In 1972 a group of Atlanta-area studio musicians formed the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The band provided a different twist to the growing phenomenon of southern rock. The brainchild of songwriter-producer Buddy Buie—a former member of Roy Orbison’s Candymen and the pop band Classics IV—the Atlanta Rhythm Section was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1996. ARS, as they were known to their fans, consisted of guitarist J. R. Cobb, guitarist Barry Bailey, bassist Paul Goddard, keyboardist Dean Daughtry, and drummer Robert Nix. Their 1972 self-titled album featured Rodney Justo on lead vocals, but Ronnie Hammond took over vocals on the second album, Back Up against the Wall (1973), and became one of the band’s most recognizable figures.
ARS started playing together in Doraville at Studio One, a recording studio started by Buie in collaboration with Atlanta music publisher Bill Lowery. They recorded several albums in the early seventies but met with meager success until their sixth album, A Rock and Roll Alternative (1976), went gold in 1977 on the strength of the top ten song “So into You.” A year later their next album, Champagne Jam (1978), went platinum with hit songs like “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight,” “Imaginary Lover,” and the title song.
By this time virtually every major record label had a southern rock band in their stable. Polydor had the Atlanta Rhythm Section, MCA had Lynyrd Skynyrd, Epic signed the Charlie Daniels Band, and the first company to promote southern rock, Capricorn, was still enjoying the success of the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. ARS was cast into this category, but their style was not of the same mold.
Other southern rock bands, like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, centered on a driving, blues-based guitar sound, but ARS smoothed the edges of southern rock to offer subtler, pop-oriented tunes. The long-haired musicians portrayed themselves as “good ole boys,” and their songs were lyrically similar to those of other southern rock acts. ARS too sang of the travails of” living out of a suitcase” (“Georgia Rhythm”) and unattainable love (“So into You”), but musically they had a sophistication that many others lacked. In live shows they turned up the guitars, but in the studio they dismissed long improvisational guitar solos for cleverly crafted songs.
Though Buie was largely responsible for this sound, the other band members were seasoned session players with a feel for song craft. Dean Daughtry, Robert Nix, and J. R. Cobb had spent time with Buie in the Candymen and Classics IV, so their previous experience involved more than weekend jams in the garage. The band was a collaborative effort: although Buie was the lead songwriter, every member contributed several numbers.
Despite their uniqueness and talent, ARS suffered along with other southern rock bands when the genre fell out of favor with record buyers. They continued playing through the 1980s and 1990s, but after the song “Alien” found its way into Billboard’s Top 40 in 1981, they would never reach the charts again. An altered line-up still plays occasional festival shows.