Randy Owen: December 13, 1949 -
Teddy Gentry: January 22, 1952 -
Jeff Cook: August 27, 1949 -
Mark Herndon: May 11, 1955 -
Formed in Fort Payne, the country super group Alabama blended the unbeatable talents of lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Randy Owen, bass player, songwriter and harmony vocalist Teddy Gentry, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Jeff Cook and drummer Mark Herndon.
First cousins Owen and Gentry grew up on separate cotton farms on Lookout Mountain, but the pair learned how to play guitar and also sang in church together before they were six years old. They played in high school bands before teaming with another cousin, Jeff Cook, to form Young Country in 1969. Once Owen and Cook graduated from college, they moved with Gentry to Anniston and changed the band’s name to Wildcountry in 1972.
Owen, Gentry and Cook became professional musicians in 1973, taking up residence in a honky-tonk called The Bowery in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The band often played there for thirteen hours a day, working its way through three drummers over the next six years. Their versatile repertoire encompassed rock, country, pop, dance music and rhythm-and-blues.
After signing a contract with GRT, the group changed its name to Alabama in 1977 and released a minor hit, “I Wanna Be With You Tonight.” Two years later, former rock drummer Mark Herndon joined the band and helped solidify Alabama’s signature sound. In 1980, MDJ released the Top 20 hit “My Home’s In Alabama,” which led to an RCA Records contract. The label’s move was unusual in country music at the time: Although a driving force in pop and rock, country had never been group-oriented. The success of Alabama inspired a healthy infusion of best-selling young bands into the genre.
Alabama’s remarkable streak of 27 No. 1 country hits began in the summer of 1980 with Owen’s invigorating “Tennessee River,” giving Alabama the distinction of being the first country group to top the charts with its first major-label release. The ballad “Why Lady Why” hit No. 1 at the end of 1980, with “Old Flame” (penned by Muscle Shoals songwriters Mac McAnally and Donny Lowery) following suit. By the touring season of 1981, Alabama scored three straight No. 1’s and became the hottest “youth appeal” act on the country scene.
For the remainder of the 1980s, Alabama continued to dominate the charts with “Feels So Right,” “When We Make Love,” “Once Upon a Lifetime,” “Love in the First Degree,” “Mountain Music,” “Dixieland Delight,” “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band),” “Roll On (18 Wheeler),” “Song of the South,” “Born Country,” “Take Me Down,” “The Closer You Get,” “Close Enough to Perfect,” “Touch Me When We’re Dancing” (penned by Muscle Shoals songwriters Terry Skinner, Jerry Wallace and Ken Bell) and “Lady Down on Love.” The group entered the 1990s with “I’m in a Hurry (and Don’t Know Why).”
For many years, Alabama championed and supported worthy causes. In 1989, Owen and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., established Country Cares, a network of 160 radio stations whose combined radiothons raised $130 million for St. Jude. In 1997, Alabama participated in Country Cares for Kids, a holiday album to benefit the hospital.
Alabama’s June Jam, held in Fort Payne for fifteen years, developed into one of the premier country music concerts in the nation. Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Neal McCoy joined Fort Payne’s famous sons for concert performances that raised more than $4 million for organizations like Big Oak Ranch, a haven for abused, neglected or homeless children.
At the close of the 1980s, the Academy of Country Music named Alabama its Artist of the Decade. In 1998, the band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They accepted the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award two years later. Alabama spent most of 2003 on its farewell tour, saying goodbye to fans. Two years later, they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as the album Songs of Inspiration climbed to No. 1.