Jeff Cook, a founding member and lead guitarist of the country group Alabama, died Tuesday at his vacation home in Destin, Florida, after an extended illness. Cook’s representative confirmed the death. He was 73.
Born Jeffrey Alan Cook on Aug. 27, 1949, in Fort Payne, Alabama, his teenage musical ambitions would ultimately take him to the top of the country charts multiple times with Alabama classics like “Mountain Music,” “Take Me Down,” “Love in the First Degree,” and “Dixieland Delight.”
With his cousins, singer Randy Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry, Cook formed a band called Wildcountry that gained some popularity around the South. They were particularly well-liked in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and eventually relocated there, playing popular gigs at a venue called the Bowery.
The band was renamed Alabama in 1977 and, with the addition of full-time drummer Mark Herndon, began gaining traction in the country music industry at the close of the Seventies.
The group’s major-label career at RCA was nothing short of spectacular, beginning with eight Number One songs including “Tennessee River,” “Feels So Right,” and “Mountain Music.” In total, they notched more than 30 Number One country hits, including one per year from 1980 to 1993 — among them are classics like “Dixieland Delight,” “Song of the South,” and “I’m in a Hurry (and Don’t Know Why).” Their album sales topped 75 million and they were the rare group to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year Award, taking home the coveted prize in 1982, 1983, and 1984.
Cook brought impressive guitar skills to the equation in Alabama, along with the ability to play numerous instruments including keyboards, fiddle, and mandolin, adding vocal harmonies to Owen’s lead melodies as well. He even brought a touch of rock & 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 having announced their retirement. They returned to touring, minus Herndon, in 2013.
Having earned his broadcaster’s license at 14, Cook also spent time on the radio and studied electronic technology at Gadsden State Community College. Later, he built his home studio, Cook Sound Studios, at his home in Fort Payne, at which he worked with other aspiring musicians. Cook also put out a handful of solo projects starting in the mid-2000s, including 2008’s Just Pickin’ and 2011’s 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 through 2018, at which point he decided to permanently retire from the road.
Brad Paisley, who collaborated with Alabama on his song “Old Alabama,” remembered Cook in a post on social media. “One of the highlights of my life is getting to record and jam 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.”