Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 26
Classic Bands, Classic Songs
hen he joined Atlanta Rhythm Section
in early 1972, J.R. Cobb and Barry Bailey
had more in common than simply being the
Like Bailey (VG, December '16), Cobb had
been playing in bands since the early '60s. Furthermore, he had performed in a hit-making
aggregation. Born in Birmingham, Alabama,
he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida.
"No one in my family was particularly
musical, but the radio was on all the time
when I was a child, and I was exposed to lots
of different kinds of music," he said. "My uncle
gave me an old beater acoustic and taught me
a few chords, but I really didn't get interested
in playing until high school."
Cobb's first electric was a Silvertone guitar
and amp, and he later upgraded to a Fender
Jazzmaster and a borrowed Fender amp.
"I was influenced by the Ventures, Duane
Eddy, Chet Atkins, Buddy Holly, and just about
anybody I heard on the radio," the guitarist
recalled. "I was in a band that played sock hops,
supermarket openings, cocktail lounges, and
night clubs, which in Jacksonville at the time
were just fancy names for bars with a little
stage and a dance floor."
He recalled interpolating British music
after the Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
"We dropped most of the instrumentals
and started to discover R&B and traditional
blues," he said.
"Nobody played much country music, and
standards weren't cool anymore."
Cobb was a member of the original lineup of
the Classics IV, which formed in Jacksonville
in 1965. The band's producer/manager was
Buddy Buie (1941-2015), who ultimately cowrote numerous hits with Cobb, including
"Traces," "Spooky," and "Stormy." They also
co-wrote Sandy Posey's "I Take It Back" and
J.R. Cobb: Willie G. Moseley.
J.R. Cobb with
the Strat he used
with the ARS;
it has DiMarzio
pickups, brass nut
and bridge saddles,
and an Alembic
Cobb collaborated with Ray Robert Whitley
on "Be Young, Be Foolish,"Be Happy" ("A
beach-music anthem!" he recalled proudly).
"The idea of writing songs just really appealed to me," Cobb said of his rapid evolution. "I'm sure the Beatles and artists like Roy
Orbison, the Beach Boys, and other singer/
songwriters coming along then sort of fueled
that. While most of the Classics IV hits were
mellow or ballad-ish tunes, that isn't necessarily my preferred style."
As for gear with the Classics IV, Cobb recalled, "I played a Jazzmaster for a short time
then switched to a Telecaster, which I played
as long as I was in the group. I had a Fender
Super Reverb, and I have kicked myself ever
since for getting rid of it."
By the early '70s, Buie and Cobb were
ensconced in the operation of Studio One, a
recording facility in Doraville, Georgia.
"ARS was made up of studio musicians and
a couple of other players that hung out and
recorded at Studio One," he said. "I used a couple
of Strats and a couple of black Les Paul Customs;
some were tuned for slide. For acoustic, I used
an Ovation. I used an Ampeg amp for a while
and later switched to Peaveys when we got
an endorsement deal. In the studio, I always
preferred Fender, but unfortunately, they just
weren't loud enough for the stage."
The list of ARS hits is long - "So Into You,"
"Champagne Jam," "Alien," "Angel," and more.
The band defined a laid-back stylistic facet
of southern rock, and created numerous hit
albums. Memorable performances included a
gig at the White House during Jimmy Carter's
presidency, two Champagne Jam megaconcerts in Atlanta, and the Knebworth festival
Cobb could hold his own among the highcaliber musicians in the ARS - one example
is the live version of "Another Man's Woman,"
which clocks in at over 14 minutes on the band's
live 1979 album Are You Ready? In addition
to a jaw-dropping bass solo by Paul Goddard,
the song includes stinging trade-off licks from
Cobb and Bailey.
Cobb ultimately tired of road life and departed the band for an easier lifestyle.
"I was pretty burned out," he reflected. "I
had a teenage son who my wife was raising
virtually by herself, and I wanted to do some
other things, as well. I worked with (producer)
Chips Moman and played behind (country
supergroup) the Highwaymen for five years."
These days, he's still going at his own pace in
rural Georgia, and enjoys playing at his leisure.
"For the most part, the time I spent in ARS
are some of my best memories, and I don't
regret one day," he said. - Willie G. Moseley