published Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Fort Payne-based country band Alabama back home on tour

From left, Jeff Cook, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry of Alabama have been touring and will release their first album together since 2007 today. The 11-song CD features collaborations with some of country music’s biggest names and two new songs by the band.
From left, Jeff Cook, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry of Alabama have been touring and will release their first album together since 2007 today. The 11-song CD features collaborations with some of country music’s biggest names and two new songs by the band.
Photo by Ed Rode Photography

THE ALBUM

"Alabama & Friends" tracks:

• 1. "Tennessee River," Jason Aldean

• 2. "Love in the First Degree," Luke Bryan

• 3. "Old Flame," Rascal Flatts

• 4. "Lady Down on Love," Kenny Chesney

• 5. "The Closer You Get," Eli Young Band

• 6. "Forever's as Far as I'll Go," Trisha Yearwood

• 7. "She and I," Toby Keith

• 8. "I'm in a Hurry (And Don't Know Why)," Florida Georgia Line

• 9. "That 's How I Was Raised,' Alabama

• 10. "All American," Alabama

• 11. "My Home's in Alabama," Jamey Johnson

DID YOU KNOW

• Alabama formed in 1969 by cousins Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry in Fort Payne, Ala.

• The band was first known as Wildcountry.

• They will host their first luxury cruise to the Bahamas Oct. 24-28 aboard the Norwegian Pearl.

• The band has earned 21 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums and 43 No. 1 singles and sold more than 73 million records.

• They've earned more than 150 industry awards, including two Grammy Awards, eight Entertainer of the Year honors and the 1989 Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Decade Award.

• Chattanooga resident Mark Herndon was not the original drummer but performed with the band throughout its touring and recording days.

• Chattanooga native and Riverbend talent and production coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller was a technician/driver and percussionist for the band from 1979 to 1986, and performed on stage with the group from 1983 to 1986.

Alabama is back with a new tour and a new CD and, according to bassist Teddy Gentry, it feels so right.

The Fort Payne-based band played its first Farewell Tour in 2002, and the members have been semiretired ever since, popping up every now and then for special events and to release two albums of inspirational music in 2006 and 2007.

This summer, cousins Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen have gotten back together in celebration of the 40th anniversary of their decision to spend the summer of '73 in Myrtle Beach, S.C., pursuing music full-time. From there, they built their musical chops and reputation, leading to 1980, when they signed with RCA Records, released the single "My Home's in Alabama," which reached the Top 20 in March 1980, and began their climb to become the biggest country music act of the decade.

This year, they've put together a year-long tour, which began back in November, and also have released "Alabama & Friends," a collection of their hits remade in collaboration with some of country music's biggest stars. The CD also includes two new Alabama songs.

Gentry says in a telephone interview that all of the past get-togethers have had their moments, but most of them were somebody else's idea. This reunion/tour is different and special because all three wanted to do it, and because they are doing it for themselves.

"It does feel different," he says. "After being on the road for 25 years, you do get a little burned out. But you start missing it again, and this one is for the band. It's not for the fans, and I don't mean that in a bad way."

The trio has parted ways with longtime drummer Mark Herndon, who reportedly was never a full member of the band but instead was a paid employee. After Herndon requested royalties he felt he was owed from the 2007 live album, "The Last Stand," the band sued him in 2008 for repayment of net merchandise sales that were paid to him before a full accounting was completed. The suit was later settled.

Gentry, 61, says the new tour features many of the old songs they used to do at The Bowery in Myrtle Beach. During their show there back in November, they did "Folsom Prison Blues," "Rocky Top," "Goodnight, Irene," "Sing Me Back Home" and "Dancin', Shaggin' On the Boulevard," as well as the required Alabama hits.

It also marks the first time in years that all three have been healthy, with Cook and Owen surviving cancer scares and Gentry suffering through his own back problems.

"When you go through health issues, you realize how vulnerable you are, and when you get to feeling better, you want to make the most of it," Gentry says.

Owen, 63, told the Miami Herald that the tour is a way to touch people and to make himself feel good.

"I had cancer," he says. "Prostate. Having got a good report and everything, I think the way for me to make a difference and maybe help people and be good for myself is to go out and get my guitar and play and sing."

The band members also wanted to make the most of their time back in the studio, Gentry says.

"A lot of time, these projects look better on paper than they turn out, but this was better than I imagined," he says. "To be in the studio with my idols like Trisha [Yearwood] is great ... It was a good time. Rascal Flatts took 'Old Flame' and turned it into something new and wonderful. Toby [Keith] did 'She and I.' It's great."

In a news release, Cook -- who turns 64 today -- said it "was very much an honor" that all the country acts were eager to take part in the tribute to Alabama.

"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," Cook said in the release.

Hanging out in the studio with the collaborators was also humbling, Gentry says.

"The only time you get to meet them is in passing, so to hang out with them was very rewarding. And to realize that you influenced so many people's careers, and at times you didn't even know it, was special."

For example, he says, singer/songwriter Jamey Johnson told him during the recording session that "My Home's in Alabama," which Johnson performs on the CD, was the first song he learned to play on guitar.

"It gave me an appreciation for what we did, and not in a way to make your head get bigger," Gentry says. "We were mattering to people and didn't even know it."

For the new material -- "That's How I Was Raised" and "All American" -- the band was particular and took more than a year to choose anything to record.

"We wanted to find something that holds up," he says. "'All American' I think is one of the best songs I've heard in two or three years."

Gentry says the band isn't looking too far into the future, and is simply enjoying the moment.

"We are having a good time."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at 423-757-6354 or email him at bcourter@timesfreepress.com.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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