Ronnie helped give us rhythm we needed

WATCH VIDEO of Spooky from an October 1989 Atlanta Rhythm Section show in Augusta.
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I t's musical confession time in this edition of Music by Turner as I have decided to "come clean" regarding some very important musical preferences.

Here's the deal: I have never really been a big fan of most "Southern" rock. Genetically speaking (and writing), that should not be the case, as my mom was raised in the exact same neighborhood as the guys from Lynyrd Skynyrd, just outside of Jacksonville, Fla.

To add to the strangeness, my father hails from Spartanburg, S.C., and worked in the piano business with the actual gentleman and real Marshall Tucker, who was a piano tuner just like my dad. Several relatives of mine were good friends of the MTB too.

However, there was one group from the South that was easily my favorite of the bunch: The Atlanta Rhythm Section. No, they were not in the same class as their fellow Southern musicians as far as stage presence was concerned but lyrically and musically I always felt they were much better in the studio than their musical counterparts.

Their singles Imaginary Lover, Doraville, I'm Not Gonna Let it Bother Me Tonight, So Into You and Spooky are programmed regularly on discerning classic rock stations to this very day.

ARS had many fine albums too: Third Annual Pipe Dream, A Rock and Roll Alternative , and Champagne Jam being among their finest long players, each with no filler or boring drum solos.

I especially admired the lead singer of the group, a fellow Georgian named Ronnie Hammond. Possessing a voice as sweet and smooth as Cairo molasses, Hammond's understated and melodic delivery was a huge reason that ARS enjoyed worldwide acclaim and fame.

But most bands run their course, and in the early '80s Hammond left the group as the hits dried up.

There were several reunions through the years but Ronnie had been battling severe bouts of depression, culminating in a botched suicide attempt in December 1998. He said he "had lost the will to live" but afterward a spiritual renewal came over him. He retired from active performing at the age of 51 and became a carpenter and a devoted family man with his wife whom he affectionately referred to as "Miss Tracey."

Friends said that last week Hammond was "feeling poorly" so he went to see his doctor. He died of heart failure right there at the office. He was 60 years old.

Longtime Augustans will never forget the many ARS shows at Bell Auditorium and various bars that included Stonehenge, Katmandu, New York, New York and the Post Office Nightclub.

The last time I talked to Hammond we were reminiscing about the Bell show in 1973 when the band played a totally unexpected cover of Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die that just blew everyone there away. What a great night!

The Southern rock fraternity is dwindling rapidly as collectively, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tucker and the Allman Brothers now have nine original members who are deceased.

It's very fitting that at the conclusion of the song Champagne Jam , Hammond can be heard saying "thank you, ma'am."

Now it's our turn to thank you, Ronnie, for all of the great music you gave us. Do give Duane and the rest of the guys our very best.

TURNER'S QUICK NOTES: Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks perform tonight at Philips Arena in Atlanta ... Angles, the latest from the Strokes, is new this week ... Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are set for an April 19 date at Philips Arena ... Dust Bowl , the newie from guitar wiz Joe Bonamassa, is getting rave reviews and is fabulous!


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