December , 1982
By David Huff
Music from the Soul
Success has changed Alabama.
For countless years, this Southern country/pop group from Ft. Payne, Alabama scraped out a living on tips in the bars of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, working five to six-hour nights, six nights a week.
It's only a 2 1/2 hour drive to Nashville from the small Northeastern Alabama city of Ft. Payne where Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Mark Herndon call home. Musically, the journey has been much longer.
It was 10-year uphill journey for the band battling the odds of not enough money, months of one night stands, management conflicts, and a seemingly endless turnover of drummers. And of course there were the record company’s polite refusals, but the fire never left the eyes of the three original members of Alabama, Owen, Cook and Gentry.
They weathered the sea of endless honky tonks and paid their dues graciously never losing sight of that seemingly forever elusive dream. It's a dream no more.
The start came in 1969 when the three cousins start playing together and they won a local talent contest. The foundation was laid when the three made the all or nothing move in 1973 and they quit their 'regular' jobs and moved to Myrtle Beach to play music full time.
There, to keep customers happy and tips coming in, they played everything from disco to bluegrass. Though the work didn't ease their appetites much, it broadened their musical tastes and pushed them toward the road of writing their own material.
While Alabama was performing in Myrtle Beach and on the road, the group also found time to pitch their brand of music to record companies.
For the most part, it fell on deaf ears. Finally, Nashville's GRT Records, impressed with an original composition, "I Wanna Be With You Tonight," signed the group 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 music.
Mark Herndon finally entered the scene with Alabama in 1979, and suddenly the band found themselves a first class drummer and perfect complement to their style.
The band then financed and recorded a new single, "I Wanna Come Over," that garnered them enough attention that MDJ Records out of Dallas signed the band to a management/recording contract. "I Wanna Come Over," hit the top 40 Country Charts, and it's follow up, "My Home's In Alabama," would become the band's anthem and soar into the Top 20. In 1980, RCA signed the band to a contract.
Both singles showed up on the group's first album with RCA, My Home's in Alabama, which went gold and spawned the singles, "Tennessee River," and "Why Lady, Why." The album went platinum.
Feels So Right, followed in 1981 with the title track, "Old Flame," and the monster hit, "Love In the First Degree.' This double platinum album topped the country charts that fall and stayed there for more than 20 weeks.
Despite the success of the first two RCA albums, the group took a different approach in recording their third album, Mountain Music.
"Other times there's been songs that we didn't redly feel good about playing on stage," commented Randy Owen about the group’s vinyl efforts. "There were some beautiful songs and they were great when done in the studio, but they just didn't come off right on stage.”
"'Burn Georgia, Bum' was one of-them. ‘Hollywood,’ ‘Woman Back Home,’ ‘I'm Stoned,’ they were good songs but they didn't come off on stage. They didn't excite people like we hoped they would. Therefore we kind of pushed them aside."
1981 was a good year for Alabama. It would see the group be voted Vocal Group of the Year, Album of the Year for Feels So Right, and named Entertainer of the Year. They were the first group in the history of the ACM to ever win the prestigious Entertainer of the Year award. But, that was only the icing on the cake. And through all of this, the band was on the road for 300 days, often playing two to three times a day. And they also wrote and recorded their third album too.
The band released Mountain Music, and to date, it has sold over three million albums. The year was sweetened even more when the band returned to the Academy of Country Music Awards in October, and before a nationwide audience, were awarded honors for Vocal Group of the year, Instrumental Group of the Year, and named Entertainer of the Year.
And through it all, Alabama has never lost sight of those responsible for helping put the band at the top and keeping them there...the fans. To show their appreciation, the band signs autographs after each of their shows.
Though it took the band nearly 10 years to break into the national scene, once they struck platinum, their rise to the top seemed quite dramatic and sudden. Owen attributes it to timing, and the fact that Alabama is 'different.'
"You know, our music charts country and pop, and we're from the South. Also, people buy our music because we can be taken as country and pop. Kids buy us because we're young.
'We don't try to hide any of those facts. We're just who we are and we make everybody happy. We don't have any far-out lessons or anything like that."
Ten years is long time for anybody to learn their business, and Owen is the first to admit it.
"I'm not glad that it took so long, that's nothing to brag about. It's just a fact," he said. "You know, we probably would not have appreciated it as much had It taken us a shorter period of time. But, if there's ever been anybody who knows what it is to fight and scratch for everything that you've got...we know what it'slike.
Indeed they do.