My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Mark Herndon

Spotlight Artist: Lonestar

lonestarFor many years, the prototypical country group took the form of a gospel quartet or quintet, modeled after such gospel favorites as the Jordanaires, The Old Hickory Singers, The Oak Ridge Quartet or the Blackwood Brothers. These groups were strictly vocal groups, with some sort of instrumental accompaniment, often nothing more than someone playing the piano. It was rare that the group handled its own instrumentals, other than perhaps the original version of the Sons of The Pioneers; and aside from western groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, the repertoire was almost entirely gospel.

The first group to venture off into mostly secular music was the Statler Brothers in 1965, with the electrifying hit “Flowers On The Wall”. The Statler Brothers were strictly a vocal group, although the great Lew DeWitt played some acoustic guitar. In 1976, the Statlers were followed by the Oak Ridge Boys (formerly the Oak Ridge Quartet). Like the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys were a gospel quartet that went secular. Both groups tended to strongly resemble the gospel groups from which they had arisen, and both groups had all four members vocals featured prominently.

It was not until Alabama came to prominence in 1980 that the modern day concept of a country group entered the public conscience. Alabama was comprised of three cousins (Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook) plus a very talented outsider in drummer Mark Herndon. Unlike other country groups, Alabama had a designated lead vocalist in Randy Owen, with the other members providing instrumental support and taking an occasional lead vocal, mostly on album cuts.

Alabama proved to be hugely successful with dozens of #1 singles and millions of albums sold. Soon additional similarly structure groups would arise such as Atlanta (1983), Exile (1983), Restless Heart (1985), Shenandoah (1987), Diamond Rio (1991), and Little Texas (1991).

Of course, every trend and/or fad runs its course and Lonestar (1992) would prove to be the last really successful band of the wave that started with Alabama.

Lonestar was unusual in that as they originally were constructed, Lonestar had two singers who perceived of themselves as the lead vocalist of the group. Richie McDonald was the lead vocalist but bass player John Rich also sang some leads (mostly on album tracks) and would be booted out of the group after the second album.

Lonestar would prove to have staying power, releasing eleven studio albums (five reached gold or platinum status) and enjoying a large number of hit singles including nine that reached #1 and another nine that landed in the country top ten. One of their #1 singles, “Amazed” also reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks sandwiched between singles by Savage Garden and Destiny’s Child, and it charted in the United Kingdom.

Although the top ten singles ceased in 2006, Lonestar is still around having just issued a new album. Richie McDonald left the group for a while, but has since returned and the band once again consists of Richie McDonald on lead vocals and piano, Michael Britt on lead guitar, backing vocals, Keech Rainwater banging on the drums and Dean Sams on keyboards, acoustic guitar and backing vocal. This is essentially the original group minus John Rich.

Lonestar has a website and is playing a full schedule of road appearances. They still sound good, and if you liked them during their 1990s heydays, you’ll like them now.

So sit back as enjoy our Spotlight review of the one of the leading country groups of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

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Album Review: Alabama – ‘Roll On’

51HP6DKBDSLAlabama released their eighth album in 1984. Produced as per usual by Harold Shedd, Roll On was certified quintuple platinum and charted four number one hits.

The title track, an uptempo trucker’s anthem written by Dave Loggins, was issued as the lead single. Instead of focuses on the plight of the trucker, “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)” centers on the man’s wife and her immense worry when she fears he may be dead. Randy Owen gives an inspired performance on what’s become one of the band’s most iconic singles.

The heavily AC-leaning “When We Make Love” came next. Owen led with his tender vocal, which added sincerity to the ballad. Shedd also give the number plenty of breathing room, which makes up for the country signifiers it was lacking. To this day it remains one of my favorite Alabama ballads.

They followed with another iconic single, “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band).” The Dan Mitchell and Murry Kellum penned number has grown thin on me from over exposure, but it’s a great song and a bright spot from the barren landscape of 1980s commercial country music.

I also quite enjoy the album’s finale single, “(There’s A) Fire In The Night.” It’s a tale of lust, with the man far from the watchful eyes of his wife. Until writing this review I never knew RCA issued two videos for the song. The first featured a scandalous interpretation of the lyric, partial nudity, and bizarre tattoos. That was pulled in favor of the famous one featuring the band around the campfire. I like elements of the first one best, as it actually fit Bob Corbin’s campy lyric.

Robert Byrne and Alan Schulman co-wrote “The End of the Lyin,’” while Maurice R. Hirsch wrote “Country Side of Life.” The former is an Eagles influenced mid-tempo number while the former has an unappealing R&B influence.

Teddy Gentry takes a rare lead vocal on “The Boy,” a father-son relationship ballad he co-wrote with Owen and Greg Fowler. The track is written from the father’s prospective as he watches his son grow up. Gentry’s smooth vocal lessens the country elements of the song while the lyric suffocates the track with schmaltz. It’s not one of the album’s better numbers.

Owen also had writing credits on three other tracks, including the spectacular “I’m Not That Way Anymore.” A co-write with Gentry, Fowler and Mark Herndon, the song was recorded live at the now defunct Reunion Arena in Dallas. A giant missed opportunity; it should’ve been a single and another of their massive hits. I hadn’t heard it until now, but it might be one of my favorite things they’ve ever done.

The remaining two songs were credited solely to Owen. “Carolina Mountain Dewe” is a listless ballad about a lonely couple kept apart geographically. Thankfully he rebounds with “Food On The Table,” a homespun tribute to the loving home from which was raised.

Roll On is a quite enjoyable and consistently strong Alabama record. Shedd’s production doesn’t lean particularly country but it works more often then it fails. Roll On finds Alabama hitting their artistic stride.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Alabama – ‘My Home’s In Alabama’

my home's in alabamaThe first major label album for Alabama was My Home’s In Alabama, although it was actually their fourth album. By the time RCA released this album in 1980, Alabama was a tight, cohesive band with a distinctive sound of their own and a decent track record of success with two of their MDJ singles having charted in 1979 (“I Wanna Come Over” at #33), and early 1980 (“My Home’s In Alabama” at #17).

With My Home’s In Alabama, Alabama was instantly transformed from a successful regional act into a national goliath Although the group was sometimes described as being country-rock or rock country, this album wasn’t close to fitting that category as the band didn’t begin to approximate the rockin’ sound of the Allman Brothers, Poco, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker or even Hank Jr. for that matter. Even the title track is essentially a country song with extended instrumental breaks.

The album opens with “My Home’s In Alabama”, written by Teddy Gentry. I am not sure, but I think this track is a remake of the single released on MDJ. The track runs 6+ minutes and received considerable airplay after this album was released:

Drinkin’ was forbidden in my Christian country home
I learned to play the flattop on them good ol’ gospel songs
Then I heard about the barrooms just across the Georgia line
Where a boy could make a livin’ playin’ guitar late at night
Had to learn about the ladies; too young to understand
Why the young girls fall in love with the boys in the band
When the boys turn to music, the girls just turn away
To some other guitar picker in some other late night place

The next track is another Gentry-Owen composition “Hangin’ Up My Travelin’ Shoes”, a song which might have made a decent single but definitely not a better single than the actual singles that were released. The song is an up-tempo song about what the narrator is going to do now that he’s found the girl of his dreams:

‘I’m folding up my wings for you, I’m hanging up my travelin’ shoes’.

Teddy Gentry and Richard Scott penned “Why Lady Why” which was the second official RCA single released and the band’s second #1 single. The single was a slow ballad which Owen was able to wrap his vocal cords around to great effect. It is a nice ballad, although not especially country.

“Getting Over You” by Cary Rutledge, is a slow ballad , a good song but not particulary single-worthy. The next song, “I Wanna Come Over” written by Richard & Michael Berardi, actually was a single on MDJ, although I don’t recall hearing it while it was in single release.

“Tennessee River” was the first single released from the album and the first major label release for Alabama. It shot straight to #1 and has remained in the repertoire of bar bands and cover bands since it was first released 35 years ago. This upbeat song features a hot fiddle and was a great number for dancing (not that I, with my two left feet, ever danced to it):

I was born across the river in the mountains where I call home.
Lord, times were good there, don’t know why I ever roamed.

[Chorus]
Oh, Tennessee River and a mountain man, we get together anytime we can.
Oh, Tennessee River and a mountain man, we play together in mother nature’s band

Me and my woman’s done made our plans on the Tennessee River, walkin’ hand in hand
Gonna raise a family, lord settle down where peace and love can still be found

“Some Other Place, Some Other Time” was written by Jeff Cook and features Jeff on lead vocals. The song is a nostalgic ballad and frankly, I don’t understand why RCA insisted that Randy Owen be the ‘face of the franchise’ as far as single releases were concerned.

Teddy Gentry wrote “Can’t Forget About You”, a nice ballad that was simply too long (5:39) to consider as a single. Yes, I know “My Home’s In Alabama” runs 6:27 and was issued as a single but that was a pre-RCA release.

“Get It While It’s Hot” was written by all three band members and Richard Scott. It’s kind of a funky R&B number, perhaps more suitable for dancing than listening. I regard it as the weakest track on the album, but it likely never was meant to be anything more that an album track.

The album closes with another Jeff Cook lead vocal on a track Jeff wrote with Richard Scott. “Keep On Dreamin’” is an excellent mid-tempo that would have made a good single.

I suspect this album featured more and better musicians that Alabama had available to them on MDJ, as the additional musicians are a Who’s Who of ace session men, including Jack Eubanks on acoustic guitar, Sonny Garrish on pedal steel guitar, Terry McMillan on percussion and Fred Newell on electric guitar. Alabama’s Jeff Cook plays lead guitar, with Teddy Gentry on bass guitar, Randy Owen on rhythm guitar and Mark Herndon on drums. All of the band members are involved with the vocal harmonies.

My Home’s In Alabama really got the ball rolling for the band, reaching #3 on the country album charts and #71 on Billboard’s all genre albums chart. Successful as this album was, the next eight albums would all reach #1 country and the next three would be top ten albums on the all genres album chart. As Frank Sinatra once sang “The Best Is Yet To Come”.

Spotlight Artist: Alabama

alabamaA long time ago, back in 1969, there were three cousins in Fort Payne, Alabama, who decided to form a band. The band kept practicing and perfecting their craft, eventually becoming a proficient bar band, traveling the southeastern US and landing an extended gig at the Bowery in Myrtle Beach, SC. For part of this period they used the name Wildcounty but eventually the band became known simply as ‘Alabama’. They not only wrote some of their own material, but came up with a unique sound that eventually attracted the interest of the Dallas-based MDJ label. The release in 1979 on MDJ of “My Home’s In Alabama” reached #17 and got the folks at RCA Records interested in them, so much so that they signed to RCA in March 1980, beginning an extended period of huge success.

At the time they arrived on the national scene in 1980, I was not a big fan of the band, but as time went by, I developed a strong respect for the band and a deeper appreciation of their music and their status as trailblazers in vocal group country music.

This is not to say that there had not been vocal groups in country music before. Far from it, as groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, The Willis Brothers, The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and, most notably, the Statler Brothers had been having considerable success for years before Alabama arrived.

The Willis Brothers and Sons of the Pioneers came out of the western (or western movies) tradition and really are separate and distinct from mainstream country music. The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers came out of the gospel music traditions, and even when performing mainstream country music they frequently still sounded like gospel groups. In the case of the Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers, when commercial country success abandoned them, they turned back to recording more gospel music.

Alabama was unique. They did not arise out of the western or gospel traditions but were a bar band that played in front of noisy barroom audiences, wrote their own material, covered the likes of Merle Haggard, and developed a synthesis of soft rock and country music that brought a new audience to country music. That new audience was a younger audience that had grown up on rock music but perhaps felt that rock had become too weird or perhaps simply had grown up with both rock music and country music and appreciated the synthesis that Alabama had developed.

Unlike most rock music of the time, Alabama’s music was both melodious and harmonious. Unlike most country music of the 1960s and 1970s, Alabama’s music was good dance music in a way that the music of Jimmy Dickens, Roy Drusky and Jim Reeves never could be. Plus Alabama had three really good vocalists, even if RCA insisted that Randy Owen be the lead vocalist on most tracks.

In addition to bringing a younger audience to country music, they were a huge influence on the genre as over the next decade, more and more vocal bands entered the scene, cautiously at first with Atlanta coming on the scene in early 1983, followed by more significant bands such as Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, Diamond Rio, Sawyer Brown and many others.

Alabama would have an uninterrupted run of success from 1980 thru 1999, after which time the top ten hits ceased. Along the way they would enjoy thirty-three #1 singles with six other singles reaching #2, six more reaching #3 and two more getting stranded at #4. Many of their singles reached #1 in Canada including a few late 1990s singles that did not reach #1 in the US (eh?).

Alabama was lead singer Randy Owen (b. 1949) and his cousins, Teddy Gentry (b. 1952) and Jeff Cook (b. 1949). For many years it was thought by most fans that drummer Mark Herndon was a member of the group, but years after the group retired, it was revealed that he was but a paid employee of the group.

Some of my older comrades may disagree, but when I listened to Alabama’s music, I always felt that I was listening to country music, if a somewhat different form of the genre. There are many album tracks which have a far more traditional sound than some of the singles. There are fiddles and steel guitars on many tracks and while the three members of Alabama were good songwriters, they did not hesitate to record good outside material.

Join us as we look back at the career of Alabama.