Dean Daughtry, a founding member of Atlanta Rhythm Section, is dead

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Keyboardist and singer was also co-writer of Top 10 hits

Dean Daughtry, one of the last founding members of the hit-making 1970s Southern rock band, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, has died.

Daughtry, 76, died early Thursday morning at a nursing home in Huntsville, Alabama, according to fellow ARS member Rodney Justo.

In a band with many personnel changes and the deaths of four original members, Daughtry was the sole consistent founding member until he retired at the end of 2019.

“For 49 years he never missed a gig,” vocalist Justo posted on the band’s Facebook page, “until his health forced him to retire a couple of years ago, cutting short his goal of 50 years.”

Five-sixths of the Atlanta Rhythm Section first played together in a Dothan, Alabama, group called the Candymen, including Justo and Daughtry, plus guitarists Barry Bailey and J.R. Cobb, and drummer Robert Nix.

Daughtry took the place of another piano player in the Candymen, said Justo, “probably a better piano player than Dean, but when Dean came on, the band got better, because he idolized the Candymen and wanted so bad to be in the band. We would ask him to do things that were impossible, and he didn’t know that they couldn’t be done, so he did them.”

The musicians joined engineer Rodney Mills and producer Buddy Buie at the newly created Studio One in Doraville to become the house band and the backing musicians for a number of artists who recorded there.

In 1970, with the addition of Paul Goddard on bass, the session group became the Atlanta Rhythm Section (ARS to fans), and released their first album in 1972. Poor sales prompted Justo to leave the band (he would return and leave again several more times).

In 1974 their third album, “Third Annual Pipe Dream” produced the single celebrating little “Doraville” (”it’s funky but it’s pretty.”)

The band finally cracked the Top 10 with “So Into You” in 1976, co-written by Daughtry, who also co-wrote their other biggest hit, “Imaginary Lover.”

Though lumped in with the Southern rock genre, ARS was less like its guitar-dominated brethren, instead producing a more keyboard-focused, polished pop sound.

That sound was typified by Daughtry’s unmistakable Wurlitzer electric piano, heard at the beginning of “So Into You.”

“There’s not many songs where you hear one note and you know what it’s going to be,” said Justo. That, he added, was what Daughtry brought to the band.

Credit: Atlanta Rhythm Section

Credit: Atlanta Rhythm Section

Guitarist Steve Stone joined the band in 1986, and said “playing with Dean was a pleasure. He was also the best roommate ever.” The two shared a house in Chamblee for a while, when they were both “between wives or girlfriends. Coffee was always ready in the morning and the house was always clean.”

Stone, added that Daughtry, though seemingly a rough-hewn rustic, “wrote the most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard.” The combination, he said, was sort of like watching Gomer Pyle open his mouth and hearing beautiful opera come out.

“They were just a bunch of taters,” said Atlanta guitarist Spencer Kirkpatrick, using an archaic (but fond) term for “country boys.”

In the ‘70s Kirkpatrick and his band Hydra shared the stage with ARS in several venues, including the football stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, and the “cow palace” in Dothan, and the band made a big impression, Daughtry in particular.

“Just seeing him play; he’d throw his head back, close his eyes, there was some character in his soul that just came through. It was a bigger than life persona.”

Daughtry was pre-deceased by other original members: drummer Robert Nix died in 2012 at age 67; bassist Paul Goddard died in 2014 at age 68; guitarist J.R. Cobb died in 2019, at age 75; guitarist Barry Bailey died in 2022, at age 73; and Ronnie Hammond, who joined in 1972 and sang many of the hits, died in 2011, at age 60.

Daughtry began having trouble walking during his last years with the band, said Justo, who added “I talked him into retiring” in December 2019.

Earlier this month Justo heard from Daughtry’s wife that the pianist had taken a turn for the worse, and four members of the band went to Huntsville to see him. He died less than two weeks later.

“Now I’m the last one left,” said Justo, 78.

There were no immediate plans for a service, he said.