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The Satellites rock again

Baird, Richards and friends are back in orbit, recalling their launch-pad period


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Although it seems unlikely now, Buckhead back then was once a relatively sedate neighborhood. The Satellites played a raucous death march to the very end of that era while bigger businesses moved in and the nightlife slowly began to flourish. In the band's heyday, however, what few bars existed in Buckhead were decidedly non-descript blue-collar watering holes.

"Back in the old days, people used to park in the Sears parking lot," Baird says. "Man, those days are long gone. Hell, Sears is gone. Metro Music is gone. The things that made Buckhead Buckhead back then, well, they've just changed. That's the price of growth."

While Buckhead's current bar scene is larger and more unruly than ever, it functions as more of a pick-up scene than a place to catch up-and-coming local bands. Or any bands at all that play original music. That's why, when Michaelson put together the current Keith and the Satellites shows -- one the group envisions as a Hedgens reunion -- he had to look to the other end of the city for a hospitable venue.

"When David told me we were playing these shows in East Atlanta, I said, 'Why not in Buckhead?'" Baird says. "Then I realized there's no place to hold it in Buckhead."

By April of '81, the Satellites were regular performers at Hedgens, a modest storefront club located at what is now a pricey Roswell Road site about a block past the Roxy (the site of the old Capri Theater). Just as Roswell Road connected the suburbs to the city, the Satellites bridged the gap between the art and rock scenes. As such, their high-octane racket grabbed the attention of a variety of fans. "We caught people's idea that, 'Hey, these guys don't care, they just wanna rock,'" says Baird.

Andy Browne, who later played in Atlanta group the Nightporters, says, "I remember a lot of bands back then had bad new-wave haircuts, too much lipstick and cheesy synths. The Satellites had real energy and passion. I was just starting to play guitar at the time. I'd sneak into Hedgens when I was 15 or 16, then go home and try to copy what I saw them do."

Joni Strandquest, of early- '80s Athens band Coup D'tat, was a regular visitor to both Hedgens and 688. "Hedgens was a lot less pretentious than 688. It was less of a scene," she recalls. "And Buckhead in general was fun back then. It wasn't the yuppie and pick-up hang-out that it is now."

Baird describes the club in more earthy terms: "Your feet stuck to the carpet in Hedgens. If you stood still for five minutes, you got that Velcro feeling. It was nasty and fun. Nice girls had to be drunk to go there. Basically, it was like a clubhouse with a rock band in it."

A typical Keith and the Satellites show was a haphazard collision of brilliance and bombast. Obscure cover tunes were often reworked and wrenched into spirals of white noise and spit. "The whole thing was a mess," Baird says. "Periodically, goodness came and sat on our shoulders, and we were a good band. Sometimes we existed in a state of grace, but then it was right back to the mess."

After a successful two years in its original form, the Satellites endured a whirlwind of personnel changes -- including a stint with superstar producer Brendan O' Brien on bass -- and began touring regionally. By mid-'83, Christopher and Michaelson were gone, and the band, having already dropped the "Keith and the" prefix, was ready for the next step.

"When ya start putting the Georgia in front of Satellites," says Baird, "that's when it becomes a whole different thing. We were just a bar band to begin with. We went and reached for that brass ring, and we got all the good things and bad things that went with it."

Baird and Richards' adventures continued as the band got signed to major label Elektra in the mid-'80s and scored a worldwide hit with "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" -- a tune that originated back in the Keith and the Satellites era.

The adoration and MTV airplay was relatively short-lived, though. Their subsequent albums weren't as successful, and by the end of the '80s, Baird says he "fired himself" from the band. With the Satellites on the backburner, the '90s saw Baird release two solo albums while Richards joined Izzy Stradlin's Ju Ju Hounds. By the mid-'90s, Richards began fronting a new version of the Georgia Satellites, while Christopher became a journeyman session player and Michaelson continued to play locally as a member of the Blue Velvets.


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