Drummer writes book about the highs, lows of playing with country supergroup Alabama

Alabama's Mark Herndon writes autobiography

Although Mark Herndon drummed onstage with Alabama for more than 25 years, he was a hired hand and never considered one of the band's true members.
photo Drummer Mark Herndon has written an autobiography that includes stories of his time with country supergroup Alabama.


Copies of “High Road: Memories From a Long Trip” ($13) bought in advance at Markherndon.com through Friday will be signed by the author. After that, the book will be available at all normal book outlets.

Mark Herndon looks back fondly on his days as drummer with country supergroup Alabama, so much so he wrote a book about the experience.

"The name Alabama stood for a lot of good things, and I am proud to have been part of that," he says. Still, he doesn't foresee a reunion with Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry or Randy Owen anytime soon.

"I have no desire to ever play with them again," he says in a phone interview promoting his autobiography, "High Road: Memories From a Long Trip." "It's my past life. I am so grateful to the fans that supported me during and after those years. There is life after, and I want everybody to share in that."

Today, Herndon is a pilot "and very happy with my life. I have a great job."

The band started racking up industry awards in 1980, charted 27 No. 1 hits and seven multiplatinum albums, and was named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music in 1989. They played their last show in October 2004.

Even though he played with Alabama for 25 years, Herndon was always an outsider in the group and, in case there was ever any doubt, Owen went public in 2013, saying that Herndon was merely a hired player, something Herndon acknowledges.

"It was defined to me in the form of a contract detailing what was required of me as an employee," says Herndon, who turns 61 on May 11. "What I was to participate in and not participate in. We never really knew each other that well. There was no level of friendship. It was strictly business."

Herndon says he did not write the book out of bitterness or to get even. It's more about the fun times and good things that happened, though he does address the negatives, like the lawsuit the band filed against him to get back money they claimed they overpaid him.

'That's just one chapter out of 30," he says.

The public disownment of Herndon by Alabama shocked a lot of the group's fans, who wanted to know why Herndon, if he was just a hired hand, was pictured on 15 of the band's 23 studio album covers and why was he onstage when the band won so many of its awards. Owen said in 2014 that the label wanted the band to appear to be a quartet a la The Beatles.

"They wanted the four (members) so they could compare it to The Beatles," Owen told The Tennessean newspaper in 2013. "I never thought anything about it, because everybody knew Mark had nothing to do with the structure with Alabama. He didn't play on the albums. He was just on the stage with us, as were several other people.

"Had we been smart enough, there never would have been four people in the pictures," Owen added.

Herndon says he was never offered a partnership to be an official member. "We never had a discussion about that," he says.

Owen, Gentry and Cook are cousins and all from Fort Payne, Ala., brought up on country music; Herndon was born in Massachusetts and had an affinity for rock 'n' roll as well as country.

"He was real fun to hang with, but he was kind of a renegade," says Joe "Dixie" Fuller, Riverbend's talent and production coordinator and a percussionist and member of Alabama's stage crew from 1979 to 1986.

Fuller says he and Herndon often roomed together on the road. When not touring, he recalls spending "about 50 percent of the time on [Herndon's] couch in Fort Payne, and the rest of the time I'd come home to Chattanooga."

"I always liked him, and when I first came up with the band in Cummings [Georgia], I think he had something to do with me getting the job," Fuller says.

"The [three] guys were always close and from the Fort Payne area and into family and Christian living. Mark was a rock 'n' roll drummer, and I think it's part of what made it work. He was cutting edge, and he always wanted more lights and pyro and the guys were like, 'Whoa, back up a little bit. Hold on.'"

Herndon says he started writing the book about three years ago as a collection of stories meant only for his daughter.

"I thought she might like to have these stories to pass along," he says. "I thought maybe it will matter someday. As it progressed, it got to be rather fun reminiscing. And a lot of people wanted to know what happened to me. I ended up writing it for the fan base."

Part of what he hears from fans are questions about why he caused all the problems and sued the band, which he says always surprises him.

"I wanted to clarify the misnomer that I was the one who initiated all the problems and the lawsuit," he says. "People would ask me, 'Why did you sue them?' and I'm like a deer caught in the headlights. I didn't sue them."

The band filed a lawsuit against Herndon in 2008, claiming overpayment of more than $200,000 from merchandise sales. The suit was settled, with details being kept quiet, though Herndon says that "lawsuits are a win for the lawyers, but the stress, the sleep loss unless you've been through it, it's hard to describe."

Herndon says he was in his early 20s when he joined Alabama, and the whole experience was like jumping on the world's fastest rollercoaster.

"It was - what's a better word than exhilarating? It was exciting and frightening at the same time."

He remembers in particular opening for the Oak Ridge Boys in Knoxville.

"We hadn't done big venues yet, and I remember getting on my knees and praying for success and praise in this business. Then I walked out for soundcheck and saw 10,000 seats, thinking that equates to 20,000 eyeballs, and thinking, 'Oh lordy, can I do this?'"

Fuller says he'll never forget a show in the even larger at the time Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., where the band did two concerts in one day. As part of the show, he and Herndon would swap positions on drums and percussion, and they would toss hats out to the crowd in between playing.

"It was the most fun show the band ever had," Fuller says. "Randy, Teddy, Jeff, everybody was laughing and smiling the whole time. After, I said to Randy, 'That was fun. Why were you so happy? What was different?'

"He said, 'You did the whole show with your zipper down.' Herndon knew it the whole time and never said a word.'"

Those are the times Herndon says he tries to think about the most.

"I'm very happy right now," he says. "There is not a lot I would want to improve."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.