I want to welcome all of the out-of-town guests to my hometown. We appreciate you visiting to celebrate our hometown boys, their music and the small southern community from which we are rooted.
There are lots of fun activities planned this week, including:
- Teddy Gentry’s Singing with the Stars is Thursday, June 20 at Northeast Alabama Community College.
- Jeff Cook’s Fan Daze is Friday, June 21 at the DeKalb Theatre in Fort Payne.
- The Fan Appreciation Weekend Show is Saturday, June 22, at the Alabama Band Fan Club.
- Randy’s Fandemonium at the Farm is Sunday, June 23.
While you are in the area…
I encourage you to visit the Making Alabama Bicentennial Exhibit at the Richard C. Hunt Reception Hall next door to the historic Fort Payne Opera House. You’ll find some really beautiful displays of local and state history.
On Thursday, you can swing by the Boom Town Makers Market (across the street from the Alabama statues in the park) for Art in the Alley, a monthly showcase of local artists, including yours truly. It is from 5-8 pm. If you can’t make it, that’s okay. We have it every 1st Thursday of the month, the next one coming up July 4th.
We also hope to see you Sept. 21 & 22 for the Boom Days Heritage Festival, where there will be multiple stages of performers. You like music, right? Boom Days is what the local leaders came up with to replace the June Jam when it ended in 1997. At its peak, the June Jam drew 60,000 fans and raised millions for local charities.
My Home’s in Alabama (Too)
Yes, I was born and raised here in Fort Payne, just like Randy, Jeff, and Teddy. They began their career when I was just a year old. I guess most folks don’t realize they spent just over a decade paying their dues in dive bars.
My father was their warehouse manager for many years during the height of their popularity and accolades. My father also oversaw the construction of fences and gates ahead of June Jam Week for many years (I worked on the construction crew a couple of those summers during high school, and my freshman year in college was financed by our family setting up a tent and selling pizzas at the annual country music festival).
The first concert in 1981, at Wildcat Stadium, that homecoming before the first June Jam… WOW! The guys had appeared on American Bandstand, which was THE Saturday morning dance show to watch. It was absolutely electric. Everyone knew then that something huge had happened and things would never be the same again after that. (Side note: I was curious and just now searched for “June Jam” on Wikipedia, finding no result, which was surprising and a bit sad).
Alabama made such a huge impact on the music scene because they changed country music with crossover pop and gospel appeal. Young people liked them because they had long hair like rockers but old folks thought their harmonies were pretty.
During June Jam Week in the years that followed, it got very exciting. Cars would be lined up bumper-to-bumper along the main street in town, making it feel a bit like Panama City Beach during Spring Break. It felt like the whole world was focused on Fort Payne, which made us very proud, of course.
My father would occasionally drive one of Alabama’s trucks to deliver merchandise for a tour stop. He said when he and my mother would stop at a hotel for a night of rest before coming home, other guests would hover around the truck, asking if “Randy is staying here too…” Ah, that Randy was quite the looker in his day. My ex-sister-in-law moved to Fort Payne to be close to the beautiful scenery, i.e., indulge in the fantasy that proximity was the only thing keeping her from becoming Randy’s new squeeze.
After I finished college, I returned to Fort Payne to work at the hometown daily newspaper. During June Jam Week, it was all hands on deck to cover it. Being the low guy on the totem pole, I typically got to roam the crowd getting crowd photos while my supervisors enjoyed the glamour of being backstage with the stars.
I did get to meet some of the celebrities. I’d also cover June Jam weekend events like the beauty pageant to crown Miss June Jam (that one was always fun for a young man), as well as the softball game, etc.
Living in Fort Payne alongside “the boys” also meant seeing them out and about in the most mundane of situations, like rounding the corner of the grocery aisle and BAM, your eyes lock with Randy Owen. Kelly, his wife, was a great customer at my ex-wife’s frame shop downtown for many years.
Jeff was always the down-to-earth one, but part of that may be from knowing his momma since I was a little boy attending the same church.
I’d see Teddy on the farm on occasion. Mowed the grass at his house one summer.
And then there was Mark, who I once followed out to Little River Canyon to take photos while he filmed an environmental PSA during the “Pass It On Down” era. I always admired the band for raising consciousness about the need to take better care of our planet. They were ahead of the curve in that regard.
I was saddened to hear about the other guys having a falling out with Mark. Having gotten insight from people I knew at the Fan Club and Warehouse, I’d heard stories about them not getting along and Randy supposedly telling Mark to ride the crew bus since he was just a hired hand.
When I was still at the Fort Payne newspaper, Randy called a press conference and announced they would be reviving the June Jam. I wrote an appropriately big story on the front page, then it didn’t happen.
Alabama’s Impact on My Career and Life
My senior year of high school, I interviewed with Randy at the Alabama headquarters trying to get a portion of the scholarship money to pay for college. I was one of the recipients luckily, so you could say that your ticket to come to see the June Jam helped me get my education.
I kind of ended up being a photographer by subconsciously absorbing things like the photo shoots the band would do with Terry Cologne, a souvenir vendor in Goodlettsville near Nashville. I spent part of one summer living up there in a house trailer and going in to work in the graphic design department of Richards & Southern, Terry’s company.
When I graduated from college, Terry and his family graciously hosted me while I went job hunting in Nashville for gigs on the set of music video production companies.
I did promotional photos with Teddy’s daughter, Sally, a couple of years ago. At the time, she was becoming something of a budding songwriter. Sweet lady.
When I think back on Alabama, there are a lot of people who come to mind that I grew to admire and adore. Kim Armstrong in the promotions office is an amazing lady who has always put a smile on my face. Misty Monroe worked for my dad in the warehouse, along with a bunch of mostly females (which was also fun for a young man visiting). I was really good friends with Jim Carnathan, who was on their tour crew but has sadly passed away. Charlie Gillespie is another friend from those days who I am still fortunate to see on occasion since he is a photographer in Huntsville.
So many other people have almost vanished from my memory since they aren’t really around anymore. Greg Fowler was a larger-than-life presence. I also enjoyed some time in Myrtle Beach, where they got their real start, when my brother lived there managing their souvenir store on the main strip. The Bowery was the first bar I ever stepped foot in, still a kid at the time.
Alabama and the June Jam made a huge impression on my life.
Now, as I raise a teenage daughter in the same town, I wonder if she really grasps what a monumental thing it was to be a part of all this. She sees the statues downtown, where all of the band’s awards are inscribed in stone, and we’ve driven past the Fan Club on an almost daily basis. It’s kind of sad that she can only experience what happened second-hand from old video footage and scrapbooks. It was surely something.
And you know what? There are a ton of other local musicians who have, perhaps, taken inspiration from the Alabama boys: Performers like Jacob Stiefel, Russell and Dennis Gulley, Ryan Keef, Matty Croxton, Jess Goggans, Leah Seawright, Jared Cushen, and many others. Music is kind of a big deal here.
A lot of things have changed since the band first sang those words, “Drinkin’ was forbidden in my Christian country home…” but we still get a kick every December when we hear their signoff “And from Fort Payne, Alabama…” at the end of the song “Christmas in Dixie.”
Anyway, thanks for indulging me during this walk down memory lane. I hope you enjoy this week! Let me know any of your June Jam or Alabama memories in the comments below.