ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Alabama’s Randy Owen
Randy Owen: I have never counted how many songs that got cut on our albums.
Did you write a lot of songs on the bus back in the day?
Back in the early days, there were a lot of people on the buses, and it was hard to write. We flew a lot, and it was hard to write on the airplanes…up and down, and all that goes with being on those airplanes [laughs]. We got so busy when we became “popular” and didn’t write as much as I would have liked to back then.
Did you set appointments to co-write in the early days?
A lot of the songwriting was spontaneous writing. I just did not set a time to co-write.
Did you ever write a song that you knew was a hit song, at the time?
[Laughs] Na. I never wrote one I knew was a hit song!
What is your usual process for writing a song, and has it changed over the years?
I wish I had a formula – like the great writers – but that is not me. I wish I could!
One of the great Alabama songs, “Feels So Right”…one of the newly-recorded songs on the new CD The Last Stand, is only available at Cracker Barrel. Do you remember writing that one?
I was 17 and wrote that song one afternoon about my sweetheart. I had never known anyone that was as beautiful as that girl. A couple years later I played it for a girl from West Virginia, back when we were playing at The Bowery in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was thinking about changing the 2nd verse and, when I played the song, she told me not to re-write that 2nd verse. So I didn’t. I played at the Bowery one night, and people seemed to like it. When Alabama became bigger I played it for [our producer] Harold Shedd in the studio at The Music Mill in Nashville. We cut the song, and I didn’t play my original licks, but the musicians made it sound so good…I sang the song that night, and people in the studio felt really good about it… “Feels So Right.” When we were doing the 2nd June Jam in Fort Payne, Alabama, I was singing that song, looked across the lights…and the light beam was in the face of the girl that I wrote the song for years earlier; we smiled at each other – it was a special moment.
After the song became a big hit, Francis Preston of BMI called me and asked if I needed money. She said she could advance me some money, as I told her I wanted a home for me and my wife. Francis told me I could build a real nice house. As you go into the gates of that home, “Feels So Right” is right there on the gates!
On the new CD, the song has a different arrangement – the way I originally recorded the song when I wrote it. The song was important to me because I would sing it a little different than the record when we were on the road…make it more personal to the audience, one-on-one with each person. A lot of people told me over the years that several babies were born because of that song; a lady told me one time that she and her man were listening too long to that song one night and a baby named Joey was born nine months later as a result!
How long was it between the time that you wrote “Feels So Right” and the time you cut it on an album?
It was 10 or 12 years later [before the song was cut]…Hold on to those great songs.
Now…who did you co-write with for your upcoming solo album [as yet unreleased], produced by John Rich?
I’ve been writing with John Rich and his crew – Shannon Lawson, James Otto, and Vicky McGehee – The Muzik Mafia folks. I love those people…takes me back to the Myrtle Beach days. The Muzik Mafia is what I stepped into in Myrtle Beach in 1973 – all the varieties of music and people – and they all loved music of all kinds…rock, country, southern rock…Mickey Spillain, the famed author, used to hang out with us. He would buy us beers when we didn’t have a lot of money. We’d go to his house on Murrell’s Inlet, just below Myrtle Beach, we’d have an oyster fry and shrimp and a bunch of great food on many Sunday afternoons. I saw him a couple years ago before he passed way, and he said he was working on another book at the time.
Which songwriter that is no longer with us would you have loved to have written song with, if it would have been possible?
[Pause] HANK – The king of them all!
What would that have been like to write with Hank Williams…you ever wonder?
I just know that I admire the lyrics and the simple way he got across the rhyme schemes, and all that still floors me…how this man could write these songs…how he could write that perfect, deep, true and be so honest . Hank was the best. There are so many great writers, but he would be the one to write with if I could.
Did you write with many of the songwriters on Music Row back in the day?
I didn’t have a chance to, as we were so busy on the road…a couple hundred shows a year and all the interviews, radio stations, people wanting to talk with us. I just didn’t have the time to write much on The Row.
Tell me about “My Homes in Alabama.” You closed every show with that song, and it always gave me chills!
Teddy Gentry and I were writing that song…one of us wrote about the state, and one of us wrote about the band. I don’t remember which one of us was writing about what – but we worked it out! When we went to record it in the studio, I finished the second verse [recites the lyrics].
When we wrote the song, all we had was the first verse. We sang at the Bowery one night – played just the verse and the chorus of the song. There was a big guy that walked up to the stage and said, “That’s the best southern rock song ever written. [With all those] Southern Rock songs [out there]…Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker Band, Skynyrd…and that big guy told us that about our song. Wow, that gave us a boost of energy! I just could not believe he said that to us.
Do you have any advice for other songwriters?
If it were me, I would [figure out]…do you want to be a commercial songwriter and make a lot of money? Or be a songwriter, and if you get a cut…you are going to be known for the songs you write…two approaches to songwriting, the way I see it. I chose to write songs that I felt were unique to me, and thank God, Alabama came along. Those songs may not have been recorded by anyone else. Hank Jr. recorded “Tennessee River,” and that was a blessing and an honor to have him cut that song. I think that if you want to be a commercial songwriter, come to Nashville, follow and watch the great writers…and learn, eventually, how to write with them!