Sunday, August 9, 2009

Champagne and Southern Rock

In 1970, an engineer from the city of Atlanta chose to build a recording studio in Doraville, a small town just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. Rodney Mills, with the encouragement of music publisher Bill Lowery, producer.songwriter manager Buddy Buie and songwriter/guitarist J.R. Cobb built one of the most preeminent studios in the Atlanta area. Dubbed Studio One, it became the popular recording home of such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe South, B.J. Thomas and Billy Joe Royal among others.

One of the reasons why many popular songs sound differently on the albums than they do when the artist played live, was because the studios used session musicians or "house bands" to add to the over all sound. Studio One acquired their house band from members of two groups. Singer Rodney Justo, keyboardist Dean Daughtry and drummer Robert Nix had played with Buddy Buie in a group called the Candymen who were a back-up group for Roy Orbison. Buie, Cobb and Daughtry had also been members of the Classic IV who were noted in the 60's for such songs as "Spooky", "Stormy" and "Traces". These men were joined by talented local session guitarist Barry Bailey and bassist Paul Goddard. As the nameless house band at Studio One, they played with some of the best that southern rock had to offer.

In 1971 Buddy Buie decided that they sounded good enough to be something besides just a house band and they decided to try to make an album on their own. Buddy wrote for and managed the group now called the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Their first album, which was produced at Studio One and released in 1972, didn't generate any hits for them, but it did create a good deal of critical interest for the quality of the songs and the musicianship. However the music biz just wasn't ready to welcome a group of talented musician since they hadn't paid their dues by spending years on the road playing at State Fairs, honky tonks and other dives. Apparently the quality of song and musicianship is enhanced by stale smoke and rancid beer according to the industry powers that be. In 1972 singer Rodney Justo called it quits and was replaced by the engineer's assistant who could play numerous instruments and had a great singing voice. His name was Rodney Hammond,

After the release of their second album they had begun to build a following as one of Atlanta's premier live shows. Their third album contained a song called "Doraville" that charted in the top 40 on the regional charts but although they'd built a good local following they still hadn't really gained any national notice. In 1976 under record company pressure to release an album with chart topping songs on it plus do it in 45 days they recorded "A Rock and Roll Alternative" in 30 days which finally brought them to national notice for the song "So Into You". Thus saving their recording contract and giving them a chance to build on an increase in popularity.

Their next album "Champagne Jam" finally gave them the critical support and popular acclaim they'd been working so hard to achieve. It was the song "Imaginary Lover" that took them into the top 10 and took their album to Platinum. Unfortunately changes in the music industry and the death of southern rock also ended their rise in popularity. They continued to perform and release albums until 1987, but none of the singles or albums ever again charted as high as did "Imaginary Lover". Never has a band worked as hard as ARS did for as little reward.

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