Alabama's Randy Owen Talks Being a 'Farm Boy' & Playing With the Nashville Symphony

Ethan Miller/ACM2015/Getty Images for dcp
Randy Owen of Alabama rehearses onstage during ACM Presents: Superstar Duets at Globe Life Park in Arlington on April 17, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. 

Music has always been in the family bloodlines with Alabama lead singer Randy Owen -- his cousins Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook are his partners in the group. But he also has another activity that is just as personal to him that his family participates in: the family farm just outside of his native Fort Payne, Ala., and he says it’s quite the busy time of year.

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“My daughter and my son-in-law run the ranch, and we’re getting ready for our production sale on May 7,” he told Billboard. “We sell Angus and Hereford cattle, and it’s because of country music that I’ve been able to carry on the tradition of my two grandfathers.” Owen said that it’s hard for some to fathom him gathering cattle and baling hay -- but it’s as part of his heritage as music. “People don’t believe it, but I am a farm boy. That is what I am. I just got lucky in the music business, and that has allowed me to keep it going.”

When asked what his favorite part of the agricultural experience was, Owen didn’t hesitate for a second. “Calving season would be my favorite -- when the new babies come. It’s just a happy time to see the mother with her little one, and you get to watch new births. We have two calving seasons -- in the fall and the spring, but that would be my favorite part of it. It’s also a family thing. It’s my wife and my children, and hopefully one day, it will also be my grandchildren.”

Owen hasn’t forgotten his “other” career in music. Alabama is gearing up for one of its most extensive road tours in years this summer, which kicks off with a career first for the Country Music Hall of Fame members: a three-night stand with the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn Center on May 12-14.

“It’s going to be exciting to be playing with real musicians -- people who actually know music,” he said sheepishly. “It’s going to be a little intimidating for me. I’m just going to have to put it in the back of my head. Hopefully, they can play with our mediocrity as far as our knowledge of notes, and we’ll sing our songs. Hopefully it will be a special night for us and all involved.”

When asked if he would approach any of the group's classic records differently with a symphony backing him up, Owen laughed, admitting that he would just do what he’s always done. “How would I take a different approach? That’s like asking what kind of outfit I’m going to wear. I don’t really know if I have ever had a definite approach to anything. I might phrase a little different from time to time -- especially on something I may have written, but as far as the approach, it’s pretty much hard to change. We’ve been doing it the same way since 1980.”

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One song that he’s very interested to see translated to the Schermerhorn setting is “Lady Down on Love.” Of the No. 1 hit from 1983, he said, “That’s a very intimate song. Last year, we were in Wisconsin, and I was doing a big show up there on the Mississippi. I got to the third verse of the song, and I saw tears in this woman’s eyes. I just lost it. There is a reason you write these songs, and I was inspired when I wrote it because of this lady telling me a story about her life. I remember going straight back to my room and writing the song. Still, when I get to that part in the song, I get emotional because I can still see her face. I felt like I was seeing her right inside of her heart. Some songs that you write, it’s not about you -- it’s about the person. I wouldn’t say it’s autobiographical, but it did happen.”

The song was actually written years before Alabama hit the Country Top 40 for the first time in 1979 with “I Wanna Come Over,” and Owen recalls that it was originally intended for Johnny Rodriguez. However, after Alabama recorded it for the album The Closer You Get, another country music artist took notice of the song -- which led to a phone call one summer afternoon to Randy’s house.

“I remember one day I was out by the pool, and the phone rang. It was Conway Twitty. I about jumped in the pool. He said, ‘Randy, what about that song ‘Lady Down on Love?’ I told him that was going to be our next single, to which he replied, ‘I was afraid of that.’ So, I lost my opportunity to have a Conway cut.”

However, Twitty continued to pay attention to what Owen was doing. “But, later on, we did a song called ‘I Want to Know You Before We Make Love’ that Becky Hobbs wrote that was on our 40 Hour Week album. We were standing at an awards show, and the same thing happened. I told him that the label didn’t like the song, and he said ‘Good, because I’m recording it tomorrow, and it’s going to be a number one hit for me’ -- and it was.” Knowing that one of his heroes was watching their song choices was a great feeling. “What an honor. I felt so good about my choice, and to have him reiterate that to me what I thought I already knew was an amazing thing.”

The music continues for Alabama. The group has just released “Come Find Me,” a collaboration with Alison Krauss. “I listened to so many songs for this album, and I was just looking for a song that said something a totally different way. I just fell in love with it. My wife Kelly heard it, and she really liked it. It kind of reinvigorated my thinking.” The song is the second single from their latest album, Southern Drawl


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