The Country Radio Broadcasters organization honored Alabama with its annual career achievement award Tuesday (March 2) during ceremonies at the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame banquet. Band members Teddy Gentry, Jeff Cook and Mark Herndon were there to accept the trophy and the crowd’s adulation at Nashville’s Renaissance Hotel, but lead singer Randy Owen was absent because of a severe inner ear infection.
Formerly held in June, the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame induction was moved up this year to become the first major event of Country Radio Seminar, which runs from March 3-6. Presented by the non-profit CRB, the seminar is expected to attract some 2,000 radio program directors, disc jockeys and executives.
Before the award was presented, Lonestar and newcomer Jeff Bates entertained the capacity crowd of radio bigwigs and Music Row insiders with a sampling of Alabama’s 27-year string of hits. Among the other country artists in the audience were Joe Nichols, Doug Stone, Eddy Raven, Joe Stampley and Grand Ole Opry veterans Charlie Walker and John Conlee.
In a voice sounding almost as resonant as Owen’s, Bates opened the Alabama segment of the program with “Feels So Right” and “Old Flame.” Lonestar followed with a medley that included “I’m in a Hurry,” “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band),” “Take Me Down,” “The Closer You Get” and “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler).”
Commenting on Alabama’s influence, Lonestar lead singer Richie McDonald declared, “They changed my life.” He recalled how enraptured he was when he first saw the band perform in 1980 in his native Lubbock, Texas. “I admire them,” he said, “for doing it the right way.” Keyboardist Dean Sams added that Alabama set the example of “just how to be good people.” Said drummer Keech Rainwater, “I just hope we’ll be around as long as they’ve been around.” (Alabama charted its first single, “I Wanna Be With You Tonight,” in 1977.)
In accepting the achievement award, Gentry reminisced about persuading a Nashville publisher to let the band record “I Wanna Come Over” in 1979. (Publishers routinely reserve their best songs for acts already selling records.) “I Wanna Come Over” became the band’s second chart single and peaked at a respectable No. 33. In an indirect slap at today’s consultant-dictated playlists, Gentry thanked the “guys who took us on and played our songs — when they could do that kind of thing.”
Herndon recalled the pain of having to sit “in the crowd watching my band play” when Alabama sang on the New Faces Show at the 1980 Country Radio Seminar. At that time, all the New Faces acts were backed by the same band, a practice that left drummer Herndon out of the picture. “Tonight,” he joked, turning to face Gentry and Cook, “I’m still sitting in the crowd, watching Lonestar play and thinking how much better they sound than you guys.” Herndon asked Alabama’s longtime publicist and contributing songwriter Greg Fowler to join the band on stage to share their honor. Fowler explained that Owen has been “battling” an inner ear infection for the past five weeks but is looking forward to returning to work with the group.
Earlier in the ceremonies, veteran air personalities Jaybird Drennan, Bob Duchesne, Cousin Jerry King, Dr. Bruce Nelson and Uncle Don Rhea were inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame. Former MCA Records chieftain Bruce Hinton was given the organization’s president’s award.
Duchesne, a former music director at WMZQ in Washington, D.C., thanked Barry Manilow for turning him toward country music. “After you’ve played ‘Copacabana’ 50 times,” he said, “Merle Haggard sounds damn good.” The Grand Ole Opry’s Conlee personally welcomed Nelson into the Hall of Fame, explaining that Nelson was crucial in helping “Rose Colored Glasses” become a hit in 1978. Conlee, who was working as a disc jockey in Nashville when he launched his recording career, told the crowd he had released three singles that went nowhere before “Rose Colored Glasses” came along. “I want to thank [Bruce Nelson] for getting me out of radio in a way that didn’t involve being fired.”