For over 40 years now, Atlanta Rhythm Section has been a Southern rock band that keeps chugging along – even when one of its members shuffles off this mortal coil.
As they come to Raleigh on Thursday to kick off this summer’s Oak City 7 free concert series at City Plaza, the group will be showing up without one of its founding members. Just a few weeks ago, bassist Paul Goddard died from cancer at age 68.
“It’s a very convoluted kind of story,” says lead vocalist Rodney Justo, 69, on the phone from his Tampa home base. Quite simply, Goddard thought he beat cancer. Says Justo, “He went to his cancer doctor, who said, ‘Listen, it looks like some of this has come back. But there’s no problem.’ ”
Goddard was saddled with six weeks of chemotherapy. Justo called his bandmate the day before he went in for treatments. “He tells me, ‘Rodney, there’s nothing to worry about. My wife had chemo. My wife had to go every day for three months. I’m going once a week for six weeks. So, I’ll blow through this just like nothing.’ ”
A few days later, Justo got a message from guitarist Steve Stone that Goddard was informed by his doctor he had four to six weeks to live. Stone went to see Goddard the following day, when he was being taken to a hospice. “He says, ‘I hope I go quickly,’ ” Justo remembers hearing. “He gets to hospice, they tuck him in and he dies.”
Obviously, Justo is still taken aback by the death of his friend and collaborator, not just because of his abrupt passing, but because they shared a special bond. “We left the same time; we came back the same time,” he says.
A break from music, then back
Both Justo and Goddard moved on from music to more stable lines of work, not performing with the band for nearly 30 years. “(Goddard) did two things: he worked for, like, a company that sold books to schools, and then he tested software,” he says. “And he didn’t play from 1983 until he came back … . I went to work for a liquor distributor, a sales manager for an alcoholic beverage distributor. I had a family. I wanted to raise my family. I didn’t want to be a musician and travel and be gone. There are certain things you have to do as a father.”
After Justo retired from the liquor-distribution game, both he and Goddard got an invite to rejoin the band in 2011 by Dean Daughtry, who’s been the only consistent, original member throughout the band’s history. “So, the opportunity came when he said, ‘Listen, man, if you and Paul can come back, we can have half the band be original members,” he remembers. “The opportunity just looked like a lot of fun.”
Folks love those soft-rock hits
Considering how long ARS has been around, playing such soft-rock hits as “So In to You,” “Imaginary Lover, “Champagne Jam” and their cover of Classics IV’s “Spooky” (several Classics IV members were also in ARS’ original lineup), the sort of feel-good, adult-contemporary tunes that 30-somethings and middle-aged folk will always gravitate toward, it still continues to be fun even when fellow members are no longer around to enjoy it.
“Well, we’re lucky,” says Justo. “Our catalog is pretty extensive, you know. We can play blues festivals. We play rock festivals. We can play corporate gigs, you know. And if we get a gig that’s an hour long, we throw an hour’s worth of hits at them.
“We play a lot of dates. People come up to me and say, ‘Man, thank you. You just put me back through all my college years. I was doing this when I first saw you guys.’ You find out your connection.”
So, it appears Atlanta Rhythm Section will keep on connecting with audiences – for them and for those members who aren’t here.