By the Way

Alabama singer reflects on Merle Haggard before Sunday's show in Biloxi


Alabama lead singer Randy Owen will perform with Alabama Sunday at the Coast Coliseum.
Alabama lead singer Randy Owen will perform with Alabama Sunday at the Coast Coliseum.

Randy Owen has one of the most recognizable voices in country music. Owen’s smooth baritone was the centerpiece of Alabama’s string of hits -- from “Old Flame” to “Dixieland Delight.”

I think there’s an unwritten law that if you grew up in the South in the 1980s, you were a fan of Owen and Alabama. Before there was the passion for punk rock and new wave and old blues and soul, there was my affection for Alabama.

The first Alabama album I owned was the band’s first album, “My Home’s In Alabama.” This wasn’t the first record I ever saved my allowance to buy, but it was the second. There’s something about the rocker “Tennessee River” that I really found appealing.

And, naturally, it was a song penned by Owen.

My appreciation for Alabama continues. My sweet wife, Dayna, lets me stop at the Alabama Museum and Gift Shop in Fort Payne, Ala., each time we make a trek to the Smoky Mountains. She even snaps the same picture of me in front of the band’s old tour bus on every trip and lets me buy another Alabama T-shirt. One of my most-prized possessions is my Alabama trucker hat I bought at the gift shop on our honeymoon trip.

I had the opportunity to speak with Owen recently. He and Alabama will be at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum on Sunday.

And I got to talk to one of my favorite singers about his favorite singer, the late Merle Haggard. Haggard died April 6.

“The first song that Alabama ever sang on stage was a Merle Haggard song,” Owen said. “The backup song that we were going to sing was a Merle Haggard song -- we did ‘Sing Me Back Home’ and we followed that with ‘Silver Wings.’”

Owen said Haggard invited Alabama to play a show with him at Anaheim Stadium.

“It was Willie Nelson and Merle, and the way I remember it, the stadium got to jumping up and down and they started asking people to quieten down a bit because they thought the stadium was going to collapse,” he said.

The show was the Country Fall Festival on Oct. 26, 1980. It also featured Emmylou Harris. More than 31,000 people attended the show. Haggard recorded the single for “Rainbow Stew” at the show.

“People think there’s no way they got that stadium to shake, but they did,” Owen said. “I got to hear Merle sing ‘Sing Me Back Home,’ and it was the all-time greatest version ever.”

Alabama recorded “Ramblin Fever” with Haggard for his “For the Record” album.

“Let me say this -- he’s one of a kind,” Owen said. “He’s the greatest there will ever be and there’s not a close second.”

COMING FRIDAY: Read more of this interview in Friday's Marquee.

-- Jeff Clark is a staff writer for the Sun Herald. His favorite Alabama song is "Dixieland Delight."