By Natalie Simms
After some 20-plus years playing keyboards in a few local bands and running his Ready or Not, Inc. sound business, Lee Shealy has a new gig to add to the list…keyboardist for the famed Atlanta Rhythm Section.
“I’ve been around music my whole life and I just love it,” says Shealy. “I never imagined that I would be having this much fun in my 60s.”
Shealy, who grew up near Doraville where ARS got their start, listened to the band a lot while in high school. The group started in the early ’70s, a combination of two prior groups, The Candymen and Classics IV. Known for their southern rock sound with a little jazz, some of the band’s biggest hits include “So Into You” released in 1976 and “Imaginary Lover” and “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” from 1978.
“They have such a deep catalog…some eight to 10 songs in the Top 40 and so many on the radio that are still played today. I have had to get 20 to 25 of them under my belt. It has really been a fun study…the more I listen to it, the more I like the music,” he says.
Shealy moved to Rome in 1977 on a music scholarship to Berry College. He became a band director and later earned a master’s degree in Piano.
“I started playing piano around 4 or 5…I really have played all my life. I figured there are always lots of piano jobs available…someone is always looking for someone to play piano at weddings or events,” he says. “And then I started worked for Don Everett at The Music Room teaching kids to play music. Then I started playing in a variety of bands and started Ready or Not.”
Two of the more recent bands Shealy has played with are Unusual Suspects and Pollard Greens Jazz. In addition, he filled in for former ARS keyboardist Dean Daughtry on and off for the last three years. So when Daughtry, an original member of the band, decided to officially retire last December, the group called Shealy to take the spot full-time earlier this year.
“Dean had not missed a gig in 47 years…finally, he just couldn’t travel well and he started to talk about retirement,” says Shealy. “And then I got the call. I knew I would never have the opportunity to do this again. I have just hit it off with all the band members. We all get along great. It’s just neat to listen to all their stories from years together.”
The members of ARS have changed over the years. Singer Rodney Justo is the only remaining original member. Other current members include guitarists Dave Anderson and Steve Stone, bassist Justin Senker and drummer Rodger Stephan. Side note: Original bassist Paul Goddard also was a Rome native but has since passed away.
“Back in the day, the band played for some 160,000 fans and now our crowds are about 1,000 to 3,000, depending on where and when it is,” says Shealy. “We had maybe 60 gigs lined up this year, usually about three shows a weekend before COVID hit and shut us down. We last played that first weekend of March in Texas and then everything dried up.
“We do have an event scheduled July 28 in Virginia and we’re booked well for the end of the year. We had several spring events that moved to the fall. We will be super busy those months … We’re kind of holding our breath…we hope it all will be OK.”
For now, Shealy stays busy with Ready or Not, which provides sound, stage, lighting, event production and installation services. He has no plans to hang up his day job.
“It is just a close-knit group of folks that are all enjoyable to be around. I’m 61 now and at some point, you reach a certain age where you give up on the idea of being a ‘pop’ star…I just enjoy the music and doing it so much,” he says.
“I’m hoping I’ll play until I drop…very few have actually quit the band. Most everyone has played until they couldn’t anymore and had a long run with the band. It’s just so fun.”