The A.R.S. has always held a special place in the world of Southern rock. No doubt because this group has often flirted with pop music, thus succeeding in placing a few hits brilliantly in the American hit parades.

Most Southern rock fanatics usually cite the great original creators who drew on the blues (Allman Brothers Band) or English music (Lynyrd Skynyrd). Or formations with country accents (Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band) or with harder sounds (Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot).

It would seem that the ballads and highly melodic songs offered by the A.R.S. don't really touch the hearts of the majority of Southern rockers. The formation of Doraville would therefore rather be favored by music lovers more sensitive to musical technique and the development of particularly successful compositions.

Moreover, the band members have always been relatively quiet professional musicians. They were not the subject of pithy anecdotes. No ransacked hotel rooms or memorable highs. No fights or stays with the cops. No tragedies either, like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

It must be recognized that in the world of Rock, fame is not only won by the music played but also thanks to a few sensational articles in the tabloid press. And the Atlanta Rhythm Section never made headlines for its outbursts.

Despite all this, we quickly forget what this band was like on stage and the intensity it gave off in concert. Of course, Ronnie Hammond's superb voice didn't rival Ronnie Van Zant or Danny Joe Brown in southern roughness. Guitars didn't melt amps. JR Cobb remained precise in rhythm and inspired in solo. Barry Bailey's Les Paul propelled into the air phrasing bursting with musicality and velvety saturation on the splendid ballads that have become the spearhead of the Georgia combo. Paul Goddard's bass and Robert Nix's drums didn't do a proper ramming but provided effective support for these refined titles. Everything was linked by Dean Daughtry and his discreet but essential electric piano to the very particular style of the band.

On stage, the musicians did not move in all directions and did not adopt advantageous postures. They limit themselves to playing impeccably, trying to restore the initial atmosphere of the songs recorded in the studio. But when it came to swinging rock'n'roll, they knew how to let musical guns do the talking and it rocked in the audience.

Pirate recordings of these anthology performances (not always complete and sometimes inaccurately dated) testify to the talent that inhabited these exceptional musicians.

Of course, there are other sound documents than those mentioned in this article, but the few shows cited prove incontestably that the A.R.S. was not just a machine for ballads and soft songs.

Before continuing, a clarification is in order. First of all, it is not a question here of tracing the history of the A.R.S. Then, the following lines are primarily intended for amateurs and fans of the Doraville combo, the various songs listed not being detailed in their form or in their content. But they may make others want to discover (or rediscover) this band which deserves better recognition.

Born from the meeting of studio professionals at the initiative of producer Buddy Buie, the formation of Georgia had a mixed start. But if the first two records of the Section do not trigger the enthusiasm of the public, the third is noticed with two singles which enter the "charts" ("Doraville" and "Angel"). Buddy Buie then encouraged the band to take advantage of the opportunity by making themselves known on stage, which did not particularly appeal to its members accustomed to the comfort of recording studios. They finally let themselves be convinced and as soon as their fourth album "Dog days" was released, the musicians of Doraville began to tour intensively in the South, Midwest and Northeast of the USA. They often open for Lynyrd Skynyrd which immediately assimilates them to Southern rock (and a lot of their songs can be affiliated with this musical trend).

The first recorded show took place at the Smiling Dog Saloon on August 27, 1975. The summer heat did not prevent the public from investing in this famous Cleveland jazz club to applaud the combo from Georgia, which was therefore defending its latest album ( "Dog days"). The A.R.S. is announced as the best band in the South. Without knowing it, the presenter was perhaps not far from the truth. It is true that with four records to their credit, the musicians have had plenty of time to prove themselves.

Immediately, they start on a very fast version of "Back up against the wall" with a Barry Bailey/JR Cobb phrasing exchange and a very rock solo from Barry. A song that proves that the ARS knows how to harden its music in concert. They continue with "Who you gonna run to" on which Barry releases an incendiary solo. The subtle "Dog days" comes next with its lazy start followed by its edgy finale. On "Angel", Barry Bailey's guitar expresses itself with its own unique style. "Doraville" is rendered as on the record (even the break with the harmonica), as is "Another's man woman" (except Paul Goddard's bass solo which blasts severely).

JR Cobb embellishes "Help Yourself" with a good slide solo and the band ends on "Boogie smoogie" (which starts in sticky blues and continues with an acceleration in shuffle). All the warmth of the South is exhaled from this title.

If anyone still doubted it, this show demonstrates that the A.R.S. is already well launched on the tracks of rock'n'roll. Spectators thus have the chance to see in the club a talented band on the rise (indeed, in August 1975, the little guys from Doraville open for the Who in Jacksonville and the Rolling Stones in West Palm Beach).

And it is not the Houston concert in Texas in the summer of 1976 that will contradict this assertion. Retransmitted on the radio, this performance suffers from a passable sound quality but does not prevent us from realizing the talent and instrumental mastery of the band. The album "Red tape" is released and, of course, some songs from the album are added to the band's repertoire. We can still doubt that the show is complete because it is curiously missing "Back up against the wall". After a classic "Angel", Ronnie Hammond introduces "Jukin'" as the latest single. In the middle of the song, the two guitarists play in harmony the Texan melody "San Antonio rose". After "Dog Days", Ronnie Hammond announces a blues while the musicians tune up. He says it's their last night in Texas, earning quite a round of applause. And it's the bluesy, swinging "Mixed Emotions" with a sharp solo from Barry Bailey. Ronnie presents another single which will soon land in stores and the band plays "Free spirit". Right after an impeccably performed "Doraville", the band had a blast on an excellent version of "Another's man woman", even more punchy and longer than the previous year. The track is close to twenty minutes long and the bass solo has intensified over time. Once again, we see the skill of the A.R.S. to reproduce his titles live with the same overall sound as that of the studio. And also the combo's ability to heat up the audience like a real rock'n'roll band.

The A.R.S. gets off to a good start the following year by hitting the road again. It is rather cold on January 16, 1977 on the side of New York but the atmosphere is warm in the club "My father's place". The place has seen many rock stars and the A.R.S. will show everyone that there is a place for it. Coming to promote the album "A rock and roll alternative", the group therefore logically begins with "Sky high". The musicians have toughened up their playing but during the final break, Barry Bailey launches into a superb solo full of emotion, only supported by the electric piano of Dean Daughtry. Slightly coated in echo, his guitar distills a thick, velvety and delicate sound at the same time. A sound to die for for the time! The tension does not subside with good versions of "Back up against the wall" and "Jukin'", proving that the A.R.S. is a southern rock band first and foremost. However, the rest of the concert perfectly illustrates the rather original style of the combo which connects titles overflowing with musicality ("Angel", "Dog days"). The A.R.S. continues on this path with "So into you", his first hit single. On this title, Barry shows one of the characteristics of his playing by bringing out the harmonics. There, it's high class and also the opening to a wider audience ("A rock and roll alternative" will also become a gold record). The Georgians make the guns talk again with "Another's man woman" and an even harder bass solo. The show ends with an excellent "Mixed Emotions". So here is a southern band that knows how to alternate sturdy pieces with splendid songs that can force the doors of the hit parades. Never seen !

We find this winning recipe during the concerts of January 25 at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village in New York (broadcast on the radio) and April 77 in Pittsburgh. The set list for the first show is essentially the same as for "My Father's Place", but "Mixed emotions" disappears in favor of "Long tall Sally" for the January show (which begins on the tape with the last bars of "Sky high". Too bad!). For the April one, it is curiously missing "So into you". "Mixed emotions" reappears as "Long tall Sally" is deleted. Also noteworthy is the absence of the superb ballad "Georgia Rhythm" from these 1977 shows. But many of the A.R.S. bootlegs are incomplete and later performances include this song (as in the official live "Are you ready"). We also notice that it was at this time that our guys from Georgia got into the habit of ending certain concerts with a very hefty cover of "Long tall Sally" (an essential classic by Little Richard), just to remind us that rock'n'roll runs through their veins. Their coup de force of the year took place in September 1977 on the campus of Georgia Tech University in Atlanta where they shared the bill with Bob Seger.

The album 'Champagne jam' was released in early 1978. It was dedicated to Lynyrd Skynyrd (whose tragic accident is still fresh in memory) and provided the band with a huge hit with 'Imaginary lover', a sweet ballad with pop accents. Two pirate recordings reflect the atmosphere of the A.R.S. at that time: a mix of cool songs and hot rocks. First, a concert dated May 27, 1978 (location impossible to inform) with the following set-list: "Sky high", "Back up against the wall", "Champagne jam", "Large time" (dedicated to Lynyrd Skynyrd), "So into you", the hit "Imaginary lover", "Another's man woman", "Rocky Raccoon" (a ballad with an acoustic guitar intro, presumably played by Ronnie Hammond himself), the great song "Georgia rhythm" and "Boogie smoogie".

On June 24, the A.R.S. performs at the famous Knebworth Festival in England in front of more than sixty thousand people. Then, after a detour to Canada in August, the performance of the musicians from Georgia in their home state (at Georgia Tech University on September 3, 1978) was recorded. This is their own festival called Champagne Jam. Other stars are also present such as Santana, the Doobie Brothers or Mother's Finest. There, the concert begins with a few bars of the soundtrack of the film "Gone with the wind" ("Gone with the wind") prelude to a furious "Back up against the wall". Then come the tracks "Angel", "Champagne jam", "So into you", "Imaginary lover" (superbly interpreted) and "Another's man woman" (with a hellish finale). Another version of this show additionally features "Rocky Raccoon" and "Long tall Sally". Three weeks later, the Doraville combo performs at the White House for Jimmy Carter's son's birthday. 1978 is therefore proving to be a memorable year. The A.R.S. seems to have found its rhythm with melodic songs that play on the radio and songs that hit well live.

1979 began with a major mishap: the departure of original drummer Robert Nix (who resented the band's less rock orientation). This year sees the release of the album "Underdog", perhaps the most sophisticated record of the A.R.S. and which is significantly removed from southern musical influences. Two tracks entered the Billboard Top 20: the slow, smooth ballad "Do it or die" as well as the funky "Spooky" (an old Classics IV track, a mid-sixties combo from Jacksonville in which illustrated JR Cobb and Dean Daughtry). "Underdog" also marks the debut of new drummer Roy Yeager with the Doraville formation. The A.R.S. went on tour to promote the album and the Champagne Jam II took place in July (still at Georgia Tech University) with notably Aerosmith, Dixie Dregs and Mother's Finest.

The concert of October 26, 1979 at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee (North Carolina) offers a sound testimony to the A.R.S. at its highest level. The quality of the recording is average but the repertoire chosen is close to perfection. Too bad the beginning of the show is missing (we only hear the last bars of "Champagne jam") but the continuation remains ideal ("I'm not gonna let it bother me tonight", the funky rock "Born ready", "Do it or die", "Large time", "Imaginary lover", "Spooky", "Another's man woman" with an amazing bass solo from Paul Goddard, "Rocky Raccoon", "Georgia rhythm", " So into you” and a “Long tall Sally” unfortunately cut off from the end). It was also in October 79 that the official double live landed in stores. Let's skip over the "true live/false live" controversy, a debate impossible to clarify. Let's just observe that some titles definitely have the flavor of "live" ("Large time", "Back up against the wall", "Conversation", "Another's man woman", "Long tall Sally"). Other tracks may have been recorded in the studio under live conditions as implied by the liner notes ("special live studio sessions"). Be that as it may, this disc allows as many people as possible to appreciate the impact of the music played by the A.R.S. in concert. No sound document concerning the year 1980 seems to be available. In August, the A.R.S. performs in Japan for three shows and then releases the album "The boys from Doraville" which will not provide any hits and will perform poorly in terms of sales. Faced with this failure, the group decided to leave its Polydor label (with which it recorded eight albums in all). The guys from Doraville find themselves with a lawsuit on their hands. Polydor accuses them of breach of contract but later, a judgment will be pronounced in their favor. They joined CBS, which released the album "Quinella" in August 1981. "Alien" reached number twenty-ninth on the Billboard charts (it would be the group's last single to hit the charts). However, sales of the record were not satisfactory and relations between the A.R.S. and his label begin to deteriorate. All this does not prevent the combo from continuing to turn because it is necessary to live well but the decline is not far. A glaring example is provided by the radio show Retro Rock which kindly devotes a time slot to the A.R.S. A charming host gives a quick history of the group between commercials for Budweiser beer ("This Bud's for you!") and Lee jeans. Live titles (without indication of date) are alternated with pieces in the studio. We can even hear Ronnie Hammond speak for a few minutes (he explains the name "Quinella": a term in horse racing betting where the bettor just has to choose the two horses that will arrive first and that without order of arrival ).

The name of the show says it all. Retro Rock! The A.R.S. is now a thing of the past, at least for show business professionals. Fortunately, the true fans remained loyal. Even in Yankee territory as evidenced by the concert of October 27, 1981 at the Savoy in New York (officially released in 2000). The sound is decent and you can enjoy tracks from the last album played in public (a beefy "Homesick", the superb "Alien" and "Higher") as well as classics of the band ("Champagne jam", "I'm not gonna let it bother me tonight", "Large time", "Spooky", "Imaginary lover", "So into you", and "Long tall Sally"). Curiously, "Another's man woman" is missing from the list. Was it for timing reasons (the show was recorded by a New York radio station and aired later) or was that track omitted that night? Mystery!

The group's sound mixes the roughness of the guitars, metronomic rhythms and the musical subtlety of the arrangements. The songs played live are closer to their studio versions while benefiting from a much more dynamic interpretation. This concert reflects all the talent of the A.R.S. with satisfactory listening comfort as a bonus. And if the musicians of Doraville display such infernal energy that evening, it is quite simply because they have just won their lawsuit against their former label. At the height of joy, Ronnie Hammond will even invite the band's lawyer (and that of the opposing party) to this show.

By its authenticity and its energy, this disc dethrones even the so controversial official double live and remains an essential testimony of the performances of the A.R.S. in public.

The sequence of events will be much less happy. In 1982, due to a disagreement between the musicians and CBS, the release of a second album was canceled and the record company dropped A.R.S.. Towards the end of the year, Ronnie Hammond leaves the band. The A.R.S. of the great era no longer exists. The Doraville combo will continue to survive for a while, but that's another story.

In conclusion, we notice several things.

First, despite the passable quality of certain recordings, we realize that the members of the A.R.S. perfectly filled the sound space and reproduced their songs at their best during their shows. In fact, it's safe to say that they found their way of sounding right from the start. Such osmosis between studio musicians brought together arbitrarily by a producer is a miracle… or fate (Buddy Buie probably knew what he was doing from the start). Their professionalism was flawless (no false notes, no approximation in the interpretation of the songs) but they also managed to improvise slightly without altering the structure of the pieces (enough for the public to know that they were indeed attending a concert ).

Then, although the set-list has been subject to changes according to the musical news of the band, we see that the members of the A.R.S. always knew how to alternate melodic songs with more muscular titles (which constantly revived the interest of the public in concert). And these rocks with a particular style were a hit live and clearly contradicted the band's detractors who called it too "soft". Too soft ? It's hard to believe listening to concert excerpts with "Back up against the wall", "Large time" or "Another's man woman" and its legendary bass solo.

Finally, given the small amount of "bootlegs" concerning the band and sometimes their defects (sound recording, lack of accuracy in dates and places, incomplete shows), we realize that the A.R.S. is the poor relation of southern rock, unjustly set aside by fans of this musical trend. And it is certainly not now that justice will be done to it, the formation of Doraville now belonging to history (in any case, the original band). Unfortunately, prejudices die hard. The A.R.S. ? Yes, we know. A nice band who wrote beautiful songs with sophisticated arrangements and a very clean production. But not really a Southern band!

Monumental error ! Because the A.R.S. remains perhaps the best example of what Southern music really is. A music full of subtleties which conceals an immense power under an apparent nonchalance. The superb voice of Ronnie Hammond (one of the most beautiful in southern rock along with that of Doug Gray of the Marshall Tucker Band). The warm and delicately saturated guitar of Barry Bailey (steel fingers in a velvet glove). The precise and complementary sound of JR Cobb (both in rhythm and slide). The discretion and efficiency of Dean Daughtry's Rhodes electric piano. The bass sounding as huge as its owner Paul Goddard. The drums by turns subtle (sometimes almost jazzy) or square by Robert Nix. And this very particular way of composing, whether for a melodic song with complicated but effective harmonic progressions ("Angel") or for a pure piece of rock'n'roll (the incredible rhythm of "Large time"). This is perhaps the very epitome of Southern music. Like a Southern Comfort that you drink in the evening under the porch, when the setting sun of late summer makes the horizon glow. A mixture of softness and roughness. Yes, that was the music of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The famous "Georgia rhythm". Fans must have been sent shivers when the lights went out and the "Gone with the Wind" theme played. The old South was rising from its ashes. And all the spectators knew that they were going to have an unforgettable moment. The A.R.S. attracted a lot of people at the time and the band largely proved it in concert by filling entire stadiums. Until its decline. Afterwards, it is very difficult to invest the charts with each record. When it came out, the album "The boys from Doraville" maybe had too many southern influences on some tracks when southern rock was no longer relevant. And when you’re off the Billboard, the majority of the public becomes amnesiac and the slope is hard to go back up. This is the ruthless law of show business. However, the Doraville combo will have suffered from one thing: its members were more musicians than rockers, even if they left the spotlight on guitars. Their musical tastes were very extensive as Ronnie Hammond sang so well in "Sky high" ("I love music, any kind of music"). And that's probably why the A.R.S. did not really mark the hearts of southern rock fans.

And that's a shame ! Because if we fell for the superb ballads of the A.R.S., we had no way out with its torrid rocks ("Back up against the wall") sometimes dreaming of another's wife ("Another's man woman") .
But for all the "Doraville Guys" fans, the "Georgia Rhythm" will ring out for a long time to come.

Olivier Aubry

Translation Y.Philippot-Degand

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