The Georgia Satellites – Rick Richards interview (from the album Ultimate Georgia Satellites available on Cherry Red Records)
RICK RICHARDS INTERVIEW — MARCH 2021 (by Dave Steinfeld)
‘First and foremost, we were a bar band: nothing more, nothing less’. So says Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites in the liner notes of the band’s new box set. Ultimate Georgia Satellites (released March 2021 by Cherry Red Records) includes three discs — one for each of the band’s studio albums — along with assorted bonus tracks that range from several previously unreleased live and studio tunes to their cover of “Hippy Hippy Shake”, which appeared in the 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail and provided the band with a minor hit.
Singer/songwriter Dan Baird, lead guitarist Richards, bassist Rick Price, and drummer Mauro Magellan were all veterans of the Atlanta music scene of the early 1980s before they came together as the Georgia Satellites. At a time when most popular bands were experimenting with synthesizers and strange haircuts (A Flock of Seagulls, anyone?), the Satellites were, in fact, an all-American bar band. The bar in question was an Atlanta watering hole called (Between the) Hedges, which Magellan describes as ‘a dive bar packed with people and sin’. After God knows how many gigs and a couple of false starts, the band got signed to Elektra Records and their first, self-titled album became a surprise hit in 1986. The classic opening track, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” went all the way to number two on the Billboard charts (kept out of the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” of all things!). Other highlights of their debut ranged from the second single, “Battleship Chains”, to “Can’t Stand the Pain” (with Richards on lead vocals) to a rocking cover of Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story”, which closes the album. All told, Georgia Satellites is 10 songs of no-nonsense, high-octane, Chuck Berry influenced rock and roll.
The band’s sophomore set, Open All Night, arrived the following year and, like their debut, was produced by Jeff Glixman. Open All Night wasn’t a bad album by any means, but it showed the Satellites to be in something of a holding pattern, and it was mostly ignored by the same people who had devoured their debut. In the box set liner notes, Baird writes, ‘this is my most difficult to love record of the three… I know I suffered from head-up-rectum syndrome at that time’.
After licking their wounds, the Satellites finally returned in late 1989 to close out the decade — and their career — with their long awaited third effort, In the Land of Salvation and Sin. In stark contrast to Open All Night, this album demonstrated a lot of growth. It is, in fact, the band’s masterpiece: 14 songs that saw them experimenting with a variety of styles while never losing sight of their bar band roots. The two songs that bookend the album — “I Dunno” and “Dan Takes Five” are top-notch, autobiographical rockers. But in between, the Satellites take some unexpected detours. “All Over but the Cryin’” is an eerie, midtempo tune worthy of The Rolling Stones. “Slaughterhouse” is a pulverizing rocker with Richards on lead vocals. “Shake That Thing” is more traditional Blues Rock (purportedly a tribute to Lowell George). “Sweet Blue Midnight” and the single “Another Chance” are lovely ballads. That more people didn’t hear this record is criminal. But they didn’t. Between that and the usual internal differences, The Georgia Satellites called it a day as the ‘90s dawned.
All four members of the band have stayed busy over the years. Richards and Price have played together, as have Baird and Magellan. Baird had a minor hit in the early ‘90s with the witty “I Love You Period” and continues to release music. Richards has played with Izzy Stradlin, among others. Magellan is also an accomplished visual artist. Commercially, of course, that first album remains their pinnacle. But listening to Ultimate Georgia Satellites, one is left with the feeling that there was so much more to them than that. As the writer Thom Jurek said, ‘If ever a band was miscast as class clowns, it was these guys’.
I had a chance to talk with Rick Richards on the eve of the box set’s release, which was a pleasure.
Dave Steinfeld (DS): First, I wanna ask you about the news box set — which is Georgia Satellites Ultimate on Cherry Red. Tell me a little bit about why now and how much you guys had with the making of the box.
Rick Richards (RR): Okay. I don’t know why now (laughs). And I didn’t have much to do with it. I gave a blurb, you know. I was kind of out of the loop about the release. But I’m really happy with the way it turned out and [they] did a wonderful job.
DS: Will there be any promotion for this with the actual band?
RR: No. I’m sorry, but I think that ship done sailed! (laughter) That’s really not an option at this point. It would entail a lot of footwork and a lot of bridge-unburning, so to speak. I mean, I’m not averse to it at all — but it’s not gonna happen.
DS: One thing I hadn’t known is that the Satellites had done an EP back in the day — you and Dan [and] a different rhythm section, which I guess took off in the UK.
RR: That’s correct.
DS: Had you guys actually broken up before “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” became a hit and then re-grouped with Mauro and Rick Price?
RR: Yes. We were a house band at this bar in Atlanta. It got to the point where it was being kinda redundant; every Monday night, it was the same thing. Actually, when Brendan was in the band — Brendan O’Brien is still a producer of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam — you know Brendan.
RR: And so Brendan and I had this [band] with another guy here in Atlanta from the band The Producers. We were cuttin’ demos. And to my recollection — this could be hazy — but at that point, Dan decided that if we weren’t gonna be totally committed to the Satellites, there was no use carrying on. Okay, fair enough.
So, we sat around for [awhile] and then I was at a bookstore in Atlanta and I saw Melody Maker. And there was an article about our EP, which had just come out over there. Our road manager, who was British, took some demo tapes over to England, and we got a deal with this independent label called Making Waves. At that point, I was picking up Melody Maker — and NME as well — and there was this rave review about the EP! So, you know, we got back together and said ‘Look, man, there’s something going on here’. We continued. And everything kinda fell in line. Back over here, we secured some management and got some label interest. And it just kinda took off from there.
DS: It’s interesting to me how much American music continues to be popular in England.
RR: God, I hope so! It’s the last bastion of fans that will stay with you the whole time. Because they’re rockers.
DS: A couple of minutes ago, you mentioned a band called The Producers. Is this the band I’m thinking of that was sort of an early 80s, Beatle-y band?
RR: Yeah! They were local. At the time, the bass player Kyle [Henderson] —
DS: I know Kyle! That’s why I asked.
RR: Oh, he’s a great dude. Kyle had split; he wanted to do a solo thing. So, Brendan and I and actually Mauro did some demos for him, for a guy named Andrew Slater. [He] went on to be president of Sony or something. He just did the Laurel Canyon movie, he produced some of the Warren Zevon stuff. We were really tight.
DS: Wow. It’s a small world. Reading the [notes in] the box set, it seems like you and Dan both felt that the third album, In the Land of Salvation and Sin, was your best. [But] as good as it was, that was the last album. You guys called it quits not long after that, if I remember. But it showed a lot of growth — particularly from Open All Night.
RR: Yes, it did. Actually, there was one review — I think in Musician — that really slammed it. And you know, a couple of the guys took it to heart. I don’t know if that was a factor in the band breaking up. I think it was just time for Dan to move on; he wanted to do his own thing. That record was a bit of a growth period for us. To me, it was the starting point of doing something really cool and nailing down a style. Not to disparage it, but “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” — I think this was a bit of a [step forward] from that era and I thought perhaps we were on the right track. Little did I know! We were heading for disaster.
DS: The Satellites covered [Ringo Starr’s] “Don’t Pass Me By” [on Open All Night]. People cover The Beatles all the time, but never that song! What prompted that?
RR: One night, I just started doin’ that riff — you know, the old ronka-ronka riff. Dan looked at me and I said ‘just trust me on this one!’ And I started doing “Don’t Pass Me By.” I don’t know why, to tell you the truth. I guess I’d been listening to The White Album. And I thought, ‘Well, this is kind of a country song and we’re bastardizing country songs. So, let’s bastardize this riff!’ So, we did.
DS: I know a little about Dan’s solo career. But tell me a bit about what you’ve been up to in the intervening years and maybe Rick Price and Mauro. I know that you played with Izzy Stradlin for a while.
RR: Well, Rick [Price] and I carried on the name The Satellites. We did a few years just on the marquee value of the name. Only because it was financially feasible. But still, it was carrying on the tradition of the bar band scenario. They still dug it, so [that] was great. And the Izzy thing — I did a bunch of records with him. A few with Geffen and then some independent stuff. So yeah, I worked with him for many years!
DS: And what are you up to these days?
RR: I’m sittin’ on the veranda, having’ an Irish Coffee, talkin’ to you, man! (laughter) It’s been such a fucked up year. I was out on the road one year ago. My last gig was in Endmondton, Alberta. It was 28 below, right? So, I’m going, ‘Is [this] worth it’, you know? But now I would give a million dollars to be back up there! You don’t miss your water ’til the well runs dry.
DS: Yeah, it’s been a bizarre year.
RR: Where are you?
DS: I’m actually in New York City. We got hit — as you know — really hard, really early. I’ve never had a year where I’ve spent so much time in my own ‘hood.
RR: What part of town are you in?
DS: I’m on the Upper East Side… Since the pandemic began, I’ve probably been downtown a total of half a dozen times in the last year.
RR: Yeah, that’s not good. It reminds me of the Warren Zevon song, “Splendid Isolation.” ‘I wanna live on the Upper East Side and never go down in the streets!’
DS: (laughter) I forgot about that line!
RR: It’s a perfect song, man!
DS: It is! When I was growing up, he was one of my favorite artists. And he was also one of the first people I interviewed when I started writing.
RR: No kidding!
DS: Yeah, I hadn’t been doing it very long. You know — I was really green and it was me and Zevon at a New York venue before his show. I was terrified!
RR: Yeah, right! I played on [the album] Sentimental Hygiene, actually. I had a cut on there.
DS: No kidding!
RR: Yeah, here’s the deal on that. I was friends with [Andrew] Slater. He goes, ‘Rick, I got this song’. He played it to me over the phone. I said, ‘Okay!’ So I go down there and it’s “Even A Dog Can Shake Hands.” I play on it and I [think], “Okay, cool’. So, I’m on the road, the record comes out, I get it — and the first thing I do is look at the credits, right? And I’m going ‘Hmmm… Waddy Wachtel’. My name’s not on there. The Indian restaurant delivery guy got a mention and I don’t! So, I track Slater down [and say] ‘Hey man, what up?’ He goes, ‘Well, the next five thousand copies, your name will be on it. It was a mistake’. Yeah, right. They erased most of my playing. I had two licks in the whole song because Waddy went in and re-cut it. But just being able to be in that rarified air of the Zevon thing was very cool… He was a fucking great songwriter.
DS: Oh yeah. I remember when I talked to him, I think the album that had just come out was the one before the last; it was called My Ride’s Here.
RR: That’s a great album.
DS: Yeah. I think on the cover, he’s in a hearse and a couple of the songs had to do with death. I remember asking him about that during the interview and he was a little vague. He just said, ‘Well, I think death is a good subject for any songwriter to make friends with’. And like a month later, he [was] diagnosed with lung cancer. I always thought that he knew but wasn’t ready to say anything yet.
RR: Especially during the album Life’ll Kill Ya. There’s about four or five songs about death that one. “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” you know? “Don’t Let Us Get Sick.” So, it was [like] a premonition.
DS: Yeah, it was almost like a trilogy, those last [three Zevon albums]. Rick, is there anything else you’d like me to cover?
RR: No, man. If you have anything else, let me know. It’s a pleasure speaking to you.
RR: I love to talk to someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about! (laughter)
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