The Sinful Hat is ready to tour: Dan Baird, Micke Nilsson, Mauro Magellan and Warner E. Hodges.
The Sinful Hat is ready to tour: Dan Baird, Micke Nilsson, Mauro Magellan and Warner E. Hodges.
Photo by Trudi Knight/Bandsonstage

The Wages of Sin Pay Dan Baird Pretty Well

Looking at Dan Baird’s Wikipedia page, the singer/songwriter/guitarist is listed as sonically trading in the genres of “Americana, Alternative country, Country Rock, Cowpunk, Roots rock, and Southern rock.”

In addition to his solo work, including the incredible 1991 Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired, his discography also lists Baird's work as part of a variety of groups, some one-off. There’s the Harshed Mellows, the Yayhoos, the Sofa Kings, the Bluefields, the Mystic Knights of the Sea, and, at the very beginning, a little ’80s outfit known as the Georgia Satellites. His current (and longest-lasting) backing group is Homemade Sin.

So it’s not surprising that the prolific Baird is dropping two records at nearly the same time – the raucous Rollercoaster (as Dan Baird and Homemade Sin), and a more introspective solo effort, SoLow.

The current edition of Homemade Sin includes Warner E. Hodges from Jason and the Scorchers on guitar, original Georgia Satellites drummer Mauro Magellan on drums, and new recruit Micke Nilsson on bass.

“The smartest thing I did was to make Warner the producer for Rollercoaster," Baird says. "If you’ve ever worked with me, you know when I come into a room and hear something, I’m gonna pipe up and say something. But I tried to relinquish as much control on this one as humanly possible. And the sound is back a bit to the rock and roll. But I also like the singer-songwriter stuff. I’m basically trying to rip off Tom Petty!”

For SoLow, Baird simply had so many songs left over from the previous Homemade Sin record (Get Loud) that he didn’t want them to go to waste. The one track that might get the most attention is “Look Away,” in which Baird addresses what Drive-By Trucker leader Patterson Hood has called “The Duality of the Southern Thing.” Its lyrics include lines like “Look away, my sweet Dixieland/You’re so afraid of what you don’t understand” and “I've seen the wheel turning hey now/Well it’s about damn time/Let the past go spin in its grave/Can’t ya hear the church bells chime?”

“Joe Blanton and I wrote that song and it’s always…the enigma of the South. I love the South. But I bash my head against the wall for people who cling to a dead past. People that dig in and won’t change bother me,” Baird offers.

“I will die a Southerner. But there are times when I want to just grab people and shake them and wake them up," he adds. "And I blurt it out pretty clearly in this song. I wanted to do big oil paintings in each verse. I wasn’t going to get specific and, say, mention [segregationist late ’60s Georgia governor] Lester Maddox. I wanted to pull the focus back on the big picture.”

That subject aside, there’s plenty of good-time, rave-up music on both records. And Baird feels that the current band is firing on all cylinders, both musically and how they mesh onstage.

“If you’ve got a band that acts like a single organism to each other and to outside, that’s great. And nobody ever stops listening to each other. Like when we do ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself,’ we can do it [straightforward], or we can go off-schedule.”

Speaking of “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” that 1986 Georgia Satellites tune is Baird’s best-known composition by far, a perfectly fitted tale of a frustrated man’s unrequited lust with the title admonition coming from his girlfriend ("she said ‘no hug-ee no kiss-ee until you make me your wife!'”), along with metaphors about free milk and a cow thrown in for good measure.

It hit No. 2 on the charts in February 1987, held off only by Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer,” and its accompanying video had heavy MTV rotation.

The tune has taken on even greater pop-culture significance, as in a 2013 Buick commercial in which a father plays it as a not-so-subtle message to his daughter’s teen boyfriend as he chauffeurs the young couple to a school dance. Baird, though, says he was slow to realize its significance.

“People were saying, ‘It’s a classic!’ and I said, ‘It’s a good barroom tune.’ Then, after 20 years, I figured ‘Okay, it’s a classic, it’s lasted a generation.’ Then after 30 years I went, ‘Now it’s a standard!’” Baird says. “But I was the last guy to figure that out! I don’t know why anybody else didn’t write it, and I don’t know why I wrote it, but I wish the good Lord would gift me with another one! That song came out of nowhere.”

The debut Georgia Satellites album produced one other single (“Battleship Chains”), and still has its fans. Recently, England’s Classic Rock magazine ranked it No. 54 on the list of “100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s” beating out efforts by the Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac, the Cure, the Police and even…Tom Petty.

When told this, Baird laughs, and recalls a 2004 interview that Bob Dylan did with Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes. When Bradley excitedly mentioned that “Like a Rolling Stone” was ranked the No. 1 song on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, Dylan simply looked up at the journalist and said flatly, “Yeah. This week.”

“If you’re not taking lessons from that guy, you’re not very bright!” Baird laughs. “That was a teaching moment right there!”

Finally, for Baird and Homemade Sin’s upcoming tour, he will undoubtedly be sporting some sort of top hat, which has become over the years a kind of visual trademark. Though its wearer says the origins of that chapeau are far more utilitarian.

“A good hat stays on your head and, and when you get hot and sweaty, it doesn’t lose its rigidity and become floppy. A hat is really the world’s greatest headband! So I don’t have to fight my hair all night, and it stays out of my face,” he laughs.

“I have hair that grows forward, so I look like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family," continues Baird. "But I’m grateful to even have my hair! Though I do dye it. I had this skunk stripe and it wasn’t gray and it wasn’t white; it just looked like…raw sewage. It just didn’t look good!”

Dan Baird and Homemade Sin, with special guests Snit's Dog and Pony Show and Ragged Hearts, perform Friday, March 31, at Fitzgerald’s, 2706 White Oak. $10-$15.  For more on Baird, visit danbairdandhomemadesin.net.

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