“I was in the first grade and I got my first pair of blue jeans. I wore those same pair of blue jeans everyday to school. Momma could wash them on the weekends. Up until that point, I had worn shorts to school. That’s a cool thing to do now. When I started school that was not cool, wear shorts and go barefooted, but that’s what I did. I went to school with shorts that my mother made, shirts that my mother made and ran bare-footed. I wouldn’t take anything for it.”
Randy and his first cousin, Teddy Gentry, grew up on farms on Lookout Mountain in Ft. Payne, Alabama, singing in church and later learning to play the guitar. In high school Randy and Teddy and another cousin, Jeff Cook, formed a band they called Young Country. Their first performance was at a high school talent contest in which the trio took top prize (a trip to the Grand Ole’ Opry) with a cover of a Merle Haggard song.
After Randy and Jeff graduated from college, Young Country became Wildcountry and in 1973 the group decided to become professional musicians. The band of cousins, along with a string of drummers, began playing regular gigs around the southeast. In 1977 Wildcountry changed their name again, this time for good, paying homage to their home state with the moniker, Alabama.
After After success with the self-recorded and self-promoted singles, “I Wanna Come Over” and “My Home’s In Alabama” Randy, Teddy, Jeff and drummer Mark Herndon released their first single with RCA records, “Tennessee River” in 1980. That single became the first of twenty-one consecutive number one songs for Alabama. They would go on to have twenty-one more throughout their career.
Alabama was named “Artist of the Decade” by the Academy of Country Music in 1989 and was named "Country Group of the Century" by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1999.
Alabama announced its retirement in 2002 to take some much needed family time, travel time and self time, but music was too much a part of their very being for the cousins to stay idle long. Jeff helped lay down tracks and produce the album, ‘Home Grown’ which donated all it’s proceeds to cancer research. He has since formed the soulful duo Cook and Glenn with Mitch Glenn featuring the perfect combination of country and rock n’ roll. Teddy and his business partner Josh Leo created the Midas label working with acts such as the country artists Emerson Drive and Collin Raye. Randy continued his work with St. Jude Children’s Hospital and in 2007 he was a judge on Nashville Star. His first solo album is due out later this year.
In 2007, the band released its final project together as Alabama, which they appropriately entitled “The Last Stand.” Alabama’s final album can be found exclusively at Cracker Barrel. The album features live performances from the 2004 farewell tour. “You go through and try to pick out what would work to make an album out of it, or CD. Not all ballads, not all mid tempo, not all up-tempo, just kind o f something that makes sense for that.
The one I was really wanted to do was “Feels So Right” because it was the piano, you know, the different approach. It’s kind of like you have a different artist recording it, but actually it’s the same guy singing. It’s just a different recording, becomes a different animal than when we recorded it in the studio in ’81,” says Randy, laughing. “There’s so many kids born because of that song. It makes people want to get next to one another.” Randy grows serious when talking about the toll fame has taken over the years, “I get really emotional thinking about how fast the years are going by and I’m not sure I enjoyed them enough. You can’t really enjoy it when everyday of your life is something that has to be for the cause, which is the success of Alabama. For me, I just reached a point where I really needed to step back from it.”
“It’s a pretty emotional kind of thing to think about. I wonder if I, for the sake of the success of Alabama, did I go to enough ball games, or school events or enough birthdays?”
“We celebrated birthdays when it really wasn’t birthdays. Nonetheless, we celebrated a birthday. And so when the kids are young they don’t know the difference. We had birthdays, we had Christmas, we had other holidays on days when it really wasn’t the day, sometimes, but we got to celebrate.”
“It’s been a long, long road. I lost my father in 1980. It was like two weeks before success came. He taught me how to play the guitar, he showed me the first chords on the guitar, he showed me how to live a wonderful life and still have a lot of fun. It meant so much to him. That has been the most difficult thing for me to deal with, not being able to say, ‘Look what I did,’ like a little kid does their daddy. I wonder about those things and of course, I’ll never know because Daddy wasn’t around. I can’t relive what might have been.”
Why would Randy choose to dive headlong back into the limelight with his solo project? “I started thinking about something that is really important to me and that was the kids at St. Jude’s. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if people would throw stuff, boo. I didn’t know what would happen because it was a totally new experience for me.
“I went out and the audience was absolutely wonderful and so after doing those shows, I came back ready to go and totally committed to what I had set out to do. I believe in my heart that the public wants me to do this. Alabama is my life, but this has been in the works for twenty-something years. It’s not about my ego; I want it to be the best possible scenario it can be for the kids.”
As Alabama and its members matured, the business around them changed drastically. “Performing hasn’t changed at all. It is still about putting out the best show you can; the best lights, the best sound, the best stage presence that you can. I think publishing has become much more business oriented. A majority of the writers are more informed. I know they make better decisions than I did when we were getting started. With recording you don’t have the freedoms that you used to have, which probably cost the consumer in the long run; as far as making really, really creative records.”
“The one thing I know that’s changed is when you are touring. It has become so much more expensive. It’s almost crazy expensive. I remember when we started we sold shirts for 8 or 10 dollars a piece. I don’t remember what caps and pictures even sold for but they were almost nothing really. You can’t afford to do that now. That part has really changed. I think that the bad part about everything is that the final result, the most important people to me- the fans, they’re being less served than they’ve ever been.” “Used to, and this is not to say anybody’s bad or good, but shows wouldn’t come into town on top of one another. By that I mean you wouldn’t have a big name act on Friday night and another one on Saturday night because the fans could not afford to go see both shows. What you run into now is an over abundance of shows and people having to choose; instead if they spread it out a little bit, maybe they could afford to see them all.” Randy understands what it’s like to be a songwriter: “There are two choices you have as songwriters, you could choose to do what I did and that is to write what you feel in your heart. It’s not going to sound like other stuff. You won’t be able to write two or three songs that sound alike, have the same message and somebody record three of them in a row and be number one records. But, maybe they’ll live on longer. The other choice is to find some very talented people and hang out with them and learn how to write those fast, quick commercial songs that in the end probably makes you more money. Either one of them is okay, it depends on which one you want.”
Randy Owen offers this final advice to artists struggling to find their place in the music industry, “Try not to believe anything the press says about you, because when you start believing it you start getting that attitude. That’s when you know you’re going in the wrong direction.”