Jeff Cook, co-founder, lead guitarist, and fiddler in the ’80s-country megahit band Alabama, died November 7 at his home in Destin, Florida. He was 73 and had long battled Parkinson’s Disease.
Cook and his cousins, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, were natives of Fort Payne, Alabama, and began their collaboration in 1969 with a band called Wild Country. Regional success motivated them to quit their day jobs and journey to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in March of ’73, where they became the house band at the legendary Bowery. In ’77, they changed the name to Alabama and worked their way to the forefront of country music as the genre was transitioning to a mainstream/pop-oriented sound.
“I’ve always felt that what is called ‘country’ is about 20 years behind what is called ‘pop’ or ‘rock’ in its evolution,” Cook opined. “If we put out something without fiddles or a steel guitar and somebody still wants to put a country label on it, so be it.”
Alabama’s numbers were staggering – more than 40 #1 hits and worldwide record sales totaling an estimated 80 million units.
Cook’s earliest influence was James Burton, who became a close friend.
“He started the whole thing for me,” Cook told Vintage Guitar in 1993. “I used to listen to him play with Ricky Nelson. I play the same way he did, with a flat pick and a finger pick on my middle finger.”
Cook maintained a large collection of vintage guitars and custom-made instruments often painted by illustrator Wayne Jarrett.
“I painted my first guitar for Jeff in ’81, soon after they’d broken through nationally,” Jarrett remembered. In the late ’80s, the two partnered in a guitar company.
Cook had a fondness for doubleneck instruments, and his collection included vintage and custom-made examples. As an endorser, he had the only two doubleneck Music Man guitars ever made, both with standard- and Nashville-tuned necks. His signature Peavey, introduced in ’85, was a 12/6 Hydra with a Kahler vibrato on the six-string. It was Peavey’s first artist-signature model.
“Jeff was one of the most-talented and intelligent artists I had the good fortune to work with,” said founder Hartley Peavey. “He visited our factory several times to share ideas about a guitar or amp, and always presented convincing reasons [for them].”
He had other doublenecks by Mosrite, Danelectro, Carvin, Fender Custom Shop, Jerry Jones, and Hondo.
Alabama wound down in the early 2000s, but Cook remained active with the All-Star Goodtime Band, which released three albums. In 2005, he played at the first James Burton Guitar Festival, and continued to perform until 2018.
Donations in Jeff Cook’s memory can be made to the Jeff and Lisa Cook Foundation, https://thejeffandlisacookfoundation.org.
This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.