1996-Present: Changes and More Classic Tunes

In the mid-90s ARS got back together and re-recorded some of their best and best known songs. The live-in-studio sound of ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION '96 presents a different, less polished take on some classic tunes and captures the sound of their live performances from that period. Three original band members returned-singer Ronnie Hammond, guitarist Barry Bailey and keyboard player Dean Daughtry. They were joined by Steve Stone on guitar, Justin Senker on bass and Sean Burke on drums.

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame

The band also did a second version of these songs with the same line up except for new drummer R. J. Vealey. It was around this time that ARS was elected to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. The band was honored at a September 1996 induction ceremony at the Georgia World Congress Center. The occasion provided an opportunity for a reunion performance of band members, and despite a temporary power outage they rocked on. Building on the momentum of this event and the impending 25th anniversary of the group, ARS recorded a new album. It featured some new songs done plugged in, and remakes of some classics done the way they had been written-unplugged on acoustic guitar and piano.

ARS Goes Partially Plugged

Another eight years had passed since ARS had put out a studio album with new material. This time, to commemorate their 25th anniversary, three original members teamed with one holdover and two new players to put out an album combining the old and the new. Four new songs showed that ARS still had both their songwriting and playing skills in peak form. To capitalize on the popularity of the "unplugged" performance style of the time, ARS also revisited six of their classic songs. These versions demonstrate how ARS' music could be presented with different arrangements but still be as interesting and beautiful as the originals.

A Close Call for Ronnie Hammond

The group stuck together, playing various live dates but not managing to make the music a full time gig. In late Dec. 1998 there was a close call with tragedy. Singer Ronnie Hammond, who had battled depression off and on over the years, got into a confrontation with a police office in Macon, GA and forced the officer to shoot him. Hammond was seriously injured, but survived the injury and dealt with the depression. This was a blessing not just for the man but for all ARS fans, as the group was back in the studio and would soon put out an album of new material including some new classics.

New High Quality Material and Strong Performances

This time ARS only took two years to get a new album out. Eufaula was another winner featuring a number of songs that stand with the best of their catalog. The same band line-up that played on Partly Plugged returned, plugging back in and rocking with that sweet Southern sound that is ARS' alone. The state of the art of production work displays the ARS sound to great effect. Lead singer Ronnie Hammond is in classic form and the guitar work of Barry Bailey sounds as good as ever. But as always, it's the quality of the songs and the ensemble performance that make this a standout.

Some Difficult Times

The band had justifiably high hopes for the Eufaula album, but almost immediately problems occurred. The record label faced financial troubles and was not able to support the album as intended. A couple of songs were released as singles but did not get the support to break out. ARS continued to tour on a limited basis.

In Nov. of 1999 tragedy struck. After the band had finished an afternoon set at a concert festival in Orlando, FL, drummer R. J. Vealey complained of indigestion and then collapsed and died of a heart attack. "It was very sudden, very shocking," said guitarist Barry Bailey. "He was a great drummer, the best drummer this band ever had." ARS recruited a new drummer, Jim Keeling, and continued to perform live infrequently through 2000.

Andy Anderson Takes the Mike

During the early eighties, Andy Anderson had sung for Atlanta Rhythm Section at a time Ronnie decided to focus on family and song writing and to no longer tour with band. Until Ronnie's full time return in the late eighties, Andy performed many times over several years with ARS. He then continued working with and complimenting other fine vocalists, including Billy Joe Royal, with whom Andy still performs regularly. During much of the nineties, he was the entertainment director at Harrah's Cherokee Casino keeping active in the music business. In the first part of 2001 when lead singer, Ronnie Hammond, made a commitment to perform with the ensemble touring group, Voices of Classic Rock, Andy stood as the obvious answer to who could fill in for Ronnie's absence, having already proven his ability so many times with the band. The band will continue playing selective dates around the country led by the cornerstone guitar work of Barry and Dean's fine piano playing.

Barry Bailey Retires

After more than thirty years leading Atlanta Rhythm Section with his signature gold-top Les Paul, Barry decided it was necessary to no longer travel with the band that was founded to support his phenomenal guitar playing. His amazing tone, distinct style and impeccable musical taste can never be duplicated. How do you replace a legendary guitarist? Fortunately for ARS, they needed only to look stage left at a guitar player who had performed along side that legend for more than twenty years, Steve Stone. After being ARS's rhythm guitarist for most of those years, Steve made appear effortless what was a Herculean task.

To support Steve in his effort to fill perhaps the largest shoes since Paul Goddard left ARS. The band would ask Andy's long-time Billy Joe Royal bandmate and golf buddy, Allen Accardi, to lend his hand. Allen, a Nashville veteran, would travel for more than a year with the band, providing his excellent vocal work in addition to his splendid guitar playing. It was clear, however, that Barry's edge was still keenly missing and a player with more of a rock sound was needed.

Enter David Anderson. David has known ARS's drummer, Jim Keeling, since playing in high school bands together and had impressed Dean Daughtry with his talents after Dean had moved to Jim and David's hometown of Huntsville, AL. David played in the band Brother Kane and has a very active career recording and performing. After just a few performances with ARS it was clear David was the man for the job. His musicianship and showmanship are a welcomed addition and if that's not enough his vocal abilities truly augment the band's sound.

A Musical Legacy

The great ARS song catalog and the members songwriting skills have not been "covered" by others like they could be - at least not yet. But here is a list of some ARS related songs that have appeared on others albums in recent years:

  1991 Travis Tritt's album "It's All About to Change" includes Homesick
  1993 Wynonna Judd's "Tell Me Why" includes the Buie/Cobb song Rock Bottom
  1994 Gloria Estefan's "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" includes the Classics IV song Traces.
  1996 David Sanborn's "Songs From the Night Before" includes Spooky
  1996 Travis Tritt's "The Restless Kind" includes Back up Against the Wall
  1999 Charlie Daniel's "Tailgate Party" includes Homesick
  2001 Garth Brooks "Scarecrow" includes the Buie/Cobb song Mr. Midnight

And Today...

The group continues to make concert appearances showcasing their hit songs and their still outstanding musical abilities. A few years ago, Ronnie Hammond expressed an idea that is a good place to end this for now - that history hadn't really judged ARS yet. But when those songs are heard, and those talents are appreciated…


ARS Historical Timeline

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