Southern Drawl

If you were into music in the early ’80s, an essential piece of your record collection had to be Alabama records. Remember those vinyl albums that showed a bit of wear and tear because they were played a lot, taking up space next to the likes of The Doors, The Who and Led Zeppelin? Those three guys, Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook were country, R&B, with a little gospel and bluegrass mixed in, but they were also Southern rockers — and they were cute.
Their soft, full harmonies grabbed your attention and held on for dear life. Their music was sexy and sincere, masculine and meticulous — you listened to each song until you knew every nuance and sound from the inside out, and you couldn’t wait to see what they would come up with next.
They went from being a group who played music for tips in a small bar called The Bowery in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to country’s biggest super group with 21 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums, 43 No. 1 singles and selling more than 73 million records.
Their hits include “Feels So Right,” “The Closer You Get,” “Love In The First Degree,” “Lady Down On Love,” “Take Me Down,” “Dixieland Delight,” “Mountain Music,” “Roll On,” “40 Hour Week,” “She and I,” “Here We Are,” “I’m In a Hurry,” “Jukebox in My Mind,” “Old Flame,” “Song of the South,” “High Cotton,” “The Cheap Seats,” “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard,” and so many more.
Critics at the time hated the fact Alabama blurred the lines between country and pop, but the fans couldn’t get enough.
They also won every industry award out there, more than 150 of them, including eight country music “Entertainer of the Year” honors, two Grammys, two People’s Choice Awards, their very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In short, Alabama changed everything people thought they knew about country music at the time. They brought youthful energy, sex appeal and a rocking edge that broadened country’s audience and opened the door to self-contained bands from then on. The group attracted people who didn’t like country music and had never listened to it before. They courted the youth market with their state-of-the-art production shows, and casual working-class attire that music fans were more used to seeing at a rock concert. Their own youthful image opened doors to the huge sales that the entire country music genre enjoyed in the ’90s. Alabama T-shirts were in the same closet as coveted Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts.
Alabama scored big playing concert arenas, off-the-charts record sales and dominated the airwaves on country radio.
Their success was unstoppable, like a freight train hell-bent on making up for lost time and tearing up the tracks in the process. In the ’90s, the train came to a full stop when Owen decided he’d had enough of life in the fast lane. But sooner or later, the call of the fans has to be answered so the ‘Bama boys were back on the bus for a series of select shows over the past several years. That unprecedented success continued to sustain them to this day. However, a new wrinkle threatened to derail the train.
About four years ago, Jeff Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and while his band mates have known about it all along, the news was only released to the public recently.
“This disease robs you of your coordination, your balance, and causes tremors,” Cook said in a prepared statement. “I also note that not every case is the same and affects people in different ways. For me, this has made it extremely frustrating to play guitar, fiddle or sing.
“I have tried not to burden anyone with the details of my condition because I do not want the music to stop or the party to end and that won’t change, no matter what.
“Let me say, I’m not calling it quits, but sometimes our bodies dictate what we have to do and mine is telling me it’s time to take a break and heal. I do believe in prayer, and I appreciate all the continued prayers through this difficult time.
“I love these guys (Randy and Teddy) and I love everyone involved with the group Alabama and especially our fans. I want our fans and everyone involved to know that I do support all the decisions made by Randy and Teddy, as they continue to support mine.
“I do hope to be at some of the shows and events when possible and I hope to see you there.
“Just remember, life is good and as long as you’re breathing…there’s ‘No Bad Days.’ ”
So Owen and Gentry are continuing on with Cook’s blessing.
“He wants us to go on,” Owen said. “We want the music to go on. I’m going to be very honest, I don’t know if I have the fire. The only way I do, is knowing that Jeff is totally, ‘Go get it.’
“We’ve booked a lot of shows for 2018,” he stated, adding that the “R” word — though the band did take some time away from each other and the road a few years back — has never been a viable option. “I don’t think we ever mentioned the word ‘retirement’ — we were just going to take some time off. Honestly, we were amazed that the public still wanted to see and hear us. We’re very grateful for that opportunity to come back out. I told the people in Scottsdale the other night, ‘We’ve been playing together for about 50 years. You folks have given us the opportunity to do that. We’re thankful boys.’”
The guys believed in themselves from that early beginning, it was just a matter of convincing the industry suits they deserved a listen.
“We believed we had something pretty special from a vocal standpoint,” said Gentry, “and we were looking for the opportunity to prove it. There were a lot of times when we wondered whether we might be better off going back home and getting jobs, but we just kept rehearsing and writing songs, trying to get better and believing we could do it.”
In April 1980, Alabama signed with RCA, and quickly recorded the band’s autobiographical anthem, “My Home’s in Alabama,” as a single. That May, they released “Tennessee River,” which became Alabama’s first No. 1 hit, and the first of a string of consecutive No. 1 hits.
The band was revolutionary in more than one sense.
“We were renegades in sneakers and T-shirts,” Gentry said. “We had long hair and played loud — and some of the country folks resisted us for a while. But then of course they did accept us and then after that our success made it lots easier for other bands to try it in country music.”
“There was a time when we weren’t living to work but working to live,” Cook told the Laughlin entertainer in a previous interview. (Cook has also performed in town on occasion with his AllStar Goodtime Band). “Then there was a time when the machine got bigger than the act. You’ve gotta have a hand on the controls or it will get away from you. After a concert in the Dakotas, it was time to take a break.
“After a time, we were right back out there, picking up where we left off, with people singing right along with us and putting all that energy right back into the show,” Cook added.
Some of those stops have included Laughlin, and will again when Alabama takes the stage at the Laughlin Event Center Saturday, Feb. 24 as part of their Southern Drawl Tour.
Not only have they returned to do live shows like the one in Laughlin, they have been busy on other fronts as well. In 2013, they released a gospel album called Angels Among Us, and In 2014, they also released a CD/DVD, Alabama & Friends Live at the Ryman.
“That was a lot of fun performing with a bunch of our friends who came out to do songs with us like Trisha Yearwood, Jamey Johnson, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line and the Eli Young Band,” said Cook.
Their most recent album, Southern Drawl, was released in 2015.
No matter the project Alabama has always had a knack for taking any song, putting their spin on it and making it their own.
“We really tried to push the boundaries of our music,” Owen said. “We worked very hard at trying to make every live performance a special experience for our fans. We still feel the same way. It was important to all of us that we never got comfortable with what we were doing at the time. We constantly developed new arrangements and a new approach to our live shows without losing the feeling that made these songs hits in the first place.
“We’ve done a lot of things in our career by pure accident, there’s been a lot of luck involved. Following our hearts and our feelings. We did it all just by being ourselves.”


Laughlin Event Center

Saturday, Feb. 24 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets