November , 1984
By David Huff
Alabama Rolls on With Banner Year
JAM Speaks with Randy Owens and Teddy Gentry...
It was the final award of the evening at the annual Country Music Association Awards show being held in Nashville. The creme de la creme of the industry was there to honor their own. Already, Lee Greenwood and Reba McIntyre had been named male and female Vocalists of the Year. The most coveted honor of all, Entertainer of the Year, was about to be given.
Speculation ran high that Willie Nelson, Barbara Mandrell or the Oak Ridge Boys would wrestle away the highly sought after award Alabama had won the two previous years, but nobody was running out to place bets on it.
"...and the winner is...Alabama!" It's a good thing they didn't.
For an unprecedented third time, this unpretentious band from Ft. Payne, Alabama walked away with the award very few people would argue they didn't deserve.
"This award is for our fans," remarked Randy Owens during the bands' behind the stage celebration in Nashville. "Without them, we wouldn't be here. We love you."
Superstars aren't supposed to take time out to thank their fans after they make it big. They should have already done that on their way up to the top.
Alabama could care less. In fact, Alabama does everything but resemble the superstar band they are.
Year in and year out they invite journalists from all areas of the media to a pre-show press conference in every city on their national tours. They graciously go out of their way to do promotional spots for radio and TV stations everywhere and they stick around after their shows to sign autographs for the countless hundreds of fans who have stayed around hoping for a glimpse of them. Indeed, this band is rare.
"I have said this over and over again,” replied Teddy Gentry, “and I will keep on saying it. If it wasn't for the people out there that buy our albums, play our music and come see us play in concert, Alabama would not be where it is at today."
Alabama most certainly has not forgotten their fans. Their in-house press reports say that Alabama has amassed a fan club of nearly 200,000 worldwide. On top of that, these people are mailed a free newspaper every six to eight weeks to keep them informed on the goings on with the band. Their annual charity concert, the June Jam that features some of the top names in the country music business, has grossed closed to $2 million since its inception in 1981. Proceeds from the Jam benefit nearly 120 organizations in and around the DeKalb County area where Owens, and cousins Teddy Gentry and Randy Cook grew up.
Why would a band go to these lengths when they simply don't have too?
"It is just a way for us to say thank you," said Owens simply. "This is a way for us to give back to the people some of what they gave us over the years - support. It was a long, hard climb to get where we are at today and we are not going to forget the people that helped us along the way."
A long hard road indeed!
For countless years, ten to be exact, this country/pop group scraped out a living on tips in the bars along Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, working five to six hour nights a week. Alabama's dues playing days are almost legendary now. The sea of endless honky-tonks and one night stands are behind them.
"I’m not glad that it took so long,” said Owens. “That's nothing to brag about. It's just a fact. You know, we probably would not have appreciated it as much had it taken us a shorter period of time. But, it there's ever been anybody who knows what it is to fight and scratch for everything that you've got, we know what it is like."
The band's ascent to the top began in the late 70's with Nashville's GRT Records. Impressed by the original composition, "I Wanna Be With You Tonight," the group was signed to a one-year, one record contract in 1977. As the record entered and began climbing the national charts, GRT went bankrupt, and Alabama went back to the Bowery on Myrtle Beach. For the next two years they continued to hone their music and write.
Since the band's first album release in May of 1980, success is the only thing the band has been associated with. But now that Alabama seems almost invincible when it comes to writing and recording, are there anymore horizons to conquer?
"I don't think it is a true statement that Alabama can do no wrong," spoke up Gentry. "I think the reason we feel like we are successful is because we do take a lot of time with our music. We know you can get complacent if you go around with the attitude that since you've had a few hits in the past, every time you put out an album it is going to be a hit...that is not true.
"We experiment with every album we cut. We are in the studio right now experimenting. There are many elements involved in recording an album. You try to come up with different sounds with the various songs you write. You may think that a lot of our songs sound the same because of Randy's voice."
"I think Alabama could put out a sorry song and not have a No. 1 record if we get lazy. It could be detrimental to us, but hopefully we will keep on putting out good songs. But as long as we are going to put out the effort and work hard at it, we will be successful hopefully."