In the early 70s, guitarist Jeff Cook started a band called Wildcountry with his cousins, and five years later the band changed its name to Alabama. Under this second name, the group founded by Fort Payne has become one of the country music groups of all time. On November 8, the band confirmed on social media that Cook had died the previous day. He was 73 years old.
In recent years, Cook has struggled with the challenges of Parkinson’s disease, which impacted his ability to play music and forced him to step away from the band around 2018.
In a joint statement, surviving members of Alabama, Cook’s cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, said Cook, “was a champion in all that he attempted and he bravely faced his battle with a positive attitude.” The statement said Cook passed away “peacefully” and “with family and close friends by his side at his beach home in Destin, Florida.”
Whether playing his double-necked guitar, singing backing vocals, or picking up a fiddle, Cook was an essential musical and visual component of Alabama. Together, the band have sold over 73 million albums and landed over 40 number one country hits, including “Mountain Music”, “40 Hour Week”, “Feels So Right”, “Old Flame”, “The Closer You Get” and “Southern Song.”
As a member of Alabama, Cook was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Fort Payne High School graduate and Gadsden State Community College alumnus is also a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame and Fiddlers Hall of Fame and winner of Gibson’s Guitarist of the Year.
According to the Alabama statement, Cook is survived by his wife of 27 years Lisa Cook, his mother Betty Cook, his brother David Cook, Crystal Cook, his father-in-law Jerrial Williams, his brother-in-law Randy Williams and many others. nieces and nephews.
Following news of Cook’s death, musicians took to Twitter to pay their respects. country singer Travis Tritt posted“I send my deepest condolences to the family, friends and band members of Jeff Cook from Alabama. Such a great guy and heckuva bass fisherman. He will be truly missed.”
American superstar and fellow Alabama native Jason Isbell posted, “What sad news. Jeff was a sweet, gentle man and a hugely influential musician to us Alabama people. Heartbreaking.”
Country-gospel vocal quartet Oak Ridge Boys posted“Heartbreaking news. Friend and brother Jeff Cook from Alabama has passed away. Goodbye Jeff. Rest assured, the battles are over.
The musicians aren’t the only ones whose Alabama music was an integral part of life. ESPN personality Marty Smith posted on Twitter, “Grateful for the generational joy his talent has brought to my family, joy that will live on through his music.”
In 2015, I interviewed Jeff Cook around the time Alabama released “Southern Drawl,” the band’s 23rd album (and, to date, most recent) and their first in 14 years. Cook told me, “The hardest part of the album was coming up with what we thought were good songs. The easiest way was to sing together.
Asked about his classical guitar solo on Alabama’s 1979 hit “My Home’s In Alabama,” Cook told me, “It was just one of those things that came up while I was playing it. I don’t know if I’ve ever played it the same way twice. He said he thought he probably played a Music Man branded guitar on the studio version of this solo.
Although Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is by far the best-known double-neck guitarist, Cook told me he was inspired to take a double-neck from early country musicians Joe Maphis and Red Foley. “I remember seeing a guy on TV playing a double neck, a little bit shorter neck,” Cook recalled. “It had always bubbled in my mind to get one, so I finally took two Music Mans and built it myself. I built the first two double-deckers. I started and built those first double decks while I was at the Bowery (a bar) in Myrtle Beach.
In Alabama’s early days, the band played marathon sets for tourists in Myrtle Beach. The experience refined the band on many levels, Cook said. “Most days we would start at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and play until 1 a.m. with a lunch break around 6 a.m. So I think it was road endurance. And the ability to entertain people, not necessarily just when you sing.
Cooked credits Alabama’s musical longevity in part to the family bond between him and his [distant] cousins: Owen, the band’s charismatic leader, and affable bassist Gentry. “Maybe it has something to do with the way we say words and pronounce things and helps us with our harmonies.”
For their golden harmony vocals, a signature aspect of their sound, Alabama drew inspiration from Statler Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys, Cook said. “I won’t say that we modeled our harmony on them, because they are apples and oranges.”
When Cook wasn’t playing music or recording in his own studio, fishing was his thing. With a home on Lake Guntersville, Cook mostly enjoyed fishing for bass, he said. “But I’ll catch anything that bites. One of the governors made me a lifetime fishing ambassador for the state of Alabama. I don’t know what that means, but it looks good on my truck.
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