How do you capsulate a career that to date has resulted in 21 Gold®, Platinum®, and Multi-Platinum® albums, 43 #1 singles, and over 73 million records sold? Add to that over 150 industry awards including eight country music “Entertainer of the Year” honors, two Grammys, two People’s Choice Awards, and their very own star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame.” For Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook – the members of ALABAMA – it’s been 30 years of unprecedented success that still continues to this day.
In the late ’60s, cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry discovered they shared a common interest in music. Joined by Jeff Cook – another local veteran musician – they started playing clubs and venues on a regular basis. In March of 1973, the band said goodbye to their daytime jobs and part-time weekend gigs. Bravely, “Wildcountry”, as the band was formerly known, left their Lookout Mountain and Fort Payne roots to hone its burgeoning talent on the club scene in coastal South Carolina and the surrounding area.
During the ensuing years, playing such popular nightspots as The Bowery in Myrtle Beach, the band underwent a name change, added a new drummer, as an employee, named Mark Herndon in (April 1st) 1979 and began setting its sights on Nashville, after an appearance on the New Faces Show at the Country Radio Seminar in 1980 that also featured newcomer Reba McEntire. RCA’s Joe Galante came back to his office raving about a young band he’d seen.
On April 21, 1980, ALABAMA signed with industry giant RCA, the label that turned the likes of Elvis Presley into a megastar and cultural icon. The label quickly pressed ALABAMA’s autobiographical anthem “My Home’s in Alabama” as a single. That May, RCA Records released “Tennessee River” as the first #1 Alabama hit. Starting with “Tennessee River”, they would rack up a string of 21 consecutive #1 hits. (Up until that time the record was held by Sonny James with 16 consecutive #1 singles.) 21 more singles would follow, rewarding the band with 42 #1 singles. ALABAMA became, seemingly overnight, a driving force in country music, essentially changing it forever.
The group began taking the genre in new directions and reaching out to an incredibly diverse fan base, many of which had never before listened to country music. ALABAMA was among the first to court a youth market for country music. (Previously, an older consumer characterized the format with more mature concert audiences.) With its vibrant stage energy and casual, working-class attire, the group presented a newly youthful image and thereby opened the door to the titanic sales that country music enjoyed in the 1990s. Teenage boys and 20-something men who had been sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the names of bands like Yes, Boston and Lynyrd Skynyrd in the late-70’s had ALABAMA’s trademark logo across their chests by the time they left high school and graduated college a few years later. At the same time, the group’s soulful southern ballads stirred emotions in women of all ages, drawing huge female audiences to their shows.
ALABAMA concerts became immediate sell-outs whenever and wherever tickets went on sale. Many of those who flocked to ALABAMA’s live performances with their state-of-the-art production were not necessarily fans of country music and did not listen largely to country radio. Because of ALABAMA’s impact on the country genre, however, more and more new listeners were being attracted to the format. ALABAMA’s multi-Platinum® record sales, and their energetic concert approach, helped to stamp a new identity on the country music industry. ALABAMA was leaving its legendary mark in concert arenas, record stores and on country radio.
Their approach to country music attracted fans of all ages, and continues to do so even today as represented on their most recent collaboration – the #1 hit, “Old ALABMA” with Brad Paisley. ALABAMA’s live concert approach mirrored the band’s club days while playing for tips at The Bowery in Myrtle Beach. Being able to react immediately to song requests meant money in the tip jar. The band’s upbringing on country, gospel, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, rock-n-roll and southern rock enabled them to perform with ease everything from Acuff to ZZ Top. ALABAMA was, quite simply, blazing a path that would take country music to new places and in new directions. Sure, established country superstars like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were enjoying crossover success at the time, but the foursome-relative newcomers in 1981-made their way into the Top 20 on the pop charts as well. “Feels So Right,” “The Closer You Get,” “Love In The First Degree,” “Lady Down On Love” and “Take Me Down” all received pop airplay.
“It’s really hard to measure or quantify, because the fact is they opened the door for a lot of the modern-day bands that are there. And at the same time, musically, they pushed the boundaries,” RCA Label Group Chairman Joe Galante remembers. “They opened a whole generation’s ears to what became country music and drew them into the format – it was enormous. They really have a way of saying something different,” Galante adds. “I’m always amazed at how they can come up with a little turn of a phrase or a little guitar lick or an entire approach to a melody that is different. And there was an energy and a personality that they put into it. They’re a band that all of us will talk about for a long, long time to come.”
ALABAMA’s career sales have topped 73 million records. This ranks it as one of the 10 biggest-selling bands in the annals of popular music – ahead of such rock greats as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Queen, Pink Floyd and The Who. ALABAMA has more No. 1 records than any band in country-music history and has sold more concert tickets than any other country group. 17 of its albums are Platinum® sellers. Mountain Music, released in 1982, is Quintuple-Platinum®, as is 1986′s Greatest Hits. Roll On (1984), The Closer You Get (1983) and Feels So Right (1981) are all Quadruple-Platinum ®. Christmas (1985), Greatest Hits III (1994), 40 Hour Week (1985) and the act’s debut album, 1980′s My Home’s In Alabama, were joined by For the Record as Double-Platinum ® sellers.
Citing highlights among ALABAMA’s 70-plus charted singles is tough, but the following illustrate its musical diversity and evolution. “Dixieland Delight” (1983) and “Mountain Music” (1982) showcased the group as cheerful Southern rockers. “Roll On” (1984) and “40 Hour Week” (1985) presented the boys as blue-collar heroes. The delightfully peppy “She and I” (1986), “Here We Are” (1991) and “I’m In a Hurry” (1992) proved the band’s pop chops, yet “Jukebox in My Mind” (1990) and “Old Flame” (1981) are as stone-country as it gets. Hits such as “Song of the South” (1988), “High Cotton” (1989), “Pass It On Down” (1990), “The Cheap Seats” (1994) and “In Pictures” (1995), are demonstrations of ALABAMA’s lifetime commitment to quality “message” lyrics.
But the band can also have innocent fun with fare such as the summery “Beach Music” and “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard” (1997). They’re separated by decades, but several songs are eloquent proof of ALABAMA’s mastery of the love ballad — from 1981′s “Feels So Right” to 1990′s “Forever’s As Far As I’ll Go” to 1998′s “How Do You Fall In Love.”
In May 2002, ALABAMA stunned the world, announcing to Dick Clark during the Academy of Country Music Awards telecast plans for a Farewell Tour in 2003. It hardly seems possible. But, true to form, as we’ve come to expect from Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, Jeff Cook, they made their departure from touring with class and grace. Every night’s American Farewell Tour show was unique; reflecting new, live interpretations and arrangements of the band’s long list of hits in their set list. Each show was specially tailored for that particular night and that particular audience. The band could also weave an instant request, if necessary, into their set just as they had done during their nightclub days.
Randy Owen says, “We really tried to push the boundaries of our music. 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.”
ALABAMA’s music was broad based, attracting a huge fan following of varied ethnic backgrounds and musical tastes. Jeff Cook adds, “Every night was different, no two shows were the same so we wanted to give the audience a performance that wasn’t just like the one before. Many times we did two sold out shows in the same place on the same day so we pulled songs in and out and added new ones to change things around.”
Teddy Gentry agrees, “Every night before I walk on stage I know that there will be people in the audience who have never seen Alabama before. I want us to be able to do something that will make them feel good about having been there and that they will always remember us by. We’ve always kept our level of expectations high. We’ve always been our best and worst critics.”
ALABAMA was the first group in history to win the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award and the only artist to win this award for three consecutive years. They were “Entertainer of the Year” for five straight years for the Academy of Country Music. The Academy of Country Music named ALABAMA their most awarded artist during the ACM 40th Anniversary telecast in December 2005.
ALABAMA has chosen to use its celebrity to benefit a multitude of worthy causes across America and beyond. Particularly noteworthy is ALABAMA’s June Jam, the annual music festival in Ft. Payne, Alabama, which the band conceived in 1982. Although the June Jam concert was discontinued in 1997, the work of the Alabama June Jam lives on through the Alabama June Jam escrow account and the ongoing June Jam Songwriters Showcase. The band continues to play an integral role in raising millions of dollars for schools, public service organizations, hospitals, youth ranches and scholarships.
In 2001, ALABAMA donated a check for $100,000 to the Fort Payne City School System from June Jam funds. Over $45,000 from the escrow account was donated in 2003 to agencies including Dekalb County Public Library, John Croyle Big Oak Ranch, DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center, Partnership for a Drug Free Dekalb County and The Chattanooga Speech and Hearing Center. The 2005 June Jam Songwriters Showcase raised $36,857.00 for John Croyle’s Big Oak Ranches and ALABAMA’s songwriter benefit in Montgomery generated more than $150,000 for victims of Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the humanitarian efforts the group engages in as a whole, each band member is actively involved in his own individual causes which include: the more than $280 million that lead singer Randy Owen has helped raise in partnership with Country Radio for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through his establishment and leadership role in Country Cares for St. Jude Kids. Additionally, nearly $1 million has been generated through the Randy Owen Alabama Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches Golf Tournament since 1985 for ranches throughout the state; the foundation that Mark Herndon has established to benefit hearing-impaired children in conjunction with The Chattanooga Speech and Hearing Center; Teddy Gentry’s commitment to fundraising on behalf the DeKalb County Children’s Advocacy Center; and Jeff Cook’s contributions to the Helen DiStefano Breast Cancer Foundation and Camp Smile-a-Mile, for kids with cancer.
Collectively, group members also continue to be long time friends and supporters of the John Croyle Big Oak Ranch for neglected and abandoned children. In recognition and appreciation of the group’s philanthropic commitment, ALABAMA has been honored with such distinguished recognitions as the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, Country Radio Broadcasters’ Humanitarian Award, Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award and the B.M.I. President’s Trophy for public service. (In the country music realm only three other people (and no other group) have been given this sterling-silver loving cup: Country Music Hall of Fame members Harlan Howard and Frances Preston, and singer/songwriter icon Willie Nelson.) Fittingly, the band is enshrined in the Alabama Hall of Fame and is one of the inaugural recipients of the “Spirit of Alabama” medal awarded by Governor Bob Riley.
ALABAMA has also been the recipient of 23 American Music Awards since 1983, including their prestigious Award of Merit, making the group the most awarded artist in the history of the American Music Awards. In 2003, Alabama was honored with the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award. In December 2003, the group received the International Quality of Life Award from Auburn University in ceremonies held at the United Nations Building in New York City. ALABAMA was presented the Country Radio Broadcasters Career Achievement Award On March 2, 2004. ALABAMA is the seventh of nine Country music artists to be recognized with the Artist Career Achievement Award. Joining them in this honor are Ronnie Milsap (2006), Dolly Parton (2005), Reba McEntire (2003), Sonny James (2002), Buck Owens (2000), Loretta Lynn (2000), Eddy Arnold (1999), and Chet Atkins (1998).
On March 23, 2004 ALABAMA was awarded the USO-Metro Washington Merit Award for their service of volunteerism and support of our Military. ALABAMA has volunteered through USO-Metro numerous times, visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed and injured troops at National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, honoring the memory of service members at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery by participating in the “Laying of the Wreath” ceremony, and allocating time during their concerts to recognize the sacrifice of service members and their families. ALABAMA gave a special military tribute to U.S. service men and women on August 24, 2003 at their farewell tour concert held at Nissan Pavilion in Washington, DC. ALABAMA lead vocalist Randy Owen led the band in an emotional rendition of “America the Beautiful” after military personnel wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq were called on stage and introduced to the audience.
Following their performance ALABAMA was honored with the USO Rising Star Award and the Pentagon 9/11 Medallion for their continued support of our men and women in uniform. Presenting the awards were Florida Congressman Bill Young, former Chairman of the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and West Virginia Congressman Alan Mollohan, also a member of the House Appropriations Committee. ALABAMA continued to recognize service men and women who were in attendance at the band’s American Farewell Tour Concerts nationwide.
In June 2011, ALBAMA and an All-Star cast of top entertainers (including Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, The Commadores, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and more) raised more than $2.1 million for the Bama Rising Fund which was created to support the long-term recovery for those affected by the tornados that ravaged the state of Alabama earlier in the year.
Attempting to find a numerical means to “sum up” ALABAMA’s success actually becomes a staggering prospect until you realize that all you need is one figure, one statistic, to say it all. Set aside the millions of albums, the awards, the accolades, even their unprecedented collection of hits, look simply to the fans, the countless fans they’ve touched over the years. Look at those people, add up those numbers, count every person who’s been touched by the music of ALABAMA. Then – and only then – will you truly see the incredible legacy these men have created. ALABAMA’s magic will always be preserved in its music and it will always live in the hearts of their fans.
“We’ve done a lot of things in our career by pure accident, there’s been a lot of luck involved,” says a humble Randy Owen. But there’s one other rule that Randy knows has served Alabama well – “Following our hearts and our feelings. We did it all just by being ourselves.”