Teddy Gentry is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and has racked up dozens of No. 1 singles as a co-founder and bassist of the Country supergroup Alabama, and for most folks that would be more than enough to call it a career.
But for Gentry, it’s just the beginning.
Best New Music Group, his brainchild and a full-service Music Row company that says it is “a one-stop shop for artist development, management, production, publishing, and record label,” has just released an album in Cracker Barrel Stores called Teddy Gentry’s Best New Nashville, featuring 12 exciting new Country acts that Gentry and business partners Charles English and TinaMarie Holland have signed and developed since Alabama did its farewell tour in 2003.
“My number one love is producing,” Gentry says in a telephone conversation on June 1. “Being part of Alabama is history, and I’ve spent my time in the studio for years. I’ve been working with these young artists, and this is five years of my work going forward. Cracker Barrel gave me this opportunity, and really, these are all unsigned artists. We’re in the process of working a couple of them to the labels. It’s going really good. We try to offer a good, quality piece of music, an album for $10 with 12 new artists and 12 new songs.”
These artists include the veteran Row hit tunesmith Dillon Dixon, along with Jimmy Stewart, Chanel Campbell, Garrett Steele, 3 Lanes Crossing, Laura Fedor, longtime Row session vocal wizard Chip Davis, Samantha Landrum, Southwind, Brad Long, Adrianna Freeman, and Amber Shalene.
Best New Music Group is not a label, and unlike nearly all Row labels and publishers they actively encourage unsolicited material. One of its press releases says, “please mail music, epk’s, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And isn’t that welcome news to hopeful singers and songwriters?
“I do love it,” Teddy says of the vision of his company and the excitement he feels about the business, “It’s a matter of trying to give these young people that come to Nashville a fair shot, is what I call it. Our whole thing is about promoting the new artists.”
When they tour with these new acts, each gets a fair shot, with no one artist singing more than two or three songs on each show. That, too, is a unique approach.
“We want to take the politics out of it, and give these artists a fightin’ chance,” Teddy says. “All 12 of them on the album earned their position.”
Ever since he started in the business, when Gentry and his older cousins Randy Owen (guitar/lead vocals) and Jeff Cook (keyboards/fiddle/vocals) first sang as a trio in 1969 at Fort Payne, Alabama, and four years later made their earliest recordings, Teddy has been in love with production and songwriting.
“That’s something I never really quit,” he says. “I love doing it, that’s my heart and soul. I started writing when I was 10, and I still do it every month.”
How does he balance Alabama’s unique Country legacy with his new projects?
“Not comparing what I did before, Alabama set standards and Gold records that I’m very proud of,” he says. “But for me, it’s all about the music going forward. These are some young artists I believe in.”
Teddy and the Best New Music Group team try to keep the artists they work with down to earth. The 12 artists on the Cracker Barrel album have come from all walks of life and reflect Teddy’s own very diverse musical tastes, from Country to Country Gospel to Bluegrass.
It’s probably not surprising to hear that his own songwriting influences included not just Country icons like Harlan Howard, but also The Eagles and The Beatles.
Like all top executives—and remember that Gentry has also run a successful cattle-breeding business at his Bent Tree Farms for 30 years—Teddy makes maximum use of his time. He drives back and forth from Music Row to Alabama every week, and he’s constantly listening to music on the way.
“It gives me a chance to listen to new songs,” he says. “I listen to everything sent in the door.”
To Teddy, there’s a great deal that is spiritual in all of this.
“I have a passion for music, like being called to preach,” he says.
Gentry also points out that because of the Internet and the explosion of Social Media, artists no longer need to sell millions of albums to be successful. Teddy points out that an artist can develop a fan base, perhaps between 20,000 and 30,000 people who will support every product and every show, and go from there.
Meanwhile, he and his old buddies in Alabama have their own hit on their hands this summer.
Country radio got the summer off to a red-hot start on May 24, when “Old Alabama,” Brad Paisley’s single featuring Alabama, reached No. 1 after just 11 weeks on the charts.
That’s about half the time it takes for most singles to climb to the top spot. The single, which features parts from many earlier Alabama hits, was the first one that Alabama performs on to reach No. 1 since 1993’s “Reckless,” though Teddy has been involved with several since then either as producer or writer.
“Mainly it’s showing me that we’ve been missed,” Gentry says of the band’s continuing appeal.
“We’ve sure got fans out there that love our music. We’ve been missed out there in Country music. Plus, Brad Paisley is really hot these days, and maybe he could have cut `Three Blind Mice’ and had a hit with it. But the fans have been wanting to shine the spotlight on us, and we’d love to say thank you,” he continues.
So would Country fans all over the world who made Alabama far and away the most successful band in Country and Country radio history. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
That early part of Gentry’s career was sensational.
He and Owen co-wrote “My Home’s In Alabama,” the band’s first Top 20 single and the only Top 20 of their pre-RCA days. At a benefit for victims of the Tuscaloosa tornadoes in early May, a reunited Alabama performed the song.
Once Alabama signed with RCA, Country radio stardom came right away. Their self-written, hooky singles and irresistible vocal arrangements were an immediate hit with programmers and listeners. Their first RCA single, “Tennessee River,” went to No. 1 in summer 1981. And that was just the beginning.
“Why Lady Why,” a Gentry co-write with drummer Rick Scott, was the next single and another No. 1. “Old Flame,” “Feels So Right,” “Love In The First Degree,” the Grammy-winning “Mountain Music,” “Take Me Down,” “Close Enough To Perfect,” “Dixieland Delight,” another Grammy winner in “The Closer You Get,” “Lady Down On Love,” “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler),” “When We Make Love,” and “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)” all went to No. 1 between 1980 and 1984.
Along the way, Alabama earned CMA Vocal Group of the Year honors in 1981, 1982, and 1983, and captured the CMA’s top prize, Entertainer of the Year, the same three years in a row. No other group had ever won Entertainer of the Year, which was first awarded to Eddy Arnold in 1967. And just one group has won it since—the Dixie Chicks in 2000.
Lon Helton, the editor of Country Aircheck and prior to that the longtime Nashville bureau chief of Radio&Records, once pointed out that while Rock is often a business where bands like the Beatles or Rolling Stones have dominated, only one Country band—Alabama—has enjoyed such prominence with radio and with fans.
The hits just kept on comin’ beginning in early 1985, nearly always going to No. 1 on Billboard. “(There’s A Fire) In The Night,” “There’s No Way,” “Forty Hour Week (For A Livin’),” “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down,” “She And I,” “Touch Me When We’re Dancing,” “Deep River Woman,” “ ‘You’ve Got’ The Touch,” “Face To Face,” “Fallin’ Again,” “Song Of The South,” “If I Had You,” “High Cotton,” “Southern Star,” “Jukebox In My Mind,” “Forever’s As Far As I’ll Do,” “Down Home,” “I’m A Little Hurry (And Don’t Know Why),” and their last No. 1 until the recent pairing with Paisley, “Reckless” in 1993, gave Alabama one of the hottest, most consistent streaks of No. 1 hit singles ever at Country radio.
“I remember all the hard work we put in,” Gentry says. “We played 300 shows a year.”
The 1992 hit “Born Country,” penned by Byron Hill and John Schweers, remains one of the group’s all-time favorites, and it’s ironically one of the few that didn’t reach No. 1 on Billboard. It peaked at No. 2 in early 1993.
The Country music scene looks very different in the summer of 2011 than it did when Alabama first went to radio in 1977, but one thing has stayed constant through all these years: Teddy Gentry. He has been front and center, either as a superstar artist, songwriter, producer, A&R visionary, or label executive, and thanks in large part to Gentry, the future of country music and Country radio continue to look very bright.
By Phil Sweetland