Randy Owen Interview: ALABAMA Returns to Road After Long Hiatus
Image attributed to ALABAMA
On Thursday, April 4, 2013, ALABAMA will perform at the historic Bowery in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in a free concert for those who have supported their career over the past 40 years. The group first got their musical start at the Bowery back in 1973 when the three cousins from Ft. Payne, Alabama, were selected as the venue’s summertime house band. From there, they went on to break records and make history as one of the most recognized and respected bands in country music.
The last time the band was on the road together was the American Farewell Tour about 10 years ago. The 2013 Back to the Bowery Tour officially kicks off April 5 and 6 with two sold-out performances at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach. With more than a dozen dates previously announced, additional dates continue to be added to the tour, including Atlanta, where a second show is set for May 18 at the Fox Theatre.
“When we went to Myrtle Beach, we were really out on an island, so to speak, because we didn’t have songs that were like other groups. There was all this beach music, all the pop, rock, soul, R&B stuff up and down the Grand Strand on the East Coast, but there was nothing like what we were playing.”
ALABAMA’s career to date has resulted in 21 Gold, Platinum and multi-Platinum albums, 43 number one singles and more than 83 million records in sales. They have received over 150 industry awards, including 8 honors for Entertainer of the Year, two Grammy wins and two People’s Choice Awards, as well as their very own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The band received the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award in 2003, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004 and most recently won the American Country Awards’ “Greatest Hits” Award in 2011.
The band consists of Randy Owen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), his cousin Teddy Gentry (bass guitar, background vocals) and another cousin, Jeff Cook (lead guitar, fiddle, keyboards).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Randy, was this new tour your idea of celebrating ALABAMA’s 40 years of making music?
Randy Owen: Yes. I was thinking that 40 years ago we went to this little place that we’d never heard of except through some friends. We started playing music at a place in Myrtle Beach called The Bowery as the house band. I think actually the real date was between March 12-14, 1973. I know my break at Jacksonville State was that week because we chose to go up there so I could be with the band for a week, and then we told the people that I wouldn’t be back until I graduated.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was the band called Wild Country at that time?
Randy Owen: I think so. I think that’s right. You’re talking 40 years ago. At some point, it was Wild Country. When we got there, I don’t know if we even had a name (laughs). It was just a band.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who came up with the name ALABAMA?
Randy Owen: That’s something Jeff, Teddy and I came up with. We were from Alabama, and what really helped were the people at The Bowery who would ask others, “Hey, have you seen that group from Alabama?” Many people who couldn’t remember our names or didn’t know our names would say to us, “Hey, Alabama!”
When we were first starting, some of the stuff just had “Alabama band.” When we got really involved in deciding what to call our group, we came up with a design and everything for a logo and had just “ALABAMA.” I don’t remember exactly what year that was, but that took a lot of time. We spent so much effort on that to have the name copyrighted.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will it be just the three of you performing on the road?
Randy Owen: Well, that is ALABAMA. I can’t remember the number of people who have played the drums with us. In those early days when we had a drummer that actually owned part of whatever we had, he made a decision that he didn’t want to be involved anymore, so Jeff and I went to the bank and signed our cars away. Teddy signed his name. He didn’t have any collateral, but he signed his name. Jeff and I both had fairly decent cars.
I believe it was 40 something hundred dollars we gave to the drummer, and that was his part. Everybody was happy. We made the decision then that nobody would ever be a partner of ALABAMA ever again. It wasn’t 40 something million dollars because at that time, we had to suffer through some enormous hardships to make our payment to pay him off for his part of the band. I don’t even know if we had a name or not. Jeff, Teddy and I own the logo.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The three of you are family who tour the country together. Are there any problems between you, Jeff and Teddy?
Randy Owen: Well, there are always issues people have to deal with. That’s like being married or something. But I think the longevity speaks for itself.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Indeed it does. The sound of ALABAMA differs from traditional country music. Did you call it country pop?
Randy Owen: We didn’t call it anything. When we went to Myrtle Beach, we were really out on an island, so to speak, because we didn’t have songs that were like other groups. There was all this beach music, all the pop, rock, soul, R&B stuff up and down the Grand Strand on the East Coast, but there was nothing like what we were playing. Even though we played requests and worked for tips, we covered a wide variety of stuff in our way. It was a combination of all those influences with our personal tastes that lent itself to the sound.
You know, we get blasted by the media for a song being too up tempo or edgy or whatever, and then they’d say the next one would be too hobo sounding. That’s what happens when you get to be successful. I just quit reading a long time ago and tried to create the best songs, paying attention to what the audience reactions were. That’s how “Tennessee River,” “Mountain Music” and “My Home’s in Alabama,” evolved. It was due to the reaction from the fans.
I remember playing “Lady Down on Love” for the girls that worked at the Holiday Inn downtown in Myrtle Beach. We worked for tips and, of course, they worked for tips. We’d advertise and say, “Y’all go and see the girls at the Holiday Inn downtown, and be sure to tip them.” Then they’d come and watch us play. I remember them requesting “Lady Down on Love,” and saying, “Someday, that song will be a big hit for you.” That was very sweet of them to say at the time. Of course, I had no idea that it would be true.
It was a very unique time to be involved in music. The feeling was that it was just a great place for creativity and a great place to bounce different songs off of a different audience to see their reactions. When they liked a song, you knew that such a cross section of people couldn’t be wrong. We had a lot of those songs already in our pockets when we had a chance to record.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A few years ago, you recorded “Braid My Hair,” a song about a young girl who had lost her hair due to illness. Wasn’t this song sent to your mother first so she could persuade you to record it?
Randy Owen: It could have been sent to her. I’d have to go back and think. People send her so many songs. It’s an awesome song, and I’ve always felt bad that the promotion people never got more out of it than what they did because the song is still the most awesome song.
Every year when I do my fan appreciation thing for the Randy Owen Fan Club here on the ranch, there will be several little girls that will come up to the stage and show me they’ve gotten haircuts and donated hair as “locks of love” (line in song). I think they did send that song to mama, but I’m really not sure.
I’ve just been over to see my mother. My wife, daughter and son-in-law and I had breakfast there. Mama might remember exactly what happened, but I do think that was the case. I just don’t remember at this point (laughs). There have been so many songs sent to her. Anyway, that’s a song that I’m really very proud I had the chance to sing. I just wish it could’ve touched more people’s lives. If the people that promoted the song had done a much better job of getting it out to the public, maybe it would have.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We’ll bring attention to it here. “Braid My Hair” is a beautiful song and really worth the time to listen.
Randy Owen: It is. It’s an awesome song. I wish I had written it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Changing topics on you, I understand that Mitt Romney was the first presidential candidate you have ever endorsed.
Randy Owen: Oh, yes. I wholeheartedly endorsed Mitt Romney. I wish that he had won because he was a guy that was ready to fix our country’s economic woes. You see what we’ve got now. It’s like Mitt told me the other day, “It just breaks your heart to see all the mistakes that’s going on economically.”
We just keep hammering away at the same old bad policies. But, you know, the election is over, and it’s time to move on and to do the best you can. I’m very proud that I endorsed him because that was the right thing for me to do rather than sit on the sidelines and talk. I can complain now because I did my best to get Romney elected.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your Christian faith has also been important to you over your long career.
Randy Owen: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that impressed me about Romney. These campaigns are vicious. I never heard him say anything vicious about his opponent. I never heard him say anything like that. In fact, I was much more intrigued by his demeanor and being so cool under fire. When you’re backstage with all these people, you get to find out what they’re really like. I’ve seen a lot of that.
I’ve been many places … seen a lot and done a lot. But I came away, even on the night they announced the winner, much more impressed with Romney. The way he spoke to the eventual winner was so kind. It was just really impressive to see a real man who had grown up and contributed to America through his family and everything. What a beautiful family he has! I also love Billy Graham, and he was obviously a Romney supporter. That meant so much to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you and the guys working on new music?
Randy Owen: Yes. We did two new things. We’re not totally finished yet, but they are awesome.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there a specific theme?
Randy Owen: It’s kind of a southern culture theme of trying to repair things. One of the lines in a song says, “Let’s get back to being neighbors and friends.” That’s my problem with the current administration today is that I’ve never seen such a divided country. Everything means something else.
It is kind of like watching Alabama play Auburn. They hate one another that day (laughs). But whoever wins by one point wins, and they go on to the next year. Harboring these bad feelings at the expense of our whole country is just not what America is about. It seems like we’re bent on taking down everything that George Washington traveled across the Potomac so many times for. Anyway, those songs have a theme consistent to many things we’ve done … without just giving the songs away here.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your recipe for success?
Randy Owen: Probably just quality songs. We had a team around us that really knew what they were doing and really cared about what they were doing. It was like a well-oiled machine. We didn’t let them down, and they didn’t let us down.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Randy, I appreciate your taking the time out of your busy schedule today to talk with me.
Randy Owen: It’s nice talking to somebody with a southern accent. I can understand you (laughs). You know, we say, “I don’t care. I’ll do that.” That means to me that I’ll help you. So I said to this guy, “I don’t care. I’ll do that.” But that meant to him that I didn’t want to do it. That’s one of the things I’m talking about, and it’s just how screwed up our country is today.
Instead of trying to look for what that person is saying that’s good, we look for any little picky, picky thing that we can blow up about with a he said or she said type of thing. My daddy just always buried in my head to try to look for the good in people because there is always enough bad. Try to look for the good. Maybe we all can get to where we can do that.
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