Ronnie Hammond, the former lead singer for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, sang with heart, soul and understated elegance.
"He had a unique voice," said J.R. Cobb, a former ARS guitarist who lives near Monticello. "He was largely responsible for a lot of our success. A great singer."
Ronald William "Ronnie" Hammond, who lived in the Monroe County town of Forsyth, was taken to a doctor by his wife Tracey on Monday because he wasn't feeling well. He died in the office from heart failure. He was 60.
A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday at Maynard Baptist Church in Forsyth. The family will greet friends at 11 a.m. Monroe County Memorial Chapel is in charge of arrangements.
Mr. Hammond became ARS's front man in 1972, when the first lead singer left the band. Buddie Buie, the producer, manager and songwriter who formed ARS, needed a replacement. Mr. Hammond worked as an assistant engineer at Studio One, a Doraville studio now closed that attracted Lynyrd Skynyrd and other bands.
"I said, ‘Ronnie, you are it,'" said Mr. Buie from Eufaula, Ala. "I knew he could sing because he was singing background and stuff like that. He sang all the ARS songs."
The group enjoyed a string of 1970s hits that include "Imaginary Lover," "I'm Not Gonna Let It Bother Me," "So Into You," and "Champagne Jam."
The Atlanta Rhythm Section offered performances and productions with lyrical and musical appeal. The band was comprised of accomplished studio musicians who made 15 albums, always in search of a better, different sound.
Steve Hammond, a brother from Juliette who worked in the studio and traveled briefly with the band, said the vocalist never considered himself a star despite worldwide success.
"When he sang, he was on fire," he said. "The band was a close-knit group and they got along relatively well most of the time. Life on the road is challenging so there is going to be conflicts but, overall, they got along great. I think he would thank the Lord for allowing him the opportunity."
Mary Eitel of Atlanta worked for a public relations firm that was affiliated with ARS, and recalls Mr. Hammond's performance during a concert in the late 1990s at Atlanta's Hard Rock Cafe.
"He was so nervous, and this was a guy who had sang before hundreds of thousands of people," she said. "He had one of the best Southern voices ever and could sing anything. So much emotion came through."
President Jimmy Carter invited ARS to perform at the White House for his son's birthday. While introducing the group, Mr. Carter noted that critics initially had not given these musicians a chance.
"They said the same thing about me," said Mr. Carter, according to a band history at www.atlantarhythmsection.com.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Hammond left ARS to be with his family. Off the road, he continued to write music with Mr. Buie, and he rejoined the group in 1987.
Through the years, Mr. Hammond suffered from alcoholism and depression, something his brother attributed to a "rocky period" as a teen. In 1998, Mr. Hammond got into a confrontation with Macon police and allegedly tried to attack an officer with a hammer and broken guitar handle. He was shot but survived.
Mr. Buie said it's difficult for him to pick a favorite ARS song, but he was a big fan of Mr. Hammond's talent. He said the late Ronnie Van Zant of Lynrd Skynrd called Mr. Hammond the best singer he'd ever heard.
"He was a great singer who sang with soul and heart," Mr. Buie said. "He never thought of himself that way."
Additional survivors include a son, Jesse Hammond, Lake Wildwood; brothers Jimmy Hammond of Franklin, Tenn., and Jerry Martin of Macon; sisters Fay Baker of Valdosta and Angie Myers of Watts, Okla., and two grandchildren.