When you grow up in Montgomery, Alabama the name “Atlanta” has a certain magical charm to it. The city’s towers of steel and glass rose on the horizon of our imaginations like Oz’s Emerald City, full of wonder and delight. I was still young enough to cling to this romanticized vision of Atlanta when I first heard the songs “Angel” and “Doraville” on the radio in the mid-seventies. They were recorded by a band named Atlanta Rhythm Section, which I thought was the coolest name for a band ever. I was pre-disposed to love anything they did based solely on the assumption that a band with a cool name from an enchanted city surely must possess magical powers.
Turns out Atlanta Rhythm Section truly was a talented band that produced good music. Although they never enjoyed the mass appeal of some of their Southern counterparts, they did enjoy modest success for a while and released a steady string of catchy singles. ARS’s distinctive sound is defined by the dual-guitar-and-piano format with Dean Daughtry on the keys, Barry Bailey on lead guitar and J.R. Cobb strumming the chords. The foundation is laid by Robert Nix on the drums and the instantly recognizable rock legend Paul Goddard on bass. The icing on top of this musical cake is the smooth and sultry yet distinctively Southern voice of lead singer Ronnie Hammond.
On March 1, 1977 I saw Atlanta Rhythm Section perform live at the Montgomery Civic Center. It was my first large scale rock concert and it set the bar for every concert I attended thereafter. ARS had just released A Rock and Roll Alternative, which includes the band’s biggest hit, “So Into You,” as well as this barn-burning cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Outside Woman Blues.” Thanks in part to Barry Bailey’s nifty guitar solos, the aforementioned “Angel” was one of the highlights of the Montgomery concert, as it was at most ARS concerts, evidenced by this performance of “Angel” from their live album Are You Ready! Any questions about the legitimacy of Paul Goddard’s legendary status should be squashed by what happens about midway through this live jam of “Another Man’s Woman.” From the cleverly titled Third Annual Pipe Dream album comes this recording of “Doraville,” the band’s homage to their hometown in the Atlanta suburbs.
For tonight’s featured video, I chose a live performance of “So Into You” from the British television show Old Grey Whistle Test. As an added bonus, here is an interesting video in which ARS’s “Champagne Jam” is played over a photo montage of Atlanta in the 1970s. It is questionable whether Atlanta truly is enchanted the way I fancied in my youth, but it is certain that the Atlanta Rhythm Section does the city proud.