Although Rodney Justo was the original singer for Atlanta Rhythm Section, which will perform three nights this week at the Egyptian Theatre, he’s not on any of the Southern rock band’s recorded hits, like “So Into You,” “Imaginary Lover” and “Spooky.”
That’s because he left the band just before they hit it big in the mid-1970s.
“They had the audacity to start making hits once I quit,” he said laughing. “I find that very disrespectful.”
Since rejoining the band permanently in 2011, after short periodical returns throughout the years, Justo has made it his duty to ensure the band performs these hits and other songs in the catalog the best it can.
“I have a responsibility to the guys in the band and the people in the audience,” he said. “Imagine that you know people pay money to hear you sing and see you play. You have to be respectful of them wanting to part with hard-earned money to do that.”
While the band could easily perform as a purely nostalgia-based act and live off the hits, Justo said there is no honor in doing that.
“Don Henley of the Eagles once said someone accused his band of loitering on stage,” Justo said with a laugh. “We have come close, and we know we can work a long time on the hits alone, as long as we put one foot in front of the other and people show up. But we don’t want to do that. We want to get the energy up. We want to engage the audience and have them relive their college days.”
That also means Justo will perform as long as he can.
“I will retire when I can’t sing or people stop showing up,” he said. “Even then, we have young people who show up to see us. And I joke with them and as,k ‘What are you doing here?’”
Atlanta Rhythm Section formed in 1970 when Justo, drummer Robert Nix and keyboardist Dean Daughtry — of Roy Orbison’s band The Candymen — joined forces with bassist Paul Goddard and guitarists James “J.R.” Cobb and Barry Bailey.
“I originally I wanted to be an R & B singer like James Brown, Bobby Blue Bland and Ray Charles, but my voice is too clear,” he said. “I can sing the same notes as the soulful guys, but it doesn’t sound as soulful.”
Justo also looked up to Bobby Darrin and decided to try to what he did.
“Bobby could sing anything and sing it well, whether it’s country, jazz or big band and folk,” Justo said. “Then the Beatles come along and change everything. They were certainly a huge influence on me.”
Other influences included Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die” and Procol Harum’s “Salty Dog.”
“We wore out the grooves on ‘Salty Dog,’” Justo said. “That song has the best chord progressions in any pop song.”
Justo quit after Atlanta Rhythm Section recorded and released its self-titled debut in 1972.
“I left because the band at the time wasn’t making any money,” he said. “Like every dumb musician I had no insurance and a child that needed medical care. So I had to do something.”
The band’s charting years ran from 1976 to 1979, and through it all, Justo still kept in touch with the band and would sing as a guest until he rejoined in 2011.
Since then, he’s continued with the band even after Daughtry, who had been the band’s sole constant from day one, called it quits after 50 years last year.
“It’s kind of funny,” Justo said. “I’m the first guy to leave the band, and it looks like I’ll be the last guy standing.”