I’m not gonna lie, I was shocked to find out that Alabama actually played concerts outside of Alabama….that is, at least one time in Salt Lake City where they played a short acoustic set for a bunch of Mormons that were all jacked up on caffeine pills, the same kind of pills that eventually led Billy Idol to write “White Wedding.”
With the exception of the Salt Lake City part, all of the previous is one big Southern fib, but it made for a good intro and it also got me thinking. If you were a band named Alabama, why wouldn’t you just tour the entire state playing every nook and cranny hole in the wall bar that you could possibly find? Think about all of the cash that you could make as a band with that plan! And that’s the thing, Alabama definitely took that thought to heart and expanded on it to become one of the most successful bands in the country music genre, playing more than 300 shows per year. It’s the kind of schedule that you would forgive them if they had trouble remembering their own zip code while filling out paperwork.
My discovery of Alabama’s music came about as a result of a bit of deductive reasoning. I was in a Sears department store in the early ’80s, a typical kid stuck with his parents while they did their shopping, but sometimes if I got lucky, the store we were in would have a music section. And this was the case with Sears, where I bought two cassettes on that day, Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Mountain Music by Alabama. Both albums were purchased on the basis of their title, and with Mountain Music, it was a very specific pickup. My parents owned a vacation place near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, a small village of 500 people (give or take a few that might have just been visiting) located 9,000 feet up on the tip of the Rocky Mountains, about 2 hours outside of El Paso. I figured that Mountain Music would be good music to listen to in the family car while driving through the mountains and if that meant that I could listen to something on the car stereo besides classical music, I was willing to give it a try.
And it was a good gamble – my parents loved the title track and my dad, always one to carry a joke just a little bit past its due date (and he still does), enjoyed making fun of lead singer Randy Owen’s pronunciation of woman, er, “woh-man” in the lyrics of the otherwise tender ballad “Close Enough To Perfect.” There was enough rock in Alabama’s sound on songs like “Take Me Down” to satisfy the young hungry rocker inside of me while overall, the band’s sound made me curious to learn more about this thing called “country music.” Alabama were different than most country artists in my eyes because they covered subject matter in a way that made you think. From subjects like the working man (“Forty Hour Week”), to acid rain (“Pass It On Down”), there was something about the Alabama sound that was a little bit different than the traditional songs about runaway dogs and broken down pickup trucks.
A few years ago, the band put out a retrospective box set that featured many of the hits, but it also featured a good number of previously unreleased live recordings. One of the highlights of the set is an acoustic set that features the members of Alabama running through a selection of their favorite cover songs that had been part of their repertoire in the early days of the group. Starting with the Gene Autry number “That Silver Headed Daddy of Mine” and winding down with “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South, the medley made a really good case for a full concert release of material from that era. Apparently, the concert gods at Wolfgang’s Vault must have been listening, because as I was digging through the Vault, I found a full Alabama performance from 1982, recorded in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (one of two sold out nights) on the Mountain Music tour. Score!
As someone who never got around to seeing Alabama live, it’s a real treat to have the opportunity to listen to nearly two hours of classic live stuff from the group. I know that you’ll enjoy it too.
Listen to the full show at Wolfgang’s Vault by clicking on this link.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Cloudcroft in the past day since I heard the news of a terrible fire in the village that destroyed two buildings in the historic business district, wiping out a string of small businesses that were left high and dry in the wake of the tragic fire. Thanks to the good work of local firefighters, there were no injuries and they were able to keep the fire from destroying additional properties. Still, the hard reality is that in a small village where many of the citizens depend on every dollar, there are now quite a few of those people and the small business owners affected by the events of Monday that are now wondering where that next dollar is going to come from. A relief fund has been established by the city and you can find details on how to contribute via this link.
I have more than 30 years of special memories thanks to the time that I’ve spent in Cloudcroft. Some of them hurt at the time, like the moment when I nearly sliced off one of my fingers with a pocket knife while waiting for breakfast at the Western Cafe. How lucky was I that there was a nurse sitting at the next table over? Recently, I’ve reconnected on Facebook with my childhood friend Andy, a fellow former Cloudcroft resident. When we were kids, I would go over to his house to spend the night and I’d end up being there for a week until my parents finally would force me to come home to sleep in my own bed. During those times, we’d watch movies with his dad (who was one of the first people I knew with a VCR and a large collection of store bought movies), listen to his brother’s comedy albums by Steve Martin and on an unrelated note, his brother would chase us with a low powered pellet gun. I can still feel the sting of the pellets.
The Cloudcroft community is a strong one and they’ve weathered many storms prior to these latest events. This too shall pass, as they say, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch from afar. To my beloved village and the people that live there, please know that I’ll be pulling for you as you deal with this current situation and I’ll look forward to seeing you all soon “around town.”