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Part One

By Raeanne Rubenstein 

It’s no t every day that a girl can meet a musician as famous as Mark Herndon. Now, you may not recognize his name, but you’ll certainly recognize his band’s name- named after a little state called ALABAMA! Heard of it? We had a chance to talk for a bit longer than an hour recently, and here’s what Mark and I talked about.............

R: I think that you had a very uncomfortable relationship with [Alabama], is that correct?
M: That would be correct.
R: But you lasted as a member for a very long time.
M: Yeah, so I was a drummer for them for almost 26 years, and I wrote the book, there’s really more to share with the fans then they’ll tell you, but I think that people really can read between the lines as far as being able to get what they want out of it. I also wanted to have some time off with my daughter.
R: So, do you have an aspiration to be a writer now?
M: Well, my publisher wants me to write another book down the road, but…
R: Do you have an idea in mind?
M: Not really…I have a couple of vague ideas, but nothing that I’d want to discuss right now. I found that I really enjoy writing when I can sit down long enough. There aren’t a lot of times when I can sit still like I did when I had the window of inactivity when I could sit in front of the computer and write. Like I said, I really enjoy that, though, and I probably will go back to it at some point.
R: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get involved with Alabama in the first place; Were you a freelance musician or in a band at that time? I know it was 26 years ago, which is quite astounding, but what was your world and your environment like then?
M: Oh it was more like 35 years ago, now, I’ve had a lot of time go by since I was forced out. Freelance musician – that’s a nice politically correct term for drifter. I was drifting in between bands, I had aspirations of being a rock star when I was a kid, and I go into all that in the book, how I found them and they found me and one thing led to another, and before I knew it we were on the national stage.
R: So did you all start together?
M: Well, more or less, in one way I guess you could say that. In the other way, the three principal members of the band had been trying it out at a bar called the Bowery in Myrtle Beach for about four or five years until I came on. And when I first met them, they were very frustrated at drummers in general, then they had about four, five, six other guys who once they found out how hard it was to work down there at Bowery every night probably took a hike and never came back. So they were pretty frustrated with drummers, like I said, and I came to work and I found some people that answered some of the frustrations that I had with other musicians in other bands, and they found somebody that was willing and dedicated and willing to do whatever it took, and some other things. So it was a really good start, and it stayed that way for a number of years.
R: Yeah, well apparently you stayed together for a very long time. Was it stormy during those years, or friendly?
M: It was both, we had good times and we had bad times. Every band goes through that, and everybody gets on everybody else’s nerves, and it’s a learning curve, you have to figure out how to deal with it and keep the big picture in mind, you know somebody would get on my nerves about this, but when we’d get on stage, we better leave people impressed, leaving the show talking about how great the show was, and never mind all this petty stuff. And you know, the more you practice that, the easier it gets to put up with other people...
R: Yeah, I can see that. But it lasted for a very, very long time, so there must’ve been something very strong between all of you members of the band that kind of overcame some of the reservations that you had, is that true?
M: Well, I think it was the common bond of the shared dream, so it may have manifested in each person differently, but nonetheless, that dream was there amongst the four of us, and when we started realizing that, we realized that we had better stay together and make something out of it, even despite some of the difficult people.
 R: Yeah, I think that what you had to put up with is notorious now.
M: Well, you know, nothing is ever what it seems to the person on the outside looking in. I think the fans adopted Alabama as their home team, all over the world. That’s the vibe I got from people, that they came to the concerts for the experience of pulling for the guys in the band. It always felt like that, like people pulling for the home basketball team or football. They got to know us, they went on tour with us, they kept up with us, we had a dedicated, core following that was hundreds of thousands of people, and it was all very flattering, because well I’m no drummer’s drummer. I don’t think anyone in the band was what you would call a virtuoso musician, but together the sum was greater than the parts, and I think that’s what people really liked – the chemistry that sprang from that, and they shared it in a concert act.
R: Yeah, I can imagine what that was like. But at the same time that you had a tremendous fan base, and you were selling records, and you were touring all these many days, there was an undercurrent of unhappiness. Why were you willing to put up with that, especially when you were famous already?
M: The undercurrent of unhappiness was…I can only speak for myself, I can’t tell you why anybody else was unhappy, but before I go into that I gotta say everybody was professional in that when it came time to play a show, and the house lights went down, and the drum beats started or the lights started, or it was time to play the first song, we were there. That kind of transcended any sort of unhappiness that might have existed, at least for an hour and a half or two hours anyway, while we played the show.
R: Well, would you say that you kind of continued for all that time because of that feeling?
M: Yes, very much so. It’s sort of like a drug. I was addicted to that high that you get from performing. I love performing, and you have 30 to 40 thousand people coming to see you a night, if you don’t get off on that there’s something wrong. But any sort of unhappiness that I felt, it came from being famous without the fortune. I was not a principle member, I was not privy to some of the record dealings and the merch, that’s the thing, I was basically I hired gun, a glorified side man.
R: Why wouldn’t you hire an attorney and put your foot down, and say, “I am a member of the band, I’ve been here x number of years, I’m an integral part of the group, I help write the songs, I go on the road…” you know, all of these kinds of things…how come you never put your foot down?
M: I did, actually. I hired an attorney. He came to me with high recommendations from some other friends. He reviewed the contract that I had at the time. The reason that I hired an attorney is that I was offered a raise in my salary, and I thought well, I need to look into this a little bit better. So I sent him the contract and the the raise in my salary, and his response was rather disappointing. He said “well, this is the way it reads. You are what you are to them, and you can either take the raise or refuse, and then you run the risk of getting fired. My advice to you is to maybe just take what you can get now and then work it out later. Knowing the way the corporate structure is in most cases, you will probably be fired.”

R: We have to know that that lawyer’s name so we can avoid him.
M: Absolutely, you know, and my hindsight is 20-20. I don’t think that I would’ve taken no for an answer like that now, but you gotta remember I was a naïve young kid, and the money that I was making, although not what some people would consider a fair shake, was more than I had ever made in my life, I came up with a whole lot, and it wasn’t all bad, I had a paycheck plus an insurance check and returns. So I can’t sit here and sound like sour grapes all day long, because there were pros and cons. For a struggling musician, a steady paycheck and benefits is pretty tempting, and it’s pretty hard to risk letting go. So I blame myself just as much as I would blame anyone else if there’s any blame to toss around, it’s just unfortunate that some things were the way they were, but I’m not going to trash anybody, because I had a part in this too, and nobody’s holding it over my head.The High Road
R: Why would they keep you for so many years and not say one day, you know, “We’ve been with you so long, we love you, you’re so great for us, we want to do this for you…” Why did that never happen?
M: It did happen in some cases. I was given a few bonuses along the way. One in particular was very nice, and I got the money off a contract renegotiation, and they didn’t have to do that. I don’t want you to think that I’m sitting here defending them. I’ve received compensation and I’ve received a few bonuses along the way... and where I saw long-term disappointment was that I was both led to believe and led myself to believe that it all would work out in the end. For years there were no plans, it was just we’re gonna do this forever, as long as the people want to see us and buy the product we’re there for them. So I thought, when this thing does end, it’s gonna be okay, and by then I’ll see steady increase, or maybe be offered a partnership in one way, shape, or form, but that wasn’t the case, and it wasn’t meant to be, and I discuss that in the book about how it was a huge disappointment. But that’s life, you know? Things just don’t turn out the way we planned sometimes, and we can blame other people or we can blame ourselves or we can do both. I can’t dissect it too much because hindsight is 20-20, and we don’t have hindsight when we’re going through it, and things were crazy in those days. Busy, fast-paced, and a lot of fun too.
R: Well, I’m sure that you don’t have any regrets for that part of the experience.
M: I’d say I have regrets for not being a better skewer of my own destiny, and if I learned something from that then so be it, but I wasn’t raised to blame other people. I let the fans make up their mind on whether I was ever a member of the group or not and whether I contributed to it. I think that the other guys in the band would like to forget me and would like to say that I never contributed anything, and that’s their prerogative, whatever. I’m just gonna leave it up to the fans to disagree or agree with that. I did what I did and I was who I was.

Be sure to return next month for Mark Herndon's PART TWO of his unforgettable Memoir! / Issue 181 - September 2018
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