Jeff Cook, the Grammy-winning founding guitarist, keyboardist and fiddler of Alabama — one of the most successful country groups of all time, with had 33 No. 1 country hits, including 21 in a row — died Tuesday at his home in Destin, FL, a band rep to the Associated Press. He was 73.
Cook had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017.
Born on August 27, 1949, in Fort Payne, AL, Cook co-founded the band as in the early 1970s with his cousins — singer-guitarist Randy Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry — and drummer Bennett Vartanian. The group spent several summers playing in a Myrtle Beach, SC, bar called The Bowery and renamed Alabama in 1977, the group broke through with “My Home’s in Alabama,” which peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs in 1980. That initial success launched the quartet to superstardom: Its next 21 singles all topped that that chart, save for a 1982 Christmas song.
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“More than anything,” Cook is quoted on the band’s website, “our longevity is a tribute to the hard work we did in selecting songs — because it’s the songs that people remember.”
Overall, the group with a Southern rock edge racked up more than 50 Top 10 country singles, including such enduring classics as “Song of the South” and “Jukebox in My Mind,” and 20 platinum albums from 1980-2011. They have sold nearly 50 million albums in the U.S., per the RIAA — which ranks the group as the 31st best-selling act of all time.
Billboard lists the group as the No. 5 country act of the 1980s and No. 6 of the ’90s. As of 2012, it ranked as the No. 17 act in the Hot Country Songs’ 68-year history to that point.
Its biggest crossover single was “Love in the First Degree,” which hit No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981.
Alabama also won back-to-back Grammys for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1982 and 1983 with the LPs Mountain Music and The Closer You Get…, respectively. It amassed more a dozen Academy of Country Music Awards, including a pair of career nods, two Entertainer of the Year wins and Artist of the Decade for the 1980s. The group also won 17 American Music Awards, including 12 for Favorite Country Band/Duo/Group; it won that category eight consecutive times from 1991-99.
Mountain Music remains Alabama’s best-selling studio album, certified five times platinum, but two of its hits compilation discs also have sold 5 million-plus.
In 1985, Cook, Albert Lee and Steve Morse were named the top three guitarists by Guitar Player magazine’s reader poll.
The group’s 2013 album and video, recorded live at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, features covers of their songs by such stars as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Eli Young Band, Florida Georgia Line, Jamey Johnson, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts and Trisha Yearwood.
The group was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Cook went on to launch Cook Sound Studios as a way to help local musicians share their music. ” In Jeff’s words, “This area “[DeKalb County] has its share of talented musicians,” said said on the band’s website, “and now the opportunity is there for each of them to cut demos, records, etc., at an affordable price. Plus, it’s nice to share your dreams with others.”
After Alabama quit the in 2004, Cook recorded eight albums and toured with the Allstar Goodtime Band. But Alabama reunited for a 50th anniversary jaunt this year.
Cook is survived by his wife of 27 year, Lisa Williams.
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