Alabama’s Randy Owen & Teddy Gentry Release Statements on Passing of Jeff Cook: ‘Closer Than Brothers’

by Jim Casey
(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMT)

Alabama co-founder Jeff Cook, 73, died on Nov. 7. The band’s virtuosic multi-instrumentalist—guitar, fiddle, keys, and more—was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012. As a member of Alabama, Cook enjoyed one of the most successful careers in country music history.

In 1980, RCA Records took a chance by signing the foursome of Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Mark Herndon. Known as Wildcountry at the time, almost every major label had turned them down because vocal groups that played their own instruments were considered more suited to rock or pop. Rebranded as Alabama, the foursome took country music by storm. Now, Alabama is widely regarded as the greatest band in country music history.

“Closer than brothers, we lived together more than with our immediate families,” said Teddy Gentry. “Don’t think I’ve known anyone who loved playing more. Jeff, along with me and Randy, experienced the highs of undreamed success, as well as some very tough early years. None of us were perfect, but together we had something so special it will never die. No other guitar player I’ve known had the range of styles Jeff had. No one can take your place. Ever. Rest in peace till we get to jam again.”

“He lived to play our music we created together,” added Randy Owen. “He could play any instrument he chose, but his harmonies I’ll miss the most. I’m thankful we got to create music together for over 50 years! Wish we could play ‘My Home’s in Alabama’ one more time. I’m hurt in a way I can’t describe! To [wife] Lisa, thanks for loving him and being there for him to the end. Play on, Jeff. Love you!”

Roll On, Alabama

Alabama came busting out of the chute in 1980 with their major-label debut album, My Home’s in Alabama. At that time, country music didn’t feature “bands” as we now know them. Instead, vocal groups like the Oak Ridge Boys and the Statler Brothers were the norm (there were exceptions like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Charlie Daniels Band). However, Alabama blended country with elements of rock. And the guys played their own instruments. Country music had never seen—or heard—anything like them.

Alabama scored 21 consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart between 1980 and 1987. In fact, the band tallied 33 No. 1 singles on the chart during its Hall of Fame career. The band won the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award three consecutive times from 1982 to 1984 (the first band to win the award). Alabama is No. 5 on the list of the Top 20 Best-Selling Country Artists of All Time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In fact, Alabama is the best-selling country band of all time. And it’s not even close.

Alabama was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. There was a time when bands ruled country music. And Alabama was king.