Five questions with Rodney Justo of the Atlanta Rhythm Section

Expect some new personnel but familiar hit tunes at Sunday show.

There was a time in the 1970s when the Atlanta Rhythm Section ruled the airwaves, with “Imaginary Lover,” “I’m Not Going to Let It Bother Me Tonight,” “Large Time,” “Champagne Jam” and a string of other hits.

The deaths of some original band members, revolving personnel and changing tastes slowed that roll. But ARS kept touring and evoking memories of sunny outdoor shows at Bobby Dodd Stadium and a time when Atlanta was young.

Rodney Justo was the band’s first vocalist, but left in 1972 after ARS released its first album. He returned several times, coming back in 2011 for good.

Before traveling to Atlanta for a show at the Buckhead Theatre Sunday, Justo, 76, answered a few questions with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Q: You joined the Atlanta Rhythm Section in 1972, in 1983, in 2008 and again in 2011. What was harder to quit, ARS or cigarettes?

A: Cigarettes was very tough, I was spectacularly unsuccessful at quitting smoking, I smoked for 30 years, I had a heart attack, and smoking quit me. I knew I was never going to smoke again. Boom, it was done.

Q: When you sing “Doraville” you sing the line “Friends of mine, say I oughta move to New York/New York’s fine, but it ain’t Doraville.” But you moved to New York in 1972, right after you quit ARS the first time. How can that be right?

Credit: Atlanta Rhythm Section

Credit: Atlanta Rhythm Section

A: I suspected they were trying to zing me a little bit (with those lyrics). ‘I got your New York right here.’ I was only there for a while. I’m from Tampa, I grew up here, and I moved back here in 1975.

Q: In 1982 ARS drummer Roy Yeager tripped over a tree and broke his leg so Dan Biget took over the drum throne; in 1995 drummer Sean Burke suffered a leg injury, so R.J. Vealey stepped in; in 1999 Vealey had a heart attack after a show in Orlando. Your friend Rodger Stephan is playing drums with the band these days. Is he worried?

A: Is he worried? (Laughs). Not at all, he’s great. He’s OK. He’s from Tampa, he’s a friend of mine. In the Candymen (Justo’s band before ARS) we were a very tight band, everything was perfection, with strict arrangements. The only people who ever sat in with us were Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding, John Entwistle and Al Kooper. It occurred to me one day that everyone who sat in with the band was dead, except for Al, so I sent Al a message, and said ‘everyone who has ever played with us is dead, so better be careful when you cross the street.’

Q: Let’s say the Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Wrecking Crew, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the Stax house band are in a softball tournament. Who wins?

A: Probably the Wrecking Crew, ‘cause there’s more of them. I’ll tell you, ARS did have a softball team, but one time we went out and decided we were all going to play football. I looked over at Barry (guitarist Barry Bailey) and I thought, why is this guy playing football? If this guy jams his fingers, it’s all over with.

Q: What do you say to folks who complain that some original members aren’t in the band?

A: There’s always going to be haters. They say ‘hey there, tribute band!’ I say if you want to get the real guys to show up, you’ll need a shovel. (Three original members are deceased; drummer Robert Nix died in 2012 at age 67; bassist Paul Goddard died in 2014 at age 68; guitarist JR Cobb died in 2019, at age 75; and Ronnie Hammond, who joined in 1972 and sang many of the hits, died in 2011, at age 60.)


Atlanta Rhythm Section

7 p.m., Sunday. $28-$37.50. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta. 404-843-2825,