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Rodney Justo
Roy Orbison Band - Candymen
Atlanta Rhythm Section - Beaverteeth
Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #94 (September - October 2013)
The Atlanta Rhythm Section performances at the Rock Legends Cruise II stroke a lot of people by the quality of the show and the energy displayed by the legendary band of the seventies, which also sees the return of two original members, Paul Goddard and Rodney Justo. Is there a link? All of it made us want to meet the band. To do this, we wanted to propose two points of view and for it, we asked Steve Stone and Rodney Justo.
Bands Of Dixie #94
No, the original Atlanta Rhythm Section singer wasn't Ronnie Hammond, it was Rodney Justo!. Leaving after the first album, he is now back in the band and his showmanship and his dynamism have probably something to do with the quality of the current ARS version. The Rodney Justo's story goes beyond the Atlanta Rhythm Section but is rich of many bands and artists with whom he worked. This great storyteller talks about Roy Orbison, the Candymen, Beaverteeth, Roy Buchanan to name only the best known.
Hello Rodney,
Where are you from and when were you born?
Hello Luc. I was born in New York City, New York in February of 1945. My parents were Spanish and grew up in Tampa, Florida. They happened to meet in New York and that's where they were married. I moved to Tampa when I was two and lived here till I was 25 and moved to Atlanta, Georgia to be a part of The Atlanta Rhythm Section. When I left ARS, I moved to New York to be a studio musician, and was there for a couple of years before returning to Tampa, where I have lived since.
Could you tell us some words of your youth, especially on a musical level?
I sang on the radio as a kid, but for some reason, stopped singing. I think it may have been because I started playing sports. I recall singing in the 6th grade when the teacher picked me to sing a song and all of a sudden being relatively popular because I could sing, but I didn't sing again for quite a while.
I was fascinated with drums, and my parents bought me a snare drum. I realize now what a sacrifice that was because, 1-we didn't have much money and 2-my father was a person that didn't like noise, and my constant beating on that thing must have made him nuts. Anyway, next thing you know, my parents bought me a Gretch drum set which I beat non-stop in my hopes of being a drummer.
I managed to substitute for a drummer in a band that my friend was playing bass in, and I decided that I would impress the leader so much that he would hire me, and fire the existing drummer. Well, when I finally heard the real drummer play at rehearsal, I realized that I was NEVER going to be as good as him.
It just happened that on the same day, the singer couldn't come to rehearsal, and I volunteered for some reason, to sing so the band could learn the song. I don't know why I did it, because I didn't consider myself to be a singer but I sang the song and the leader of the band said something like, "forget the drums, we're firing the singer» and the next thing I knew I was a singer.
The Mystics
The band was E.G. and the Hi-Fis if I'm not wrong. When was it? As I have read, you soon took the band for yourself, with a new name, the Mystics. Could you relate it and do a short resume of the Mystics story until the Candymen days?
You're correct. It seems that old E.G.(his name was Emilio Garcia, who ended up ironically in one of the later versions of The Mystics) was making virtually all the money so, I convinced the guys in the band to join me with three other guys that already had a nucleus of a band and were real good musicians. This was in probably 1960.
There were 11 of us at one time, all top flight musicians that could read like champions.
It's hard to relate to know but, there was a time when the top recording artists were not bands (The Beatles changed all that) but single artists who would usually travel alone, and local bands would back them up. Most of them would do their hits, which the local bands would learn in advance, and then they all did the same songs to make up a half hour or so for their show , whether it was «The Twist», «What'd I Say», «Bo Diddley», «Shout», «Money», or some other current song they were sure every band would know.
Well, because my guys were such good musicians, and could also read in case someone like Gene Pitney, Neil Sedaka, or Fabian, came along, we were the band that played for virtually every person with a hit record that came through Central Florida.
Of course, this is how I met Roy Orbison.
Now, this encompasses a few levels.
1-As I said, my band played for him and we became friendly. He was very unassuming, and liked my band. In fact I think the first time I met him, we DIDN'T back him up. He was traveling with a guitar player named Fred Carter (I'll have to tell you that story later)
2-Roy was the first guy to travel with his own band (I say first but, Bobby Vee also traveled with a band around the same time, so we'll say tied for first). They were a local band from Dothan, Alabama called the Webs. When they showed up in Florida I became friendly with Bill, Paul, Bobby, And John Rainey (He always used his middle name along with his first). They went by the name The Roy Orbison Band.
3-When I was 16 years old, the person who promoted all of these shows asked to be my manager. His name was Paul Cochran, and to this day he is the only person, I ever signed a management contract with. He was quite a guy and became VERY close with virtually every artist that he booked. Even now, when I run into artists that I met, when I was young, they ask me how Paul is.
I was 18 years old when Roy said he wanted to produce me as an artist. So he gathered up some songs, and off to Nashville I went.
You need to know, Roy was a VERY loyal guy, and those songs that he gathered up, were written by Fred Carter, who I'm sure Roy felt a debt to for being with him on the road in the early days. I knew the songs weren't very good, but who am I to complain? After all I'm a kid from Tampa and Roy Orbison is the producer.
Poor Roy. I think he really liked the record when we cut it. During the playback he looked at Paul and me and said "SMASH!!" indicating it was an assured hit.
This happened on February 11, 1963
Rodney Justo - Miss Brown (45 rpm)
The Beatles were on TV for the first time in America on February 9, 1963
When I saw them, I knew my impending record, had no was changed forever....especially when the arranger told me not to sound "so black" and to sing more like Bobby Rydell, a popular singer in the U.S. From Philadelphia.
4-What do you know, the Bobby in the Roy Orbison Band, was Bobby Goldsboro who happened to get a hit on his own called, «See The Funny Little Clown». Since he had his own hit record, it didn't make sense for him to still be in Roy's band. So the fast forward version is.....I take his place.
The reason was, that band wanted to be able to work when Roy didn't work, and they needed a singer, and my friendship with them made me the person they asked.
I think they also wanted someone extremely handsome (I made that part up)
Is the record you're talking about "Miss Brown"/"Tell Her That You Care" that was issued as single on the Sound 7 Stage label from Nashville (#2531)?
Yes Luc, that's it.
Is it the only recording using your name?
yes , it's the only thing I ever recorded under my own name.
Thus, between late 1963, early 1964, the band took the Candymen name. Among his members were John Rainey Adkins - with which you'll play later in Beaverteeth - and two future Atlanta rhythm Section players, Robert Nix and Dean Daughtry, who was hired in 1965. As for the ARS, I suppose we don't have to forget Buddy Buie, manager of Roy Orbison and of the band and involved in the songwriting and producing. You recorded two LPs and two singles I believe but without a chart success. I've read that the Candymen were at their best on live and that, you, Rodney, was a great showman. Do you agree?
I was asked to speak (along with Buddy Buie) to speak at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years when they had a week long tribute to Roy Orbison. One of the others asked to speak was Fred Foster who produced Roy's records and was the owner of Monument record, Roy's label.
Well, I thought that I'd introduce myself, and tell him that my first record was on his label, and maybe he'd have something nice to say to me.......No such luck, He couldn't have cared less. He just kind of ignored me. Oh, well.
We did have some success with a song called «Georgia Pines» that reached the top 40 in some trade publications.
Our follow up was a song called «Deep In The Night» which jumped in the charts the first week at I think #86 but, alas, the next week you couldn't find it.
The Candymen
I've read on the same website that «The Candymen Bring You Candy Power», your second LP in 1968 «certainly helped to pave the way for the Southern Rock groups to come in the early 70's». Is it your opinion and, if yes, how?
I'm reluctant to talk about myself but - as a showman - I can tell you with respect to The Candymen, that there was no better band in America. There might have been one as good, but none any better.
When we played in New York City, the biggest acts in the country (heck, internationally) would come up to the stage and request songs like they were kids.
J.R. Cobb, from the Classics IV, was involved in the songwriting of four songs of this LP, co-penned with Buie. They were working both alone or were you meeting Cobb often?
With respect to JR Cobb, John Rainey at one point was the main co-writer with Buddy Buie, but he was living in Dothan, Alabama while Buddy had moved to Atlanta (to form a management company with Paul Cochran) and he and JR became closer.
At that time there was more of a community than there appears to be now, in the sense that someone was always hanging around Master Sound. So, we all sang on each others records, demos and what have you.
I mean, if we happened to be in Atlanta for a few days we'd just go to Master Sound and see who was there.
The Candymen ended I believe in 1970 but you left in 1969 for Noah's Ark. You recorded the single «Purple Heart» (the B Side, «Stormy» is included in the «From The Vaults» anthology) but you quickly left. How many months were you with this band?
The Candymen ended in 1969 when I left.
Dean left just after to join The Classics IV
Robert liked to say he was the first to leave but it wasn't true.
John Rainey Adkins tried to "glom" onto The Candymen name by assembling some guys and calling themselves The Candymen name but all they did was disappoint promoters as well as the audience.
I was in Noah's Ark for a year, with some pals of mine.
«Stormy» is actually the Atlanta rhythm Section... as it happened Buie (who was producing the session) didn't want to use Noah's Ark on the session, so he used Barry, Paul, Robert, and J.R. On the date. If you add Dean, that was the Atlanta rhythm Section.
When the record came out and it said, Noah's Ark featuring Rodney Justo----well, the other guys in the band thought that I had somehow conspired to get top billing. I had no idea till the record came out.
«Purple Heart» was another Buie song, he always felt that an important song came out of every war. And, the songs point of view in one that you couldn't disagree with, whether you were for, or against, the Vietnamese war.
Atlanta Rhythm Section
You're involved, right after, in the creation of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. What is the history of this birth?
It's pretty well documented that I was home in Tampa, singing with Noah's Ark when Buddy Buie called to ask if I'd be interested in moving to Atlanta to sing for a band he wanted to put together comprised of the top musicians from the South.
This was well before what became to be known as Southern Rock originated.
The Allman Brothers were just starting to get big (and in my opinion were never a Southern Rock band anyway, they were a Blues Band) and looked like they were going to be the first really successful band from the south.
I ran into Greg in Atlanta at a hotel, and he asked me what I was doing. I told him about the Atlanta rhythm Section and the players in the band and he acted like we couldn't miss. He ended up being pretty good friends with a couple of the guys.
I moved to Atlanta with some reluctance because I HATE cold weather and I'd spent virtually all of my life in Tampa. (Ironically enough, when I left the Atlanta rhythm Section, I moved to New York City which was much colder, BUT, it's New York City!)
The concept for what was to become the Atlanta Rhythm Section was that we wouldn't have to suffer while waiting to make records, because we'd make money playing on other peoples records.
This was to come about because Buddy Buie (along with Paul Cochran, Bill Lowery, and J.R. Cobb) would own the studio. Therefore, whenever we weren't working on making records for other artists, we could use the studio to record our own music.
Unfortunately, because we spent SO much time on the other artists, it took almost two years for our own record to get recorded, and released.
Thus, you decided to leave the band after the first album. Did you later regret your decision?
You know Luc, I believe if you change one thing, you change everything. You'd have a very difficult time finding someone who's had a better life than me. So, I don't look back .Certainly as far as my musical career goes. I wish I'd been a better parent, or husband, but those are personal issues and, even if I'd been perfect, I'd still wish I'd done a better job.
So, no regrets.
However, I did think that my career would eclipse theirs, but it didn't happen. And I remained friends with all of them, and went to see them whenever they were close to my home.
Between the Atlanta rhythm Section and Beaverteeth, you sang for Roy Buchanan and toured with the singer BJ Thomas. As a drummer?
Rodney Justo - Beaverteeth concert, 1977, Albany, Ga
My association with Roy Buchanan was a pretty simple one. He was getting ready to do a tour of Europe and needed a singer. I was recommended by a friend and they asked for a tape/reel of me singing. I didn't really want to do it ( because I could make more money doing studio work) so, I asked for an amount of money that I didn't think they would agree to, and they said yes. Then I said,"plus expenses" and they said yes. Next thing you know, I'm singing with Roy Buchanan.
We never had a rehearsal, and I met him on the stage at a "warm up" gig in Pittsburgh,Pa.
I didn't even know what songs I'd be singing, but I'd heard about some of the songs that he did. One of them was « Johnny B. Goode » which I didn't know. So the night before I'm to leave to sing (actually rehearse, but he didn't show up) I'm at Will Lee's house trying to understand/learn the words off of a Johnny Winter album.
Anyway, I finally meet Roy onstage before we go on and I'm asking what he wants me to sing. He says "Do you know Johnny B.Goode?"....Well, I know half of it....Just sing half of it twice.
I'm not trying to knock Roy because he was a nice guy, and certainly a brilliant guitarist (if you ever saw him play in the dressing room, you would love him even more, because he'd play all styles of music and kill in all of them) but singing for him was not a challenge. Other than trying to make crap songs sound good.
Actually, we did a Neil young song, «Down By The River», which was a lot of fun to sing. Even though I didn't really even know that song. I just knew most of the melody, and someone printed out the words for me.
I never really fit in, even though two of the guys in the band were my friends from Studio work in New York. So, that didn't work out.
Was the band already called Beaverteeth when playing with BJ Thomas? Did you leave BJ Thomas as a member of the band or did you join it again later (as I believed)?
While living in New York, BJ and I became really good friends. He had a band comprised of the top studio players in New York, and I somehow worked my way into being the bandleader. Unfortunately, I would get a call from one of the guys on occasion saying that they couldn't make a date because they had an opportunity for a record date or saying "Look I can't make the gig in (put a city here) because I have a national jingle for Coke/Pepsi/MacDonalds". Which meant, that I had to find a substitute, and take them a tape of the show so that they would be familiar with the show.
This got to be a pain in that neck, so I asked BJ if he minded me getting an existing band of friends of mine from the South, and rehearsing them. I told him that he would have a consistent band (much like we had with Orbison) and that band was a version of Beaverteeth.. The added benefits would be, the same players all the time, vocal parts to sound like the recordings, everyone traveling from the same location, AND they could also serve as the warm up act for certain venues. In other words, they would be self contained. SO we had four guys from Beaverteeth, - that was already an existing band headed up by John Rainey Adkins headed up by John Rainey Adkins, the guitarist in The Candymen - plus a piano player I hired from New York, and me playing crappy guitar. So, after BJ agreed I went to Dothan, Alabama for a week to rehearse the band which at that time consisted of John Rainey Adkins, David Adkins, Jimmy Dean, Charlie Silva and me playing crummy guitar, (and singing, of course).
The best part was, we all sang. So now B.J. has a tight, well rehearsed band, plus background vocals which he never had.
B.J. Had no idea what it would be like and when we played the first gig, he was elated. That probably lasted a couple of years.
Fast forward, and BJ and I have a "falling out" (Let me point out that this was LONG ago, and B.J. and I are very close friends, and see each other frequently) I leave and the band stays. But not for long.
They also have problems with BJ's management, and leave maybe a few months later.
So, your assumption is correct.
I joined the band for what I thought was going to be temporarily, when I got a call that their drummer/singer had cancer, and would I go help them out for a while. Larry Hunter was brought in to play drums. Although I didn't intend to stay, we started being pretty good.
My nature is to set goals for myself, and I knew that I didn't want to spend, who knows how long, going to Alabama to sing in some club after another.
So, when Jimmy Dean decided that he was going to leave to write the great American novel, we got Jeff Cheshire.
Jeff didn't want to leave the band he was already in with his friends.
Beaverteeth - First album
I told him that his band was going to end up breaking up anyway, as they all do, and the difference is, that within six months I'd have a record deal.
That intrigued him enough to come aboard, and John Rainey, David, and I got to work writing.
Surer enough, we cut a demo tape and it was played for RCA records by a promotion man I knew named Mike Craft and next thing you know,.....we had a record deal for two albums.
David played keyboards on the recording as well as guitar, so we decided we needed a keyboard player if we wanted to sound like the recordings. We auditioned quite a few players (many rejected because I always insist that everyone sing) and luckily we were able to get a friend of the guys named Mike "flog" Turner who became available.
In Beaverteeth, you were again with John Rainey Adkins. Others players were David Adkins, Jeff Cheshire, Larry Hunter and Mike Turner. Could you introduce them? What were the main band influences and was there a specific musical direction?
As far as our influences, of course there were the obvious British Invasion bands, but this was also the beginning of the Southern Rock genre.
To be honest, we probably were too hard to define, and tried to be too many things, to too many people.
I do remember by the time the second album was being written we wanted to be more of a Rock n' Roll .Steely Dan. Can't say that we really pulled that off.
When did you join the band? (Hard to find a clear-cut information on Internet)
I'm going to guess it was around the summer of '75.
And when did the Beaverteeth break up? (or when did you leave the band)?
I left May 13, 1978. That was the end of Beaverteeth.
You recorded «Beaverteeth» (1977) and «Dam It» (1978). What do you think of these albums?
I think if you put them both together, you'd have a pretty good album. When the first album came out, I remember doing a show in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida that was sponsored by a radio station, and the guy from the radio station asked me matter-of-factly "You know that you have a hit album, don't you?" And I answered with total humility "yes" because I thought that it would be a hit for sure.
CD versions were done but are out of print. Do you know if it will again be re-issued on CD?
Beaverteeth - Dam It
I didn't know that it had ever been made available on CD.
What were the highlights of the band when you were his singer?
Well, the real highlights came when we worked with B.J. and we were able to go to South Africa, and Brazil....after that regular Beaverteeth gigs don't compare.
You left music after that. Except brief stints in 1983 and 2008 with the band, your return to music and Atlanta rhythm Section was in 2012. You were invited to sing «So Into You» on «With All Due Respect» but what was responsible for this return in the band?
Well, the band had become for lack of a better term, a tribute band. With the only original member being Dean Daughtry. Now how many people want to see a band when the only "real" guy is the piano player. And I guess that, after I did the cameo appearance on «With All Due Respect», Dean thought that I could still sing so, he started to talk to me about coming back. The previous singer did a good job but, I sound more like Ronnie Hammond, plus, being the original singer gave us a little more "street cred". Now, you add Paul Goddard to the mix, and all of a sudden, we have half of the band originals.
How is this new era with the Atlanta rhythm Section?
I've sang with four version, including the original, and I think that anyone that's played in the band will tell you that this is the version with the most energy, and also the closest the band has ever been to being an act vs. a band.
Many thanks Rodney.
Rodney Justo Atlanta Rhythm Section
Atlanta Rhythm Section
Thanks to Courtni Meadow (Rock Legends Photographers) for these three photos
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