It's been 40 years since a trio of young cousins left Fort Payne, Alabama, to spend the summer playing in a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, bar called The Bowery. It took Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook six long years of tip jars and word of mouth to earn the major label deal they'd been dreaming of, but then seemingly no time at all to change the face of country music.
ALABAMA is the band that changed everything. They reeled off 21 straight #1 singles, a record that will probably never be equaled in any genre. They brought youthful energy, sex appeal and a rocking edge that broadened country's audience and opened the door to self-contained bands from then on, and they undertook a journey that led, 73 million albums later, to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
ALABAMA & Friends commemorates that summer at The Bowery and catalogues the lasting influence the group has had on generations of Country stars who draw inspiration from the sparkling harmonies, irresistible stage presence and world-class songwriting and song selection that made them superstars. It brings together some of Country's biggest stars, each bringing a unique musical approach to classic ALABAMA songs that have influenced them.
The diversity and star power of the artists speaks volumes about the breadth and depth of ALABAMA's legacy. Contributing their own versions of Alabama classics are Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Eli Young Band, Florida Georgia Line, Jamey Johnson, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, and Trisha Yearwood.
"I thank God I'm here to see these great artists see fit to sing some of the songs we did," says Randy, with the Everyman sincerity that has helped so many identify with the humbly born superstars.
"It's very much an honor," adds Jeff, "that they'd take part in an ALABAMA tribute. 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."
The songs chosen for the project represent just the tip of the iceberg that is the band's catalog, but they speak, to hear Teddy tell it, to the key to the band's legacy.
"More than anything," he says, "our longevity is a tribute to the hard work we did in selecting songs, because it's the songs that people remember."
The songs here are, of course, among the most memorable in country history. Included are "My Home's In Alabama," the band's first major hit and the song that introduced them to the world; "Tennessee River," their very first #1; "Old Flame" and "Love in the First Degree," from their second RCA album; "Lady Down On Love," a harmony-laden example of Randy's songwriting prowess; "The Closer You Get," released halfway through their streak of 21 chart-toppers; "She And I," from the mid-'80s; and "Forever's As Far As I'll Go" and "I'm In A Hurry (And Don't Know Why)," which helped kick off the '90s, in which the boys earned 29 more chart hits, including 22 #1 or Top 5 singles.
Capping the project are two new tracks by ALABAMA, songs that find the band making music that sounds both classic and relevant. They worked with legendary producer Harold Shedd, who worked with them in those golden early days and went on to discover Shania Twain, Toby Keith and many others.
"I suggested to Jeff and Teddy that Harold work with us on the new stuff," says Randy, "and they agreed. It was spine-tingling when he said yes. It's a story-book episode in my life and in the career of ALABAMA to have Harold being on board and to see him as excited as we were after all these years."
"We hadn't worked together in years," adds Shedd, "but within a couple of hours we had some things that sounded like ALABAMA did in 1980. It was like ALABAMA reborn."