Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Randy Owen’s memoir, Born Country: How Faith, Family, and Music Brought Me Home.
I decided to write this book, after some arm-twisting from my wife Kelly and a few close friends, because I wanted people to know where I came from, the people who raised and nurtured me, and the outlook and values they engrained in me, hopefully values I’ve passed along to my own three children. As you read along, I expect you’ll be reminded of some of the things I’ve tried to say in the music of Alabama. Of course, it’s because of that music, and the millions of wonderful people who have embraced it for two and a half decades, that you even know who I am.
You can only get so much into a three-minute song, no matter how many of them get played on country radio. But those songs, especially the ones I personally wrote or co-wrote, can certainly give you the feeling of my story. When the open lines of “My Home’s in Alabama” report that “drinkin’ was forbidden in my Christian country home” and that “I learned to play the flattop on them good ol’ Gospel songs,” that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t get those lines from another country song or watching TV. I got them from my life.
The music of Alabama, and my own personal music, came from the music we heard all our lives, the rich Southern tradition of gospel music and the God for whom that music was created in order to help folks worship and celebrate. From my earliest memory, this music was part of my life. I come from a multigenerational gospel-music family. Until the two inspirational albums we recently released, Alabama rarely sang about God, but trust me, God was present at every concert. The faith of my father and mother, both expressed in the music they played and in the life they aspired to lead, runs deep in both my personal life and in the songs Alabama sang every night.
In an age where people move around so much they don’t know how to answer the question “So, where are you from?” this is a story of what you can gain by never leaving where you’re from. There are sacrifices, for sure — there always are — but at least in my life, I found a reality here at home in Alabama that helped me survive the kind of high-stakes career in music that has damaged or destroyed some of the most talented people on earth. If I relocated to any other spot on earth, it might be heavenly, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. It wouldn’t be where my heart is and near the hearts of my mother, my two sisters, all my other blood relations, and now my children. This mountain is our heart. This mountain is our home.
I think it all goes back to the kind of childhood my sisters and I had. We had a wonderful, loving support system growing up. We didn’t have money, we certainly weren’t indulged in any way, and we never felt entitled to anything. But if things had been awful at home, if our parents had been troubled and full of bitterness at their fate, if drugs or alcohol had poisoned the atmosphere, then any one of us might have wanted to leave and never come back. Thanks to God, that didn’t happen. We’re all three here because of the good times we had, because of the memories and the love we shared and continue to share. All of that is irreplaceable and everlasting. So why would we ever want to leave?
I go away from here a lot — in the heyday of Alabama, Teddy, Jeff and I were on the road sometimes for 250 to 300 days a year — but when I come back, it is ultimate reality. At least it’s my ultimate reality, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Plus, you can’t beat a life centered on soul-stirring Southern gospel music.
I’m sure one day one of my grandkids will ask me, in so many words, “Why you, Paw Paw? Why, among the thousands and thousands of guitar-loving rural kids in the American South, were you so extremely fortunate? Why were you given a path out of poverty and handed such a rich and plentiful life?” And I’ll say something like, “Because that was God’s plan for me. He’s had His hand on me the whole time. And you know what? He’s got a plan for you too. And I can’t wait to see what it is.”
Born Country: How Faith, Family, and Music Brought Me Home. Copyright 2008 by Randy Owen. All rights reserved. For information, contact HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10022.