Teddy Gentry’s bass guitar and stage presence are icons today in the world of music. His role as co-founder of the record-setting country music southern rock group Alabama hasn’t diminished in the years since he and cousin Randy Owen formed the band as teenagers.
Alabama has won more awards than any group in history.
Alabama has raised millions of dollars to help various charities through its June Jam Concert series and Owen’s involvement in Country Cares for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Gentry’s love for music hasn’t waned, but his involvement in the business has taken a different path, one that is benefiting not only charity, but also young artists.
In his post-Alabama days, Gentry and business partner Bernard Porter (a successful entertainment entrepreneur manager and musician in his own right) are reaching out to fresh young talent to help them maneuver through an increasingly complex music industry. Gone are the days when record labels spend money grooming their artists and guiding them through the business. The increasing use of the Internet and the music piracy makes it unprofitable for record companies to provide the assistance new artists require. Like sheep surrounded by wolves, young artists are often left without a shepherd.
“We’re trying to help young people get through the various stumbling blocks and the maze of pitfalls of the business,” Gentry explained. “Both Porter and I cherish people and cherish the business, and we’re excited about that. If we try to help people, I think God will smile on us at the end of our lives.”
Gentry and Porter are using their music business prowess for new-artist development and entertainment-related assets including music publishing, master recordings, distribution partnerships, artist products and merchandising. Their entertainment consulting and production business will be using the Lake of the Ozarks and other venues as a testing ground for the best in new entertainment. Merlyn Vandervort, owner of the Horny Toad and a passionate lover of the music industry will be expanding his concert schedule and joining Gentry and Porter in hosting the Lake’s venue. With exciting new artists performing live in concert on stage, the Lake will be able to see the new, rising stars first, and will experience groundbreaking new talent before they premier on Nashville’s music scene.
Gentry’s love for the profession and his compassion for helping young artists are a reflection of his hometown values. Unlike some successful musicians, Gentry isn’t caught up in the glitz and glamour of the industry. His interest is helping others find their way. Gentry listens to a staggering average of more than 400 original songs and many artists each week. With a trained ear and an unparalleled sense of what it takes for a song or an artist to be star quality, he faithfully wades through the demos.
Yet there’s more to Teddy Gentry than the seriousness of his tone and the attention to his Blackberry indicate. He’s a father and grandfather who lives on a cattle ranch he bought from his grandfather in 1981.
He and his wife, Linda, own Bent Tree Farms near Fort Payne, Ala., the city of his birth 57 years ago. After his first check from RCA Records for $61,000 in 1980, he asked his wife what he should do with the money.
“What means the most to you,” she asked Teddy? “Why don’t you buy your grandfather’s farm where you were raised, because I know you love the old place?”
The farm had been in the family since the 1920s, and his grandfather agreed to sell the 60-acre cotton farm for $1,000 an acre in 1981. Gentry and his mother moved in with his ‘PawPaw’ when he was born in 1952, so Gentry was no stranger to the farm. His purchase returned him to his roots.
Twenty-eight years later, Bent Tree Farm is home to a new composite breed of cattle (South Pole) bred for the hot, humid environment of the South with special attention to quality and tenderness of beef. South Pole is a four-way cross of Angus, Hereford, Senepol and Barzona.
Spending time crossbreeding cattle is a far cry from rockin’ the stage as a member of the most commercially successful country act in the 1980s.
Country boy musician
Gentry is, without a doubt, a country boy. He grew up on a farm on Lookout Mountain just outside Fort Payne, Ind., a community of about 5,000. He lived with his mother and his grandfather. His father was never a part of his life.
At the age of 5, he took to the guitar.
“Music was in the family. We didn’t think anything of it, we just played together. It really wasn’t a big deal at the time,” Gentry said in a heavy southern drawl.
At 15, Gentry started playing the bass guitar. He played in a high school rock and roll band for a while, and later joined cousins Randy Owen and Jeff Cook to form Wild Country. They continued to play on a regular basis while working day jobs. Wild Country used their spare time to compose, practice and play their style of harmony and music.
In 1973, after Owen graduated from college, group members gave up their day jobs and began the search for stardom. They soon left the security of Lookout Mountain to explore the world of music outside Alabama.
Although his love for music started at an early age, Gentry learned that he needed to supplement his fledgling career with other jobs. He worked at a local movie theater, laid carpet, bagged groceries and, of course, worked on the farm. That fundamental work ethic carried Gentry and his band mates for the next 30 years as they skyrocketed to fame.
Now a parent and grandparent, Gentry spends much of his time with his family. He tries to balance his time between working in Nashville and spending time on the farm with his family. While his kids and grand kids love music, they haven’t chosen professional music as a career.
Like his solid work ethic, Gentry has other simple values. The most important he has shared with his family is to follow the Golden Rule.
“It don’t cost nothin’ to be nice,” he offered.
And what has his family taught him?
“Oh, probably patience. Sometimes, I’m not very patient. Children have a tendency to teach you to slow down, to make you realize the importance of life,”the country rock star said.