Alabama's return to the road has come gradually.
The all-time top-selling country group retired from touring in 2004, but in 2011 it appeared at the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony with Brad Paisley. The following year it played at the Stagecoach Festival in California and at the We Fest in Minnesota.
But this year, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its first shows at The Bowery in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Alabama -- then known as Wildcountry -- has hit the road again, with a new tribute album, "Alabama & Friends," to go with it.
"Oh, it feels good. It feels so right," the group's Randy Owen says with a laugh, delivering lines from the group's 1981 hit "Feels So Right." "It's a great feeling, it really is. It's not about anything except just enjoying life and enjoying the music along with it."
The music is, of course, Alabama's calling card. The original quartet from Fort Payne, Ala. -- now a trio of Owen and his cousins Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook (drummer Mark Herndon is embroiled in a lawsuit with the group over royalties) -- sold 73 million albums worldwide and notched 34 No. 1 country singles, a record 21 of them consecutively between 1980-87. Alabama has also won nearly four dozen music industry awards and was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
"The music we have been so fortunate to be a part of, to write and record and perform, it means a lot to people. It's part of the fiber of their lives," notes Owen, 63, a prostate cancer survivor who also hosts the syndicated weekend radio show "Country Gold." "It took awhile for me to really get hold of that, that people live their lives around the Christmas albums and the other songs.
"We'll meet this guy and girl who got married and that night they played 'Feels So Right' and she conceived a baby, or 'Forever's As Far As I'll Go' was their wedding song. I'd never thought of 'Mountain Music' being a wedding song, but I know there's been a few couples that have used it. I don't know if they misunderstood the title or what."
Then he adds with another laugh, "Like the guy told me, it's all how you look at it!"
Owen says the Back To The Bowery Tour came about in February, when he "was sitting around and I got to thinking that 40 years ago I was getting ready to go to this crazy bar called The Bowery in Myrtle Beach. We were just gonna go down there and get on stage and sing a couple, three songs -- but it turned into much more than that." But the "Alabama & Friends" album -- which features guests such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts and others along with two new Alabama songs with original producer Harold Shedd -- is something Owen says "has been in the works for a long time," pushed by the group's current management.
"They all did such a great job," Owen says. "I'm just very grateful and thankful to the people who did it, and I'm just so thrilled. It's great to hear a new take on what I think, of course, are great songs that have been so good to me and to the group."
"All American" and "That's How I Was Raised," meanwhile, could be the first of a rash of new material from Alabama if Owen has his way.
"Why not?" he says. "Were talking and laughing, Harold and us. It was like we never stepped out of the studio. Things were different -- different studio, years later -- but it's still the same. He's a great friend and it was a relaxed atmosphere. It was easy to make music again.
"So, yeah, gimme a good song and we'll do it. I don't see why we can't do more."
Alabama performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $39.50-$89. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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