Book Review Archives

Born Country: How Faith, Family, and Music Brought Me Home

By: Randy Owen
Reviewed by: Kevin Wilder
HarperOne, 2008
$25.95, Hardcover

If anyone’s qualified to sing in a band named after the Yellowhammer state, it’s got to be Randy Owen. In Born Country, he paints a magnificent portrait of Northeast Alabama, the area where he was born and continues to live.

Readers of other pop music biographies might anticipate stories of drunken confessions or steamy affairs. As they’ll be glad (or upset) to find, it isn’t that kind of book. Owen is an all-around gentleman, and unlike most successful musicians since pop’s heyday, he’s never found a reason to stray far from his roots.

The anecdotes here are reminiscent of Cash by Johnny Cash in that they’re written with compassion and humility. He mentions how, during early practices in Fort Payne, he desired to remain in the background, wanting to play lead guitar rather than sing. In the same manner, he never anticipated writing a book until his wife suggested it. Like Cash, the hit songwriter leads readers through each step of his life, from childhood to superstardom, and keeps it all cohesive and engaging. Since he found time to complete a BA in English from Jacksonville State, his secondary education can also be thanked.

According to Owen, Alabama spent years playing nightly gigs at the legendary Bowery in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Here they developed their musical abilities, and gained a reputation for wearing t-shirts and ratty jeans. Fancy hats and rhinestone outfits were the expected uniform for country performers at the time. The group has been touring since, and only recently have they altered the year-round consistency. Health problems have left Owen with no choice but to adapt a new motto: “Get up in the morning and slow down.”

The author often emphasizes the benefits of his faith-centered upbringing, without coming off as preachy. The band has always preferred keeping their concerts family-friendly, sticking by their inherited clean-living ideals. In the wake of organizing the June Jam festival—where big country stars performed for fifteen consecutive years to benefit DeKalb County schools—Owen decided to make charities a lifelong commitment. As a result, Alabama has raised millions of dollars both to aid young farmers and to provide healthcare for needy children through organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. These are the details readers are left with. They’re ideas bigger than Owen himself, which seems to be exactly how he’d prefer it.

This memoir is an obvious hard-hitter for fans of Alabama, and also those who love God, country, or rock and roll. Feb 2009

Kevin Wilder is a freelance writer living in Birmingham.