Alabama was formed when three country musicians who also happen to be cousins got together with a rock and roll drummer. The three cousins are Randy Owen (1949), lead vocal and rhythm guitar, Teddy Gentry (1952), vocals and bass and Jeff Cook (1949), lead guitar, vocals, keyboard, and fiddle. The three grew up together on the cotton farms of Alabama and sang together as kids in church choirs.
Randy and Teddy decided to pursue careers in country music when Randy was in the 5th grade. At that time, their cousin, Jeff Cook was playing the ukulele at school functions. Jeff later picked up the guitar, keyboards, and the fiddle. In 1969, the three cousins decided combine their talents and form the country band called Young Country. Three years later they added a drummer, their friend Bennett Vartanian and changed their name to Wild Country. This name has remained their corporate identity even though most of their recognition was earned after they called themselves Alabama.
In 1973, Wild Country relocated to Myrtle Beach, S.C. where they became the house band for the club, The Bowery, working for tips six nights per week for seven years. During those years they gained a strong local following, but also went through four different drummers. They finally found Mark Herndon (1955) who became their permanent drummer and at that point changed their name to Alabama. Mark came from a family of classically trained musicians but his mother encouraged him to join the group. His sound was really considered to be more rock than country, which helped Alabama develop their signature country-rock sound.
In 1979, Alabama self recorded and released an album, which included the single, "I Wanna Come Over." By hiring an independent record promoter, Alabama was able to get some airplay on the radio for that single. This allowed them to gain the attention of MDJ records, a small label based in Dallas. In 1980, MDJ released their second single "My Home's in Alabama" which reached." #20 on the charts and gave Alabama the opportunity to perform at the Country's Music New Faces Show in Nashville.
At the show however, the band faced a problem. Nashville was not used to country groups with a drummer. Bands with a drummer were considered rock and roll, not country, and therefore Alabama had to perform without their drums during the show. Although the night began on the wrong foot for Alabama, RCA Records offered them a contract after the show. The band's insistence on playing their drums changed the country music scene forever.
Country-Rock was born. Their debut album on the RCA label was titled, "My Home's In Alabama" and every song released from it as a single became a #1 hit. This was the beginning of their many triumphs. By 1981, Alabama was named Top Vocal Group of the Year by the Country Music Association. In 1982, they won Top Vocal Group of the Year again in addition to the Academy of Country Music's Entertainer of the Year and Country Music Award's Instrumental Group of the Year. Obviously, the Country Music Awards recognized that there was something new and good taking place, even if it was not pure country.
Alabama also gave back to the community. In 1982, they began the annual June Jam in Fort Payne, which brought in an excess of 60,000 fans annually and raised millions for charitable causes. The festival also gave new artists a chance to perform in front of a large audience. In 1982, several of Alabama's songs became #1 hits, including "Mountain Music" and "Take Me Down." Two of their albums went platinum and they won Entertainer of the Year and Group of the Year again. In 1983, the album, The Closer You Get became platinum and the title cut reached #1 along with the songs, "Dixieland Delight" and "Lady Down on Love." That year, Alabama cleaned up at the awards show again with their numerous wins.
During the years of 1984 through 1986, the band continued to soar with triumph. In 1984, the single "If your Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" reached #1, and has become one of their most covered tunes by other groups. Also several of their albums were certified multiple platinum. In 1985, their single "Forty Hour Week (For a Livin'" hit #1 and became America's working man song. In 1986, their "Greatest Hits" album was certified platinum.
As the group entered the 1990s they continued to experience some success. In 1990 the album, Jukebox in My Mind included a #1 hit called "I'm in a Hurry and Don't Know Why). In 1995, they released the album, In Pictures which includes the songs " Sunday Drive", "Heartbreak Express" and "I've Loved a Lot More Than I've Hurt." Then they released the album, Dancin' on the Boulevard in 1997. This album brought the group closer together again to focus on their writing.
While touring on a bus, they wrote songs such as "Sad Lookin' Moon", which is about the way the moon looked on a particular drive through the night. The album is what the band considers an example of who they truly are. Alabama continues to make hit records. They have sold 55 millions albums, produced 41 #1 hits and touched thousands of people through their fundraising efforts through their June Jam Festival. They are certainly one of the most popular country groups in history, with their unique blend of country, bluegrass and rock.
Though in the 1990s, the band's popularity declined somewhat, the band still produced hit singles and gold and platinum albums. Yet, in 2006, the group disbanded after a farewell tour and two gospel albums, but in 2011 they reunited to produce a third gospel album, Angels Among Us: Hymns & Gospel Favorites, released in 2014. In 2015, Alabama continued their relaunch with the album Southern Drawl, their first album of all new material in 14 years. Most Recently, guitarist and fiddle player Jeff Cook has been diagnosed with Parkinson's and will take a break from playing. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.
Page author: L.C.