force behind hiring a producer. You couldn’t afford to waste it. You can waste all the time you want in your basement. I know. There’s some great s–t coming out of Nashville these days. Aaron Lee Tasjan & Jon Latham come to mind. There’s a whole cool scene working there. Guys in their 20’s and 30’s doing solid work. Makes me hopeful.