It's difficult to take any recording artist seriously, who claims to be on a farewell tour. Just ask Cher, Phil Collins or Alabama. In 2002, the legendary country band announced that it would embark on its swan song jaunt. But Alabama's claim was about as valid as a heavyweight boxer's cry that it's time for one last bout. "I just don't see the point of farewell tours," vocalist-guitarist Randy Owen said during a phone call from Atlanta. "The way I look at it, we're like this great condo that's been owned for 40 years. Why not keep renting it out if people want to continue to experience it?"
It's been 40 years since Alabama spent a summer playing as the house band in a Myrtle Beach club, which takes the group to the present and its "Back To The Bowery" tour. "We played a club called the Bowery in Myrtle Beach, and that was really the start of it for us," Owen said. "We had to quit our day jobs and go for it. Even if it didn't work out, I was compelled to try it, just to see what would happen." Alabama signed with RCA in 1980, and an avalanche of country hits followed. The numbers are staggering. The band, which successfully fused country with Southern rock, has more than 30 singles that hit the top of the country charts and has sold more than 73 million albums. "That's something we can't help but be very proud of," Owen said. "It's amazing when you look at it." "Old Alabama," the group's last number one hit, reached the top of the Billboard charts in 2011. "That was a lot of fun for a number of reasons," Owen said. "Brad Paisley came out for that one, and he's just tremendous. The other thing that was so great about it was that it proved that we can still hit the ball out of the ballpark at this stage of our career. We're not some nostalgia act. We can still do it." But Alabama, which will perform Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, has no problem going back into its deep canon. Expect the band to render the hits when it returns to the Bay area. "It would be silly not to play those songs again," Owen said. "If people want to hear those songs again, why not play them? We all love playing those tunes." Such smash hits as "You've Got The Touch," "Mountain Music" and "Dixieland Delight" have worn well over the years. "We've obviously done something right," Owen said. Alabama, which also includes multi-instrumentalist Jeff Cook and bassist Teddy Gentry, has plenty of appeal thanks to its sleek country sound. The band sold more albums during the '80s than any artist. "Those who have supported our band have been incredibly loyal," Owen said. "Whenever we come back, they're right there with us. How can we leave this behind? We're all healthy and we all still love to play. I can't say goodbye. It reminds me of those days in Myrtle Beach. We all took this big chance. How many take that chance? I'm just glad we decided to give it a shot and then it worked out better than we could have ever imagined."