Alabama Co-Founder and Guitarist Jeff Cooke Dies at 73

Alabama In Concert – 1991 – Credit: Tim MosenfelderArchive Photos/Getty Images

Jeff Cooke, founding member and lead guitarist of the country band Alabama, died Tuesday at his vacation home in Destin, Florida, after an extended illness. Cook’s spokesman confirmed the death. It was 73.

Born Jeffrey Alan Cook on August 27, 1949, in Fort Payne, Alabama, his teenage musical aspirations would eventually lead him to the top of the country charts multiple times with Alabama classics such as “Mountain Music,” “Take Me Down” , “Love in the First Degree” and “Dixieland Delight”.

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With his cousins, singer Randy Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry, Cook formed a band called Wildcountry that gained some popularity in the South. They were particularly well-liked in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and eventually settled there, playing popular gigs at a venue called the Bowery.

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The group was renamed Alabama in 1977 and, with the addition of full-time drummer Mark Herndon, began gaining ground in the country music industry in the late seventies.

The group’s RCA career was nothing short of impressive, starting with eight Number Ones including “Tennessee River,” “Feels So Right,” and “Mountain Music.” In all, they scored more than 30 number one country hits, including one a year from 1980 to 1993—among them such classics as “Dixieland Delight,” “Song of the South” and “I’m in a Hurry (and the Don I don’t know why).’ Their album sales exceeded 75 million and they were the rare group to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award, taking home the coveted award in 1982, 1983 and 1984.

Cook brought impressive guitar skills to the Alabama equation, along with the ability to play multiple instruments including keyboards, fiddle and mandolin, adding vocal harmonies to Owen’s core melodies as well. He even brought a touch of rock ‘n’ roll showmanship to country music with his frequent use of a double neck electric guitar. In 2005, the group was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, shortly after announcing its retirement. They returned to touring, minus Herndon, in 2013.

Having earned his broadcaster’s license at 14, Cook also spent time in radio and studied electronic technology at Gadsden State Community College. Later, he built his home studio, Cook Sound Studios, in his home in Fort Payne, where he worked with other aspiring musicians. Cook also released a handful of solo projects beginning in the mid-2000s, including 2008’s Just Choose and 2011 2 Rock 4 Country.

In 2012, Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and went public with the news a few years later in 2017. He maintained a busy touring schedule with Alabama until 2018, when he decided to retire from the road for good.

Brad Paisley, who collaborated with Alabama on his song “Old Alabama,” remembered Cook in a social media post. “One of the highlights of my life is recording and jamming with you guys. You fought this terrible disease with grace, Jeff,” Paisley wrote. “My heart goes out to your wife and the boys and the band. We will miss you.”

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