At the threshold of a second decade of success, Alabama is as strong as ever.
The simple formula that launched the group to national fame in 1980 with the Top 20 hit "My Home's in Alabama" and then with the No. 1 "Tennessee River" hasn't been changed.The formula? Down-home, middle-America lyrics sung to tunes that ride the center line between country and rock.
Alabama also has perfected a formula for concerts vs. recordings that works: In the studio, the band is mellow nearly to perfection. Lyrics rise well above the instruments and showcase middle-of-the-road vocal leads by Randy Owen, 40, and harmony by the others. At live concerts, group members toss away all resemblance to country acts and follow a rock format: booming bass notes, screaming guitars and fans whipped into a frenzy. Performances are loud and rowdy, with the music becoming secondary to cutting up.
But then, most of the people who attend Alabama's concerts want it that way. Bassist Teddy Gentry, 38, says Alabama wants it that way as well.
"To us, the stage is where we entertain; the studio is where we record. At concerts, we get excited, we play loud and the audience gets loud, too."
After a decade of box-office and best-seller album successes, Gentry observes, "We've never had a song so big we couldn't follow it, and we've never had one so bad it slowed us down."
Their current and 13th album, "Pass It on Down," which Gentry co-wrote, stresses ecology in the title song. Coupled with Alabama's proven formula, the song propelled its way up the charts. Now, "Jukebox in My Mind," from the same album, also has hit the top.
"Our style is progressive country," Gentry said. "But people can call it whatever they want."
The other members of Alabama are fiddler-guitarist Jeff Cook, 40, and drummer Mark Herndon, 35. Gentry, Owen and Cook are cousins. All live in Fort Payne, Ala.