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SCOTT SIMON, host:

To understand Randy Owen's story, you've got to begin with Alabama - the state, but also the country music group, his band for three decades. Randy Owen grew up in Fort Payne, Alabama. He and his cousins, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook, spent the late 1960s playing at local parties, bars, and even an amusement park. Mark Herndon, the drummer, joined the trio a decade later. And the group Alabama went on to sell more than 73 million records, scoring 42 number one singles, songs like "Love in the First Degree," "Mountain Music," and "The Closer You Get."

(Soundbite of song "The Closer You Get")

ALABAMA: (Singing) The closer you get, the further I fall. I'll be over the edge now in no time at all.

SIMON: Alabama's hits were a mix of pop, country, and rock and roll. They paved gold-record paths for crossover stars like Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks. After a 2003-2004 farewell tour, Alabama retired from the road. But they're still working on solo projects. Randy Owen has just released his first solo CD. It's called "One on One." He's also co-author of the book "Born Country: How Faith, Family and Music Brought Me Home." Randy Owen joins us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. RANDY OWEN (Country Music Artist): It's great to be with you.

SIMON: So what was it like to go back to writing and recording without all your old band mates?

Mr. OWEN: Well, the writing part of my life never changes because it's - that's just when the inspiration comes. Or maybe you get a chance to co-write with people, which is an entirely different experience because you get a chance to, you know - they inspire you and hopefully, you inspire them, and you play thoughts off of one another.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a track on this new CD.

Mr. OWEN: OK.

SIMON: A song was written by Dolly Parton, "Holding Everything."

Mr. OWEN: "Holding Everything."

(Soundbite of song "Holding Everything")

Mr. OWEN: (Singing) My heart beats wild and deep. Every thought in my mind has your name on it. It's hard to breathe and I can't speak. I think of your love and just how much I want you.

SIMON: I happen to think that there is not a better songwriter in the country. How did she come to write a song for you?

Mr. OWEN: Well, she and I have the same hairdresser. Actually, Shira(ph) works more for Dolly. And Shira started telling me about this great song that Dolly was working on. And she said, oh, my goodness, Randy. I can hear your voice on this song. And you know, I don't know what Dolly was going to do with it, or whatever, but she got permission from Dolly to bring the song over and let me hear it, and I really loved the song.

(Soundbite of song "Holding Everything")

Ms. MEGAN MULLINS: (Singing) Everything is mine to give. Everything I can do, I'll do to prove it.

Ms. MULLINS & Mr. OWEN: (Singing) For as long as I live. My love will be there for you to use it. When I'm touching you, I feel a sudden change. When I'm kissing you, I taste the Southern rain. When I...

Mr. OWEN: Then we got to thinking about, you know, Dolly probably meant this as a duet, the way she did it. I think they brought in three or four ladies to sing, to see what - which voice was better, or whatever. And the one I picked was the young lady that plays with me on tour, Megan Mullins. And so she and I sang the song together. And so I'm very, very proud of Dolly's song and the way we did it.

SIMON: You've been playing more or less - well, certainly, since the time you were a youngster. But I'm thinking back to your days - please tell us about - you played a place called the Bowery in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Mr. OWEN: Played for tips. Some of the toughest labor that I've ever done in my life. But when you have a reason in life, and you feel like that you've got a shot to perform original songs, and then you have a chance to - you know, every night, we had a different audience, which was the beauty of the Bowery. You had people from West Virginia, New York, Indiana. So you'd get to try different songs every night and a different approach to entertaining people. And you had to entertain. So, it was a great proving ground. We were the first country rock group to play there in the Grand Strand area. It was mostly R&B, soul and beach music. It was a great place to learn, and to learn to accept different genres of music.

SIMON: You did have the chance at the Bowery to play with - was she the world's largest go-go dancer?

Mr. OWEN: Yeah, a wonderful lady. Bouncing Betty.

SIMON: You know, one of the things I enjoy about your book is that you write a lot about your feeling - your love of farm life.

Mr. OWEN: Yes, absolutely.

SIMON: And how important it is, you think, that...

Mr. OWEN: It is super important.

SIMON: That young people, at least some young people, find a life on the farm.

Mr. OWEN: Absolutely. Because what are we going to do the day that we become dependent upon foreign food? And because we haven't done anything, basically, to prepare our country for - as far as raising food and fiber for our country - we really haven't put a lot of emphasis on that.

SIMON: And of course, you had - I gather, you'd grown up in Alabama eating an awful lot of peas and ochre.

Mr. OWEN: When that's all you've got, that's all you can eat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OWEN: But that was - you know, that's the way I learned to live. And I learned to appreciate, you know, the better things, if you will, in life. I'm not sure sometimes, even through all the success, how much better they are because I lived on a farm in the rural area of northeastern Alabama on Lookout Mountain in DeKalb County near one of the most beautiful places in the world, Little River Canyon. And that river is a huge part of my life and inspiration for songs, and I'm still very fortunate that I still live there.

SIMON: Can we talk about love and marriage?

Mr. OWEN: Sure.

SIMON: Specifically yours.

Mr. OWEN: That's what I write about.

SIMON: I know. I know. Well, I'm going to make a...

Mr. OWEN: I love to write those mushy love songs.

SIMON: Well...

Mr. OWEN: Romantic songs that keep marriages together and keep everybody excited about one another.

SIMON: Well, thank you, because we love to hear them. And I think we're both talking our way to the same song.

Mr. OWEN: Yeah.

SIMON: But I ask, because you were that - I think it's safe to say - that rare famous figure in music that has a long-term, happy marriage. You were...

Mr. OWEN: I don't know. I have a long marriage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OWEN: I'm - it's been happy, you know, most of the time.

SIMON: Tell me about this song in line with love and marriage, "Let's Pretend We're Strangers for the Night." Let's listen a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "Let's Pretend We're Strangers for the Night")

Mr. OWEN: (Singing) Girl, put on that perfume that I bought you, And wear that sexy dress you never wear. I walk up and ask you for your number. You can act like you don't care. I'll tip the band to play our favorite love song, And hold you close for a dance or two. Baby, let's create that perfect moment. Turn it on like we used to.

SIMON: So have you done this?

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

Mr. OWEN: Excuse me. Have I done this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Have you and your wife pretended to be strangers for the night? Were you just clearing your throat out of embarrassment?

Mr. OWEN: It's an interesting story. I mean, do you want to hear the story about the song?

SIMON: Of course, I do. Please.

Mr. OWEN: OK. Well, John(ph), Rich(ph) and I were with Shannon Lawson over at his place, and we were drinking some really good wine one afternoon. We were writing on another song, and it was really not going anywhere. So, I don't know why, I started telling John the story about my brother-in-law, talking about he and his wife. And my brother-in-law had told me - he said, man, you know, we're having problems getting pregnant. Do you have any suggestions? And I was like, not really, I don't know what to say.

And then I thought, well, yeah. Why don't you do this? Have her go to the worst, meanest, nastiest bar in town and, you know, have several drinks. You go in there and pretend you don't know who she is; she's a total stranger. And then you get plastered along with her. And then you all go to the worst, you know, motel there is in town. And all the time that you're making love, you're saying, God, please don't let me get her pregnant. And so then Shannon Lawson says, well, why don't we write that song? We were like, what song? He said, well, let's pretend we're strangers for the night.

SIMON: Do you mind me asking, was there a happy resolution for the couple you gave such warm and loving advice to?

Mr. OWEN: No.

SIMON: Oh, all right.

Mr. OWEN: That's another country song.

(Soundbite of song "Let's Pretend We're Strangers for the Night")

Mr. OWEN: (Singing) Let's pretend we're strangers for the night.

SIMON: Mr. Owen, thanks so much. It's been nice talking to you.

Mr. OWEN: My pleasure.

SIMON: Randy Owen, his debut solo album is "One on One," out now on Broken Bow Records. And his memoir, co-written with Allen Rucker, is "Born Country: How Faith, Family and Music Brought Me Home."

(Soundbite of song "Let's Pretend We're Strangers for the Night")

Mr. OWEN: (Singing) Let's pretend we're strangers for the night. Let me be your stranger tonight. Let me be your stranger tonight.

SIMON: To hear a full song from Randy Owen's album, "One on One," visit nprmusic.org.

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