Country music group.
Having sold more than 60 million albums and accumulated approximately two hundred awards by the year 2000, the country group Alabama was a significant force in country music in the 1980s and 1990s, amassing forty-two number one hit singles and placing seven other songs in the top ten. First cousins Randy Yeuell Owen (lead vocals/songwriter/ rhythm guitar; b. December 13, 1949) and Teddy Wayne Gentry (bass; b. January 22, 1952), distant cousin Jeffrey Alan Cook (multi-instrumentalist; b. August 27, 1949), and friend Mark Joel Herndon (drums; b. May 11, 1955) charted new terrain as the first self-accompanying band in Nashville’s country music industry, which had previously been dominated by individual acts and vocal groups. Alabama’s group persona paved the way for Nashville’s acceptance of such later acts as Restless Heart, Exile, Sawyer Brown, and Shenandoah. Alabama became the first group to be named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music (1989) and was elected Group of the Century by the Recording Industry Artists Association in 2000.
Founded in 1969 as Wildcountry in Fort Payne, Alabama, the band moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 1973 and began working the beach club scene performing cover tunes in southern rock and country pop styles while honing original songs. The long hours, low pay, and touring caused original drummer John Vartanian to leave the group in 1976. The band’s rise to fame began after the remaining trio (Fort Payne natives Cook, Owen, and Gentry) signed with GRT Records in 1977, changed their name to Alabama, hired Mark Herndon, a drummer from Springfield, Massachusetts, and debuted on the country charts with “I Want to Be with You.” After moving to the newly formed MDJ label, Alabama’s first album, I Wanna Come Over, was released in 1979. The group’s first significant hit, “My Home’s in Alabama,” entered the top twenty and led to an RCA contract in 1980. A string of hits soon followed, including “Tennessee River,” their first number one hit, and “Mountain Music” and “The Closer You Get,” which both won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, in 1982 and 1983, respectively.
Their collaborations feature recordings with fellow Alabaman Lionel Richie (“Deep River Woman”) in 1986 and with ’N Sync (“God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You”) in 1999. The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998.
Alabama’s audience includes people of all ages. Realizing the influence of their songs, Alabama consciously strove to project a positive image. During much of the 1980s and 1990s they hosted June Jam, raising more than three million dollars for regional charities in the Fort Payne area. Their lyrics avoid themes of licentiousness and drinking while celebrating the virtues of faithfulness, patriotism, honesty, and regional pride. The group disbanded in 2003.
Cite this Entry
"Alabama," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2013, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 8 Dec 2013 <http://www.www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=20>
"Alabama." (2013) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved December 8, 2013, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=20