Barry Bailey

Photo by George Steidel, courtesy of Barry Bailey.

Guitarist Barry Bailey, co-founder of the Atlanta Rhythm Section and acclaimed studio musician, died March 13 in Madison, Georgia. He was 73 and battled multiple sclerosis for 17 years.

Bailey (VG, December ’16) was raised in Decatur, Georgia, and was 12 when his parents bought him a Silvertone acoustic. As a teen, he exhibited prowess and quickly earned a reputation playing in the Atlanta area, eventually becoming a busy studio player, working sessions for Liberace, Frankie Miller, Joe South, and others along with bread-and-butter jingles.

In 1970, Bailey played lead on gospel singer Mylon LeFevre’s We Believe, one of the first Christian rock albums. Around that time, he also helped form Atlanta Rhythm Section, a band of studio players who wrote and recorded their own music with producer Buddy Buie, then toured to support it. The concept was unprecedented, and worked; in its peak years, ARS garnered gold and platinum album sales.

In the early ’70s, Bailey bought a ’69 Les Paul Deluxe from fellow ARS guitarist J.R. Cobb (1944-2019). Nicknamed “Reb,” it became his go-to in the studio and onstage for the rest of his career (“Southern Gold: Two Legendary Les Paul Deluxes,” October ’17).

Like other underrated players, Bailey was generally soft-spoken, but expressed himself through the guitar. Other musicians admired his intense and emotional style.

Upon hearing of Bailey’s passing, 38 Special founding guitarist Jeff Carlisi recalled, “Watching Barry Bailey and (engineer) Rodney Mills working together at Studio One had a profound and lasting effect on me, as Barry played for the song.”

“Barry was a beautifully melodic player,” added blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis. “His solos were often expressions of the lyrics of the songs, and he knew just when to burn it to the ground. A classic example is the outro of ‘So Into You’.”

The classic lineup of the Atlanta Rhythm Section began to crumble in the early ’80s, but Bailey remained with the band through various incarnations. In early 2005, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but planned to continue playing. Later that year, however, his wife, Dawn, was diagnosed with an aggressive lung cancer, which pushed him to immediately retire from the band; she died in mid ’06.

While battling MS, Bailey remained determined to live independently, and he accomplished that goal.

“When I was just starting out as a musician, Barry always had a kind word for me,” Ellis remembered. “He was a class act.

This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.