Photo by Kristen Van Zant

Legendary southern country rock guitarist and founding member of Alabama, Jeff Cook, has died. He was 73 years old.

His death was announced by his publicist, who shared Cook passed at his home in Destin, Fla., yesterday, Nov. 8, after a battle with Parkinson’s disease that went on for a decade.

Cook was born in Fort Payne, Ala. on Aug. 27, 1949, by the time he was 13, he was playing lead guitar and keyboards for bands in the area. Just three days after his 14th birthday, Cook obtained an FCC broadcaster engineer license and worked as a DJ at Fort Payne High School. He would go on to graduate from Jacksonville State University and earn a degree in electronic technology from Gadsden State Community College. His work as a DJ from a young age foreshadowed his ownership of radio and TV stations in his later life.

While he was amassing his degrees, Cook continued to hone his skills on various instruments, including guitar, piano, fiddle, bass, banjo and mandolin – he is credited for introducing the double-neck guitar into the country music world.

By 1969 he began playing with his family, and in 1972 he co-founded the group Wildcountry with his cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry. During their sessions, he would contribute lead vocals along with lead guitar, keyboard, fiddle backing vocals and more to the group’s productions as they rocked the bar circuit around the Southeastern United States. In 1977 they changed their name to Alabama before they landed a label deal with RCA Nashville.

Alabama would go on to release more than 40 no.1 country singles over the years and amass over 75 million album sales, solidifying them as one of the best-selling country bands in American history. The band ceased active production and performance in 2004, but Cook, ever the performer, founded Cook & Glenn and the Allstar Goodtime Band and still performed. Outside of performance, Cook continued to work with Alabama, despite his health issues, until 2018.

During his tenure with Alabama, Cook also delved into the business world, founding Cook Sound Studios, Inc., in his hometown of Fort Payne and establishing WQRX-AM in Valley Head, Ala., which he would later sell.

Over his life, he earned spots in the Musicians Hall of Fame, Fiddlers Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame. He was also Gibson’s Guitarist of the Year and achieved many other honors.

“Few bands are more ubiquitous in Country Music today than Alabama. Jeff was instrumental to Alabama’s high energy stage presence and authentic Country sound. My deepest condolences to Jeff’s family, friends and the band,” wrote Sarah Trahern, the CEO of the Country Music Association upon hearing of Cook’s death.

On June 9, 1995, Cook married Lisa Williams, and the two lived in “Cooks Castle” atop Lookout Mountain in Fort Payne, Ala., Guntersville, Ala. and Destin/Miramar Beach, Fla. Together, the two launched The Jeff and Lisa Cook Foundation and The Jeff and Lisa Cook Children’s Home which house orphan children worldwide.

He is survived by Lisa, to whom he was married for 27 years, his mother Betty, his brother David Cook, and many nieces and nephews. The family has asked donations be made in his memory to The Jeff and Lisa Cook Foundation in lieu of flowers. Donate here.

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