This group brought its “Mountain Music” from the Yellowhammer State to Myrtle Beach, beginning a climb to the summit of country music.
Kicking off its Back to the Bowery Tour and 40th anniversary this weekend on the Grand Strand, Alabama will thank its fans through the summer with a string of concerts across the heartland, including May 17-18 in Atlanta, Aug. 30 at the Ravinia Festival in suburban Chicago, and Sept. 16 at the Washington State Fair.
The supergroup’s lead singer, Randy Owen, said in a phone call Monday morning he still can’t believe 50 years have passed since he and cousins Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry “left Lookout Mountain, Ala., and headed to a place we kind of heard of” in 1973 as the house band at The Bowery in Myrtle Beach.
“We got the job to play music for tips,” Owen said, crediting their then-drummer for this familiarity with the historic tavern, before Mark Herndon’s long stretch on the skins.
Never miss a local story.
Owen remembered their several years there, “billed as nonstop entertainment” with the opportunity to weave in some of their own original songs. They found the footing they would later take in branching out on the RCA label, where Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins and Elvis Presley had also found a home.
With Alabama embarking on this tour to look back, beginning Thursday with the Bowery and formally Friday-Saturday its namesake theater at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, Owen feels something “very different” in this.
“We are very grateful,” he said, mindful of “all the hardships and a few good times.”
“We had a lot of hardships,” Owen said, “but it taught me a lot about how badly that I wanted to be successful.”
Citing the friendships made in Myrtle Beach, Owen credited those with helping create “the most rewarding moments and wonderful things that I had there and I still have.”
State park escapes
Asked about his pastimes on the Grand Strand, Owen named Huntington Beach State Park as a favorite escape, simply to gaze at the ocean, “and smell the sea water and not be bothered by anybody.”
“I liked to go there and look all the beauty and hear the sounds,” he said.
Golfing consumed his sporting desire, suiting his Sunday afternoons perfectly.
“I would play golf and work; that was about it,” Owen said, happy to grace the greens with his wife and daughter.
The one time a ball collided with a bird on a wedge shot on one hole left an impression.
“It was kind of crazy,” Owen said. “But I did get a birdie.”
The biggest thing the Alabama trio have in common remains their harmonies.
“I think when we get up on the stage, it’ singing,” Owen said. “We get up and sing.”
Guitar from Myrtle Beach
The guys also joined the recording of Brad Paisley’s “Old Alabama,” a hit in spring 2011. Owen said he and Paisley had talked of the group’s inclusion. The song, which Paisley co-wrote, also paid tribute with a reprise of Alabama’s “Mountain Music,” an Owen composition that hit No. 1 in 1982.
“I went in and played on my ‘Mountain Music’ guitar that I bought in Myrtle Beach, what I played on those early records,” Owen said, also honored that he, Gentry and Cook sang, and took part in the music video, in Paisley’s own style of fun.
The end of “Old Alabama,” like “Mountain Music,” went out so musically with the strumming and the fiddle, Owen said, with “a mash-down studio sound.”
At the end of every year, Alabama’s “Christmas in Dixie,” from the early 1980s, returns to radio. Owen said he and the band wrote it in July, and recorded it “on the second tape.”
Remembering the flow of his line, “Christmas in Dixie. It’s snowing in the pines,” Owen said “it just went from there.”
“Never in a million years did I dream it would become a classic,” said Owen, calling Percy Sledge’s version recorded in 2011 “really sweet.”
Owen said he, Cook and Gentry have gone back in the studio, welcoming other artists in a project that continues, even this past Monday, when Owen was readying to work with one of those guests.
Joking, Owen hopes the album “comes out before we start getting Social Security.”
He also will be tuned in Sunday night to the Academy of Country Music Awards, airing on CBS from Las Vegas, especially because Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, “two of my buddies are hosting it.”
The memory of Alabama opening the Alabama Theatre in early July 1993, as part of Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase’s TV show at the time, still has Bob Wood smiling.
“It’s great to have them back,” said the theater’s president, welcoming Alabama in concert for the first time since 2002.
Wood said the group members still love visiting the Grand Stand, and on their own, they always “check in” to chat, including Owen and his wife, who stopped by last summer. Naming the theater after them was the “first choice,” Wood said, because of their Myrtle Beach mile marker on their way to stardom.
A friend and fellow Spartanburg native, Dale Morris, who was manager at the time, Wood said, helped work out the theater title, “then the rest is kind of history.”
The most “amazing thing” Wood finds in Alabama, whose “Tennessee River” stands out most for him, is their body of work.
“If they were to play every one of their No. 1 songs,” he said, “you’d be there for hours.”