Jeff Cook, one of the co-founders of the popular country-rock group Alabama, has passed away at the age of 73.
The supergroup has long been a touchstone for all artists hoping to recreate their fusion of country and rock. With their 41 No.1 singles, they carved out a sound that welded the easy-listening, rock harmonies of the Eagles with a bluegrass-tinged, fiddle-driven flair.
Cook, a Fort Payne native, founded the band with cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry. After starting out as Young Country in 1969, and then changing to Wild Country in 1972, the band settled on the iconic name of ‘Alabama’ in 1977. Following their record deal with RCA Nashville, Alabama’s label-debut single ’Tennessee River’ soared to the top of the charts, paving the way for a run of 21 consecutive No.1s.
The most globally recognisable of these was arguably ‘Dixieland Delight’, a Southern anthem celebrating the staples of rural living, which encapsulated Alabama’s knack for packaging up classic country lyricism into a bigger, arena-worthy sound.
The band’s prolific record of Number Ones, which included hits such as ‘Song Of The South’ and ‘Mountain Music’, was supported by twelve top ten albums. Cook’s fiddle-playing helped to introduce a distinctive, playful feel to a range of Alabama tracks, epitomised on ‘If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)’.
Despite their audial flirtation with rock, Alabama’s artistry was consistently recognised by country’s tastemakers throughout the group’s career. The band took home more than 200 awards, including a three-year domination over the CMA Entertainer of the Year category from 1982-84, along with five ACM Entertainer of the Year trophies. In 1989, the Academy of Country Music honoured Alabama as the Artist of the Decade.
In 2005, Alabama was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. More recently, Jeff Cook’s integral role in the band’s success was celebrated when he was invited into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019. Never one to shy away from artistic experimentation and risk-taking, Cook released a number of solo albums throughout his career, including his acclaimed and unexpected 2018 collaboration with actor William Shatner, Why Not Me.
Cook’s death, which followed a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, has been met with warm tributes from an array of country stars that knew Cook personally.
Brad Paisley famously got the band back together after a long hiatus for his 2011 song, ‘Old Alabama’, which paid tribute to the group’s far-reaching influence on the genre. Paisley wrote, “One of the highlights of my life is getting to record and jam with you guys. You fought this terrible disease with grace, Jeff. My heart goes out to your wife and the boys and the band. We will miss you”.
Charlie Daniels was a long-time friend of the band before his death in 2020; his family shared their condolences from Daniels' social media accounts, “Heaven gained another guitar/fiddle player today. Mom and I were saddened to hear about the passing of [Alabama’s] Jeff Cook after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. Prayers for his family and many fans”.
Also leading the tributes was Kenny Chesney, who highlighted how Cook served as a mentor early in his career, “Jeff Cook, and all of the guys in Alabama, were so generous with wisdom and fun when I got to tour with them as a young artist. But maybe even more, they showed a kid in a t-shirt that country music could be rock, could be real, could be someone who looked like me. Growing up in East Tennessee, that gave me the heart to chase this dream”.
Whenever an artist chooses to stray from the well-worn path of their contemporaries and instead forge their own, it runs the risk of getting stranded out in the wilderness with nobody following behind. When Cook looked back at his half-a-century long journey with Alabama, he will have seen a long, long line of artists that continue to try and emulate the group’s unique, definitive blend of country-rock.
Cook is survived by his wife of nearly three decades, Lisa Cook, along with his brother, David, and his mother, Betty. His family have asked that any donations be made to The Jeff And Lisa Cook Foundation (P.O. Box 680067, Fort Payne, AL 35968) or at the foundation website, thejeffandlisacookfoundation.org.
Jeff Cook - 1949-2022