If you have to list down some of the greatest bands in country music, what would be the first one you’ll think of? I hope Alabama would be on your top list.
Many-a-time, we focus and think of the individual or solo artists who have gotten to the top. But, little do we give credit to the groups who sing together in harmony just to provide us with a sumptuous sound of music.
In times like this, we do find time to celebrate the bests of country music, and bands like Alabama has come a long way to where they are now. With the success and accolades they have achieved, Alabama has been referred to as the “Most Successful Band in Country Music History.” In fact, as sources reveal, they have sold more albums than The Beatles and Elvis Presley combined.
It has been almost 50 years since a group of young cousins left Fort Payne, Alabama, to spend a vacation in South Carolina. Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook took six long years to earn the major label deal they had been dreaming of.
In 1969, the band was finally realized with Owen being the lead vocals and rhythm guitars; Gentry, the background vocals and bass guitar; and Cook, the lead guitar, fiddle, and keyboards. The band first operated under the name Young Country. After moving to South Carolina, the trio renamed the group to Wildcountry.
One night, Gentry hung a sign on the wall on stage with the name of their home state. People would then call them as the “Alabama band.” The name would change again before setting a 1977 deal with now-defunct GRT Records. GRT would release their song, “I Want To Be With You Tonight,” only if they changed their name. The day of the contract signing, they ran out of time, and all agreed to shorten “that Alabama band” to Alabama. The name “Alabama” was their last resort, and since then, it has become their brand.
The band’s first performance was at a high school contest. They played a Merle Haggard song and eventually, they were declared the winners. In addition, they won the first prize and tickets to the Grand Ole Opry.
Soon, they toured the Southeast Bar Circuit in the early ‘70s with their original written songs. In 1977, they officially changed their name to Alabama. With the chart success of two of their singles, RCA Records approached the group for a record deal. It was then the start of a brighter career for Alabama.
The group had their taste of success in the 1980s. By that time, they already had over 27 number one hits. In addition, they had earned seven multi-platinum albums and received numerous awards.
To note, Alabama’s first single on RCA Records, “Tennessee River,” started a streak of 21 number one singles. Following this, their other hits went atop the charts including “Love in the First Degree,” “Mountain Music,” “Dixieland Delight,” “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band),” and “Song of the South.” The band’s fame continued to flourish as they released more chart-topping hits.
In the 1990s, they’ve slowed down a little, but still, they went on to produce hit after hit. As a matter of fact, they had still earned top hits and multi-platinum album sales in that decade.
Probably, one of the most famous characteristics of Alabama on why they have gained so much fame and success is their style of music. Their unique way of singing has not been seen in other bands nor do other artists and they just simply take it their own.
Blending traditional country music and Southern rock combined with elements of gospel and pop music, Alabama is, for sure, one of the very few bands who do this brilliantly. This mix of music gave it a crossover appeal to millions of fans not just in the country but around the world. Moreover, they have maintained their close relations to their fans as they constantly and extensively toured places.
Truly, the band has overtaken the number of the combined album sales of The Beatles and Elvis as mentioned earlier. On the Billboard Charts, the band produced 30 number one hits. Furthermore, they have sold over 75 million records and earned more awards than any other bands in country music. With such accomplishments, Alabama emerged as one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time encompassing all music genres. Their perfect blend of American country, Southern rock, gospel, and bluegrass has been deemed to be their main brand and ticket to stardom.
In the world of music, Alabama is the band that changed everything. As a matter of fact, placed 21 straight number one singles on the charts. Probably, this is a record that will never be equaled by any other bands in any genre.
As many fans would say, the band brought youthful energy, sex appeal and a rocking edge that widened the fans’ perception of music.
In fact, many country stars now have drawn inspiration from the band’s world-class talent, sparkling harmonies, and irresistible stage performance. Indeed, Alabama has contributed a lot to the industry and influenced a number of artists like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Florida Georgia Line, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, and Trisha Yearwood among many others.
The time when the spotlight is focused on them, Alabama did not hesitate to speak up their minds.
Randy Owen expressed his gratitude to God and everyone. He said:
“I Thank God I’m here to see these great artists see fit to sing some of the songs we did.”
Moreover, Jeff Cook added:
“It’s very much an honor that they’d take part in an Alabama tribute. We had a lot of fun working with them, and I think the finished product testifies to both the fun and the quality that went into it.”
On the other hand, Teddy gentry spoke of the songs’ legacy.
“More than anything, our longevity is a tribute to the hard work we did in selecting songs because it’s the songs that people remember.”
In addition, they also reminisced the times when they worked with the legendary producer Harold Shedd. Interestingly, Shedd was also the one who worked with the likes of Shania Twain and Toby Keith during the spotlight of their careers.
“I suggested to Jeff and Teddy that Harold work with us on the new stuff and they agreed.”
“It was spine-tingling when he said yes. It’s a story-book episode in my life and in the career of Alabama to have Harold being on board and to see him as excited as we were after all these years.”
Harold Shedd, on the other hand, spoke of what he thinks about:
“We hadn’t worked together in years but within a couple of hours, we had some things that sounded like ALABAMA did on 1980. It was like ALABAMA reborn.”
In response, Teddy answered with a laugh and said:
“I always worry about putting out anything new at this point knowing it has to stand up to a pretty strong track record.”
Not long ago, Teddy witnessed a scene that showed their legacy of songs remains as fresh as it was when they first had their streak in the 1980s. He exclaimed:
“I was in Nashville walking by this club full of young people – I’m talking 18 or 20.”
He then continued and said:
“The band started playing ‘Dixieland Delight’ and everybody in the place started singing and sang all the way through. I had to smile at the longevity of the songs. Maybe some of those kids didn’t even know who ALABAMA was, but they knew the music. And so, I think that’s a tribute to the fact that we spent a career putting out good songs that stand the test of time.”
Again, if some of you still are not aware of the bands’ accomplishments, here’s a thorough list of Alabama’s awards that have become proof of their hard work and success.
In an article they published about the band, AllMusic wrote:
“It’s unlikely that any other country group will be able to surpass the success of Alabama.”
True enough, they earned a total of 21 Gold, Platinum, and Multi-Platinum albums. In fact, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) declared the band as the Country Group of the Century.
Starting in 1981, Alabama bagged both the Vocal Group of the Year and Instrumental Group of the Year awards from the Country Music Association (CMA). Also, the Academy of Country Music (ACM) awarded them the Vocal Group of the Year award. Meanwhile, Billboard named them as the New Group of the Year.
Furthermore, CMA awarded them its most prestigious Entertainer of the Year honors for three consecutive years, from 1982 to 1984. On the other hand, ACM hailed them as the Entertainer of the Year for five consecutive times, beginning in 1982 until 1986.
Three years later, Alabama clinched the Artist of the Decade award given by the ACM. Also, they earned the National Association of Recording Merchandisers NARM Gift of Music and Country Radio Broadcasters Humanitarian Award. To add, Alabama also brought home the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award and Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. Interestingly, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was bestowed upon their name.
In May 2002, Alabama announced their American Farewell Tour at the CMA following their disbandment. With the fans sad reactions, Owen spoke on behalf of their decision to part ways.
“When you get down to it, there are many, many factors involved – some of them very personal. It’s really about the integrity of the group, the dignity of the group.”
However, he later admitted that the group was really exhausted after their twenty years of nonstop touring and recording. He added that they themselves really needed some time.
They then continued their final tour which was jam-packed from June to November 2003. Nonetheless, due to “extraordinary fan response and overwhelming ticket demand,” the tour was extended for an additional 30 shows. And, in October 2004, the band performed their final show in Bismarck, North Dakota.
After the final show, Randy stayed active as a solo artist. Meanwhile, Jeff stayed with his Allstar Goodtime Band, and Teddy Gentry continued to be a producer and stayed with his band Rockit City.
In 2013, in celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary, Alabama resumed their tours and eventually had their reunion. They staged their reunion for the Back to the Bowery tour, referencing the Myrtle Beach club where they first became professional musicians.
1. Angels Among Us (1993)
2. Love in the First Degree (1981)
3. Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler) (1984)
4. If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band) (1984)
5. Feels So Right (1981)
6. The Closer You Get (1983)
7. Song of the South (1989)
8. Mountain Music (1982)
9. Tennessee River (1980)
10. Dixieland Delight (1983)
According to Michael McCall of The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Alabama has been credited with “substantially broadening country’s audience while becoming one of the most popular acts in American musical history.” Moreover, Alabama mostly appealed to a younger audience. Nevertheless, their clean-cut image appealed to the more conservative and older country music as well. In fact, publicist Kurt Wolff described the band’s appeal as,
“They're just rebelling enough for the young folks, but their parents also dig the boys’ pretty harmonies, sentimental soft spots, and old-fashioned family values.”
While Alabama approaches its 50th anniversary, they have since then withstood the challenge of time and has faced a lot of adversaries. But through it all, it is undeniable that they have given us some of the best music, and they have marked a spot in country music. Their legacy will live on today and forever, for this generation and for future generations to come.
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