Alabama Rides A Half-Century Of Hits Into Houston

Alabama's Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry were a hit at the Toyota Center.
Alabama's Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry were a hit at the Toyota Center. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Toyota Center
November 7, 2021

If you're of a certain age, you'll remember the ubiquity of Alabama on the charts in the '70s and '80s. The band's radio friendly mix of country, pop, gospel, and bluegrass accounted for 33 #1 Billboard "Hot Country" singles, 75 million albums sold, and a slew of CMAs and Grammys. The band rode this tide (Alabama joke) of accolades into the Toyota Center last night for their 50th anniversary tour.

Founding members (and cousins) Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry returned for the semicentennial (or Golden Jubilee) along with a sizable band. Guitarist and fiddle player Jeff Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson's a few years back and no longer tours, though Owen and Gentry recognized him with "Jeff's Song (I Will Remember You)" during the show.

Last night's set was long on familiar cuts ("Love in the First Degree," "Mountain Music," "The Closer You Get"), with local fave "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" brought out early, to the delight of a rather sparse crowd. In fairness, if you're gonna play on a Sunday night to a bunch of septuagenarians, you're gonna have a fair number of no-shows.

Those who did attend were treated to a laid-back run through of the band's impressive repertoire, one that offered ample opportunity for singalongs, since just about every song had a reprise that encouraged the crowd to call back the chorus a few times.
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"I'm so successful I don't have to justify this shirt."
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
I don't know where the proceeds from all those album sales went, but it wasn't the audio/video presentation. The big screen  backdrop alternated between the band's own (usually out of sync) music videos and repetitive slide shows. Hilariously (and likely unrealized by the crowd), the video accompaniment to "Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)" — the band's tribute to truckers — was a series of driving clips from the trucking missions in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Still, as nostalgia exercises go, Alabama's 50th anniversary tour delivered. Like another band with cheesy video accompaniment (KISS), the boys from Fort Payne already embarked on one farewell tour (back in 2004), but apparently thought better of it. Their catalog is deep enough they can drop crowd pleasers like "Feels So Right" and "Dixieland Delight" without breaking much of a sweat.

And maybe a full-throated condemnation was a bit much to expect from a band that still sings how "old times there are not forgotten" ("High Cotton") or hell — about "Dixieland" — but at least Owen shut down the handful of assholes who started chanting "Let's go, Brandon." Between that and the band's support for St. Jude's Hospital, they're easy to root for.

At 50, Alabama has been around long enough (though technically they were "Wildcountry" until 1977) that they don't have anything to prove. So it was nice that they delivered such an appreciative and extensive show. If this is the last time we get to see them, at least it was memorable.
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Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Personal Bias: I think Alabama was my little sister's first concert. Or maybe it was Willie. Whatever; they weren't exactly my bag as a surly adolescent.

The Crowd: Some of the greatest combovers I've ever seen.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Owen's voice is still really strong." "I'm just impressed his mother's still alive."

Random Notebook Dump: "I need a haircut. My hair's starting to look like Randy Owen's."

Pass It on Down
Can't Keep a Good Man Down
If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)
The Closer You Get
Sad Lookin' Moon
It's All Right
High Cotton
Give Me One More Shot
Dixieland Delight / Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)
Angels Among Us
Born Country
Forever's As Far As I'll Go
Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)
Tennessee River
Jeff's Song (I Will Remember You)
Love in the First Degree
Feels So Right
Lady Down on Love
Turn It Off
Old Flame
As Long As There's Love
Mountain Music

I'm In a Hurry (And Don't Know Why)
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar