Troubled Orbit

The Satellite's booster rockets kick in just in time

When the Fabulous Satellite Lounge hosts Aztex in a no-cover June 15 bash to celebrate a decade on Washington Avenue, they're going to mean it. The last 12 months have been some of the toughest in the club's history.

Satellite founder Dickie Malone says the club's troubles are external. It all started with the Great Flood of '01, he says. "Now people stay home if it rains," Malone says. "They're scared, and the TV weathermen make every little shower seem like the Apocalypse."

Add to that the downturn in the economy, a post-September 11 malaise, and the Continental Club's nibbling at the fringes of the Satellite's audience, and Malone's external theory seems pretty solid.

But former Satellite manager David Beebe, who now holds a similar position at the Continental, has another theory. Beebe believes that Malone has brought many of the club's troubles on himself. First off, the Satellite's monthly schedules have grown too conservative, he says.

"They made the decision that they wouldn't lose money on any show ever," Beebe says. "That makes sense in the short run, but not in the long run."

Beebe also believes that Malone erred in ending the club's unofficial midweek band-development night. Beebe concedes that these rep- building gigs don't make much, if any, immediate money. The payoff comes months later. "That's where you pick up the word of mouth," he says. "You get a good cross-section of people who go out a lot. Bartenders at other bars, they come to nights like this and then people ask them what to do or where to go, and they tell 'em. It worked for Jug O' Lightnin's Sunday nights at Rudz, or our El Orbits bingo night or whatever. You lose a little money, but those nights do a lot for you."

Neither, says Beebe, is the Satellite attentive to the cash-strapped among us. "They did away with all the drink specials the minute I left," Beebe says. "You've gotta have something for the people who have no money to get them in and spend what they got."

"I don't do drink specials," Malone admits. "But I don't have high drink prices. Anyway, people don't come here to get 50 cents off a beer. They come to hear the band. I live and die by the bands that I book, and they are bands that have been popular here for a long time. Bob Schneider has been playing here for eight years. He used to play here to 20 people with the Ugly Americans."

Ah, yes, Mr. Schneider. Lately, clubbers might be forgiven for tripping on the bar's bulky name -- it's seemed less like the Fabulous Satellite Lounge than the Continuous Schneiderite Lounge. The multifaceted Austinite has played the Satellite six times in the last two months. (Perhaps the recent split between Schneider and Sandra Bullock was brought about by the singer's too-frequent trips to Houston.)

"That's bad for the Satellite's reputation," claims Beebe. "The big joke around town is 'Oh, Bob Schneider's playing tonight -- and every other night they're open.' That's one of those things where it's just being played out until it won't play anymore."

"There's no Schneider shows the rest of June, and there's none in July," counters Malone. "I'll go head-to-head with Schneider against anything he has over there at the Continental. Maybe he's just jealous because he doesn't have Schneider."

Maybe Malone would be interested in another piece of unsolicited advice: Beebe believes his decision to scrap the Satellite's mailing list was also a mistake. Malone says that mailing lists are too expensive and have been made obsolete by e-mail. Beebe disagrees. "Direct marketing is your most effective way to market yourself in this business," he says. "You gotta send out the calendar."

Malone is puzzled and a little amused by the fact that Beebe seems so engrossed in what goes on at his club. Indeed, Beebe first shared his Satellite theories with Racket largely unbidden during an interview that was supposed to focus on his recent brush with death. Beebe reiterated his opinions a couple of weeks ago in another chat.

Is this just a case of a competitor spitting flak? Beebe denies any financial interest in seeing the Satellite drop out of orbit. In fact, he denies that the Continental and the Satellite are even direct competitors, which Racket thinks is a somewhat dubious claim. "I love the club," he says, more believably. "For everybody's betterment, they need to stay open. It's really important that they don't close."

In Malone's defense, the bookings are getting more intriguing. Yes, staples like Soulhat and Patrice Pike will pop up a few more times over the summer, but Martin Sexton and Nashville legends Jason and the Scorchers will also appear. Later this month, New Orleans funksters Papa Grows Funk and L.A. raunch rockers Nashville Pussy are on the slate. The worst appears to be over.

And maybe if we can get Ed Brandon and Dr. Neil Frank to stop telling us the sky is falling, the Satellite can fly for another ten years.

Warning: The following segment of Racket is graphic in nature! Younger and more sensitive readers should skip ahead to Scuttlebutt Caboose.

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