What’s Alabama Know About Texas Anyhow?

alabama3

“If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band
That lead guitar is hot but not for “Louisiana Man”
So rosin up that bow for “Faded Love” and let’s all dance
If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band”

Here’s the thing about music from your childhood, you can’t escape liking it and whether its bad or good doesn’t even play a part. Alabama is one of those bands for me. Rooted in gospel style harmony singing they sang for and reflected their people pretty much spot on in their day. It’s a mistake to think that country people don’t follow their own particular trends and that they’re not based, at least somewhat, from what’s happening in the big cities.

Alabama

Alabama

The core of Alabama is two cousins who grew up next to each other on Lookout Mountain cotton farms located in the Northeasat corner of the state.  Rhythm guitarist and lead singer, Randy Owen,, and bass guitarist and singer, Teddy Gentry. A third cousin, Jeff Cook, joined them in 1969, but it would be ten working years before the classic line-up solidified with drummer Mark Herndon. Early publicity shots of these guys are hilariously terrible and saved only by the fact that they are true reflections of their time. Pull out your old high school photos if you don’t believe me and compare. They each had a look. Randy, bearded and casually masculine, he plays music and then chops wood. Watch out boys, all of your womenfolk would leave you for Randy and that’s a fact. Teddy plays the square. He looks like my old shop teacher from high school and is the kind of guy you want to marry your sister. Jeff Cook’s the one with the perm. There was always one guy with a perm. No ducking that one. That’s okay though, because the man can play anything he puts his hands on and laid down some of the greatest country-rock licks on record. Hard twang from this man, sounds good. The new guy, Mark Herndon, I would guess was considered the hip one. He wore the jackets with the sleeves pushed up, always had on shades and had a bit of Ronnie Wood happening with his hair. There’s a great picture of the four sitting together looking like three Alabama rednecks and and a guy from Toto.

Alabama cut their teeth playing in honky tonks all over the south including the eighth wonder of the world, the Bowery in Mrytle Beach, South Carolina. The Bowery’s still there and has been since 1944 or 1844 or some such thing and you can get drinks and a bed, some music, a fight and just about anything you want with the stars and bars printed on it. See the cowbell with “Ya can’t beat fun” printed on one side and the flag on the other. Who can argue with a cow bell?

The Eighth Wonder of the World

The Eighth Wonder of the World

Now Alabama is truly one of the great country bands of all time. Allow me to explain. They have 42 number 1 hits. 21 of them were consecutive and the streak was only broken by a Christmas song, “Christmas in Dixie”. Baby Jesus wasn’t a big seller 1982. No matter, after the ribbons and bows were tossed into the back yard the hits kept coming. See, that alone is an inarguable case that Alabama is one of the great country bands of all time.

A dirty little secret about all the legends out there, from Robert Johnson to Hank Williams is they all knew, enjoyed and could play pop songs of the day. And, they had better too since more likely than not, someone would yell a song out during a show and things could get rowdy if it wasn’t played. These men didn’t live in rural bubbles holding fast to tradition while eschewing popular trends. Everyone wants to have a hit record. Its some sort of misguided quest for musicians to be slave to authenticity. If that’s their goal, and by authenticity you know what I mean, than who’s being shucked and jived? I am no more a product of Waylon Jennings than I am of the Beatles. I can’t pretend I haven’t heard both and been duly influenced. Alabama never tried to hide their roots. They were a country band at heart, and

Lookout Mountain - George Barnard, 1864

Lookout Mountain - George Barnard, 1864

they could play Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard, but could also rip into a ZZ Top number at the drop of a hat. So, they were country, but they rocked. The final piece to the puzzle is the birth of the modern day country ballad. Alabama didn’t do it by themselves, Kenny Rogers was there and George Jones showed them the way, and what all these acts did was learn how to sing to the ladies without losing the men. It was masculine music, enough so, that the boys could hold their girls close and even have a few stray romantic thoughts. That’s the power of Alabama. That’s what almost  every mainstream country artist has tried to do since. George Strait, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson actually do it pretty well too. Lonestar and Rascal Flatts, who clearly spent some heavy time with Alabama records spinning, miss the mark for me and when I think about why, it’s because they only sing to my girl and boy, that’s a problem.

Out of all of those 42 hits, there’s two that are particular favorites for me; Randy’s 1981 masterpiece “Mountain Music” and Dan Mitchell and Murray Kellum’s song from 1983 ” If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band). Both have the hallmark ’80’s production of glossy synthesizer, and power chords over country harmonies. Both have plenty of country rock guitar way out in front and can easily open up for extended jamming live. They also do what all country artists do, they sing about the old times, without sounding like the old times and finally they both have a fiddle breakdown near the end. More bands today could use a good fiddle breakdown. That’s a pointed comment to you Rascal Flatts.

“If You’re Gonna Play In Texas” is brilliant. It has a natural foot stomping infection that’s impossible to cure. The lyrics are simple beyond belief. This is no “A Day In The Life”. It simply acts as a reminder that, if you play in Texas, you better have a fiddle in the band. That’s it. There’s a total of two verses and a chorus and they riff on it like an old time fiddle tune. My wife asked if they were intentionally being ironic when through most of the song they sing lines like:

“That lead guitar is hot but not for “Lousiana Man”
So rosin up that bow for “Faded Love” and let’s all dance
If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band”

Then punctuate the lyric with a hot guitar lick.

No, they’re not being ironic. That’s the curse of the ’90’s and music wasn’t as jaded back in 1983. There’s two thing happening here. One, we all like to play homage to what came before even if we’re simultaneously distancing ourselves from the very thing we’re honoring. Two, the lead guitar is hot and Alabama knew that’s exactly what the audience wanted to hear. When the fiddle break finally comes, as it inevitably will, I almost wish Jeff scorched it up with his double necked Gibson instead.

There’s a whole world of country music out there that’s overlooked or scoffed at. The young country listeners don’t go back to the ’80’s, they follow popular trends and continue to look forward. To the hipsters this kind of band simply isn’t cool enough. They don’t have the credibility that Waylon or Johnny have and I’m guessing Rick Rubin hasn’t been calling . The old timers don’t think it’s country enough and dislike them for the same reasons they dislike anything post 1964. In this late day, I’m not really sure who still listens to Alabama. I imagine they have a classic Trans Am in their garage though and might carry a comb in their back pocket. It’s too bad too. This is a genre bending band who’s time has come to be appreciated for what they’ve done. Yes, product of their time, no doubt, but so was Charlie Rich and Ernest Tubb. To me, it’s all country be it good, bad or feathered hair.

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Post Script – The Bowery has a wonderfully interactive website filled with history, and shotglasses and drunken postings, but the hum dinger is the Whack A Yank game where you get to, well, I guess it’s pretty clear isn’t it? Whack a Yank. If you do good you can get yourself a discount at the store the next time you’re there. Just mind your southern manners and steer clear of Stonewall and Robert E.

http://www.thebowerybar.com/boweryflash.html

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About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Country, Music, Pop. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s Alabama Know About Texas Anyhow?

  1. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  2. BloggerDude says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read….

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