Even if you aren’t a country music fan, you’ve heard an Alabama song.
Do “Mountain Music,” “Love in the First Degree,” “Dixieland Delight,” “Touch Me When We’re Dancing” (yes, the same one that the Carpenters had a hit with) sound familiar?
If not, maybe one of their other 30-plus No. 1 hits will jiggle your memory.
After 40 years, Alabama singer/guitarist Randy Owen, his cousin Teddy Gentry (bass) and Jeff Cook (fiddle) have solidified their spot in country music history as players who have always been true to the music’s roots, yet also gave it a new twist with their angelic harmonies and elements of gospel and pop.
Since early April, the band has been on the “Back to the Bowery” tour to celebrate the four-decade anniversary of their first summer as a band, spent as the house act at the famed club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The tour launched with two dates at the venue and will hit the Fox Theatre — an Atlanta spot that Alabama has never played — Friday and Saturday.
On an early morning in mid-April, a sweet and chatty Owen called in from his farm in, yes, Alabama, to discuss the tour, the upcoming star-filled “Alabama & Friends” album and where he plans to play his final show.
Q: It’s been 40 years since the Bowery — can you believe it?
A: I was thinking one cold day that 40 years ago I was getting ready for spring break and getting ready to go to Myrtle Beach. So I talked to the guys about it and we thought we would do 40 shows and everyone agreed to that. It’s really a special thing. We’ve been so blessed; some of our closest buddies we were doing music with aren’t here anymore. I’m very proud that we got a chance to play the Bowery again.
Q: It’s unbelievable that you never played the Fox before. How did that happen?
A: I don’t know. I really don’t know. We did a lot of unique stuff early on with sound and lights. We didn’t want to be the best country band, but the best-sounding, best-looking band on the road. That might answer why we didn’t do the Fox. It was such an expensive show that we had to do bigger venues.
Q: Are you planning anything special for these shows?
A: It could be called the “spontaneous tour.” When we were in Myrtle Beach, one young lady had the misfortune of losing her husband in Afghanistan, so my wife, Kelly, and I brought her up and gave her some flowers and did “Angels Among Us.” We have a song list, but I might forget one or say let’s do something else.
Q: With so many songs, how do you decide what to play and who gets the final word?
A: It’s by committee. If we know someone is there and there’s something they want to hear … a guy sent me an incredible note about how he thought about killing himself and he happened to have the radio on and heard “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” and he asked if I would sing that. Hell, yeah. It’s not about us, it’s about the fans.
Q: You joined Brad Paisley on his song (“Old Alabama”) a couple of years ago and now the “Alabama & Friends” album is coming out. How do you feel about this new crop of country stars?
A: I’m proud to say a lot of them are my personal friends, Jason (Aldean), Luke (Bryan), Tim (McGraw), Trisha (Yearwood). It was incredible to have her on the album — she doesn’t sing bad notes and she’s a Georgia girl! It was great being with Jason in the studio and hearing him sing a song I’d written. The album will probably be out in the fall. It’s not going to be hurried.
Q: Are you sad about this being a final tour? Do you think this is the last one?
A: I’m gonna do my final show in heaven. Just like we said when we thought about taking some time off, we didn’t think we’d do an extended tour. From year to year, we’ve dealt with a lot of health issues — you can’t do anything about that — but there’s a reason for playing, a reason for touring. I’m looking forward to when we bring on Alabama Revisited, when we’re 80 and we’ve got guys doing our harmonies and putting them on tour for 200 shows a year. I seriously don’t want the music to die.
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For more of the Randy Owen interview, visit The Music Scene blog at www.accessatlanta.com.