Alabama Biography

Statistically the biggest US country rock act of the 80s and 90s, Alabama’s origins can be traced back to Fort Payne in northern Alabama. The band was originally formed in 1969 as Young Country by cousins Randy Owen (14 December 1949, Fort Payne, Alabama, USA; vocals/guitar) and Teddy Gentry (b. 22 January 1952, Fort Payne, Alabama, USA; bass/vocals), with Jeff Cook (b. 27 August 1949, Fort Payne, Alabama, USA; vocals/guitar). Changing their name to Wild Country, they added Bennett Vartanian (b. John Bennett Vartanian, USA, d. 27 November 2006), the first of many drummers. After several misfires at the start of their career, their big breakthrough came with a residency at a club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 1973. Soon afterwards, they turned professional. They recorded for several small labels in the 70s before changing their name to Alabama in 1977.

The newly named band’s career looked set to blossom following the Top 80 country success of ‘I Wanna Be With You Tonight’, a one-off single release on GRT Records. Following GRT’s collapse, however, the band was forbidden from recording for two years. At this point, they sought out a full-time drummer to fill out their sound and recruited Mark Herndon (b. 11 May 1955, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA). After their third single, February 1980’s ‘My Home’s In Alabama’, on MDJ Records, reached the Country Top 20 they signed to RCA Records and found immediate success. A rich vein of country number 1 hits followed, including ‘Tennessee River’, ‘Why Lady Why’, and ‘Feels So Right’. Singles such as ‘Love In The First Degree’ also acquired crossover pop success. Of their five platinum albums during the 80s, the most successful was 40 Hour Week, which reached number 10 in the US chart. In 1986, they worked with Lionel Richie, but subsequent work has seen them return almost exclusively to the C&W charts. However, their environmental anthem, ‘Pass It On Down’ in 1990, confirmed that they were still capable of surprising their audience.

In 1995 Alabama celebrated its 15th anniversary, in which time the band could lay claim to many outstanding achievements, including sales of over 50 million albums, and the Academy Of Country Music’s Artist Of The Decade Award for their work in the 80s. Singer Randy Owen described their enduring appeal thus: ‘What you see is what you get with Alabama. We’re basically a blue-collar working band. We work really hard at what we do, and we work for our fans and listen to them.’ ‘Sad Lookin’ Moon’ in February 1997 took their total of country number 1s to a remarkable 41, as their worldwide record sales topped 58 million. For The Record: 41 Number One Hits debuted at lucky number 13 on the Billboard Top 200 in September 1998.

Despite an increasingly formulaic sound, Alabama remain a major live attraction and were inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in November 2005.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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