Greg Fowler always wanted to be in radio. He realized that dream at a station in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — but little did he know that an ad he dutifully read on-air for a local bar band would foretell a cosmic shift in his life’s journey. 

During our recent visit, we talked about his story and where his trail intersected with that little country music group that hails from Northeast ALABAMA. You know the one — ALABAMA. 

“I grew up in the Low Country of South Carolina, in a little town called Loris, around those tobacco fields there,” Fowler says. “We later moved to Florence, South Carolina. I met my future wife, Shirley, there. We went to high school together and married.”

His interest in radio led to a part-time job at WHSC, an AM station in Hartsville, South Carolina, but his ultimate goal was to get to WTGR in Myrtle Beach.

“When I was growing up, we’d go to the beach and I’d say, ‘Man, I gotta work there,’” he recalls. “It was an FM station, a Top 40 station.”

Fowler eventually got his shot, but his time at WTGR was short-lived. “I was there about three months,” he says. “I just didn’t get along with the general manager, bless his heart. Eventually, I would come back and work for the sister station, WKZQ, under the guidance of Bill Hennessey, who was my mentor in radio. That’s how I got involved in meeting ALABAMA initially.”

“When I was at WTGR on my first run into Myrtle Beach, we we’re reading these little index cards with 5- to 15-second spots,” Fowler says. “You read them live, and I remember it said, ‘Tonight at The Bowery, 50-cent draft beer, ladies free till 9 p.m., and featuring the sounds of Wild Country.’ I asked Bill Hennessey, who would later be my general manager at WKZQ, ‘Wild Country, who’s that? I don’t know anything about them.’ I’ll never forget: he said, ‘One day you will.’ Little did I know it would be my life.”

Wild Country would become the band ALABAMA.

“The band was at The Bowery, and they were trying to get something going,” says Fowler. “They were cutting their own albums, selling them off the stage of The Bowery, writing classic songs. ‘My Home’s in Alabama,’ ‘Tennessee River.’ I mean, all these songs were written long before they ever had a record deal with RCA.”

But Fowler says the record labels didn’t want to sign bands because they tended to break up. And the stars of the time had a certain style and look. 

“Everybody had the leisure suits,” he says. “Porter Wagoner and the Wagon Masters. Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn.”

But a shift was taking place in country music, and it helped prepare the way for the experience ALABAMA was offering fans night after night. “Waylon and Willie had kind of busted out of their vibe, with that outlaw country movement, and they were doing things differently, even though both of them had failed miserably and had to go back home to Texas and start all over again,” Fowler says. “They came back with a whole different approach to their brand of country music. ALABAMA was on the heels of that, and the Southern rock movement was going on, too. They looked much like they dress today — the jeans, the boots, the cowboy hat from time to time, but the beard, long hair… record labels weren’t sure about that.”

Despite problems with management along the way, ALABAMA “finally got their big break performing on the ‘New Faces’ showcase in Nashville for new artists who didn’t have a record deal,” Fowler says. “The labels said, ‘Who are they? Where have they been?’”

Fast-forward a bit to when the group was signed by RCA in 1980. And most folks around the state are familiar with what happened next: the band charted eight Number 1 country singles between May 1980 and August 1982. And that was just the beginning.

“I was still at Myrtle Beach,” Fowler says. “They were still playing at The Bowery, fulfilling their obligation. They were going to play through the summer or part of the summer there. They were still the bar band, and then once they went on the road and RCA put them out, it just blew up. Then Teddy called me and said, ‘Hey, man, would you like to come work with us, because we could use some help out here.’”

Fowler asked his wife if they should take a shot at this opportunity, and she agreed. They packed up and headed from Myrtle Beach to Fort Payne, and they’ve been there ever since. His title with the group has never been defined or limited to one role. He has been their tour manager and co-writer, and played an integral role in promotions for the band. Today he serves as director of the ALABAMA Band Fan Club and Museum in Fort Payne.

“I was the day-to-day, on-the-road manager, and a lot of stuff happens on the road that doesn’t happen in an office,” Fowler says. “I never was much on titles. Whatever needs to be done, let’s just do it.”

“We had our offices here in Fort Payne, and things got really rolling,” he says. “When I say it blew up, it absolutely was unbelievable. I mean, they were selling as many concert tickets as any rock act performing at any given time. Fans camped out to get tickets, and extra shows had to be added. Those shows sold out as quickly as the first one.”

The concert success was matched by — and fueled by — the chart success. “The songs were going to Number 1, one after another after another,” he says. “We had 21 Number 1s. I say ‘we,’ because it’s always been ‘we.’ ‘We’ve done this, we got to go here, we’ve got to record, we’ve got to fly to Oklahoma … It has always been a family thing. I’m an employee of ALABAMA, and I’ve been with them off and on for 40 years, but our kids grew up together here, they went to school together here, our families were together here. My home is definitely in Alabama now. I love this town, I love this community, I love the people, I love the fact that I’m able to get in my car and be anywhere I want to be in this area within 10 or 15 minutes.”

We also talked about the strong family connection within the band itself. Not only were they cousins, but their sound and harmony reflected common roots and growing up with church music. I shared the story of when I first heard them. I was living in Tuscaloosa, working at a radio station. 

I’m kind of half listening, and then I hear this guy say, ‘…somewhere high on Lookout Mountain, I’ll just smile with pride and say, that my home’s in Alabama…’ I thought, ‘Who in the world is that?’ They say the mark of a great song is when you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard it for the first time. Once I saw their album, I called my mother and asked, ‘Have you heard about this?’ And she said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s those boys from out there on the mountain.’ 

Fowler describes his understanding of how the cousins came together in a magical union on a Sunday afternoon. Jeff Cook was already a well-known rock musician in Fort Payne, and he was knowledgeable about the necessary technical equipment (makes sense that he would eventually form Cook Sound Studios). 

“One Sunday afternoon, Teddy and Randy showed up at Jeff’s house and said, ‘Hey, man, you got some stuff, and we’d like to get together and play,’” relates Fowler. “And they’re cousins, I mean, literally family. Over here on Sanders Avenue in Fort Payne, where Jeff was living at the time, they just sat down, and started to sing a little bit and play a little bit.”

They considered the results to be ‘pretty good.’ “I think they felt that there was something really unique in the way they just could naturally harmonize and develop their own kind of a sound,” Fowler says. “There was a talent show over here in Section, Alabama, in ‘69. They entered it and won. The prize was a trip to the Grand Ole Opry. That was their first, I guess, official rendering of performing together.”

The late Bennett Vartanian, who was once a member of the Fort Payne-based group known as The Malibous, heard there was an opening in Myrtle Beach at The Bowery and suggested the cousins play there. Vartanian would become the original ALABAMA drummer

“That’s how it started,” Fowler says. “Randy was still at Jacksonville State University. He didn’t want to leave, because he was about to graduate. So, they filled in for him over there, and Randy eventually joined them once he graduated. For seven summers, they just wore it out over there, playing for tips six nights a week at The Bowery.”

The band’s success is legendary by anyone’s standards, and the output of shows, award-winning music, and performances is among the most remarkable in modern music history. 

“The awards were just coming in, coming in, coming in,” recalls Fowler. “We were on the road 200, 250 days a year. It was like the hamster wheel. With RCA, it didn’t matter if you sold 5 million records, every year RCA wanted a new album. Every single year.”

Several of the guys had children, which made the pace challenging. The pressure of staying at the top is a story often told by bands of ALABAMA’s stature. They announced their retirement in 2002 but have since reunited. Sadly, Jeff Cook passed away in November 2022.

“They’re still touring right now,” Fowler says. “Randy and Teddy are out there doing it. They just got back from Hollywood, Florida, and their shows are selling out again. They’re still doing it. We lost Jeff, of course, but Teddy and Randy are still flying the flag, carrying on the tradition.”

Over the years, the band’s music has been equaled only by their love for their community and concern for those in need of help. The June Jam concerts in Fort Payne have raised more than $20 million for charities over the years and put Fort Payne on the map internationally.

In 2023, to the delight of music fans far and wide, ALABAMA held its benefit concert June Jam for the first time since 1997. The show drew a sold-out crowd. This year’s event promises to be another great lineup, with proceeds going toward disaster relief around the state.

Many local sponsors make the event happen. 

“I want to give a shout-out to Eric Dudash and all the folks at the DeKalb County VFW Fairgrounds here in Fort Payne,” Fowler says. “They have been absolutely phenomenal in working with us. They’ve given us their facility. They’ve never done anything like this until last year, ever. Fair chairman Charles Stephens has been with the VFW Fairgrounds forever, and he and I had an initial conversation about it a couple of years ago. He said, ‘I think we can make that work,’ and we did. Thanks to Eric Dudash, who kind of assumed the role of helping me orchestrate this craziness, along with Tony Conway in Nashville and Outback Presents and all the volunteers and people who are providing free food for our volunteers and first responders.”

The list of helpers continues. “Fort Payne Improvement Authority provided us many dollars worth of power equipment that we couldn’t have done without. The water department behind the fairgrounds gave us parking that we had to have. I could go on and on and on. It all came together because of the community of Fort Payne: the mayor’s office, police, fire, rescue, everybody involved came forth saying, ‘We will do this together. We believe in it.’”

June Jam continues as it began — an expression of ALABAMA’s love and appreciation for their fans, their interest in helping promote other artists, and their desire to help the people in their community. None of that has changed. 

“They’re still very concerned,” Fowler says. “They’re still the same people. They still live here. They still grow their families here. They grow their cows here. They grow their hay here. They grow their crops here. They are still very much like what Randy and Teddy wrote: ‘My home’s in Alabama, no matter where I lay my head.’” 

ALABAMA’s Fan Appreciation events will take place in the weeks and days preceding June Jam, beginning May 4. Be sure to check out all the special events on The June Jam Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JuneJam.official/

This year’s special guest performers are: Old Dominion, Shenandoah, Lee Greenwood, Montgomery Gentry (featuring Eddie Montgomery), Taylor Hicks, Exile, John Berry, The Castellows, Mark Wills, and The Malpass Brothers. 

Tickets for the concert are on sale now via tickmaster.com and at the ALABAMA Fan Club & Museum (101 Glenn Blvd. SW, Fort Payne, AL 35967).