Country Music Hall of Famer Jeff Cook of Alabama has revealed that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease more than four years ago. The group's fiddle player and guitarist has kept the news secret until now, but announced that he's pulling back from touring, effective Apr. 29.
"This disease robs you of your coordination, your balance, and causes tremors," Cook wrote in a prepared statement for fans that he read to The Tennessean about the progressive, incurable nervous system disorder that causes involuntary movement and tremors. "For me, this has made it extremely frustrating to try and play guitar, fiddle or sing. I've tried not to burden anyone with the details of my condition because I do not want the music to stop or the party to end, and that won't change no matter what. Let me say, I'm not calling it quits but sometimes our bodies dictate what we have to do, and mine is telling me it's time to take a break and heal."
Current plans call for Cook to join his bandmates -- singer/guitarist Randy Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry -- for their May 27 show in Orange Beach, Alabama, and a fan event in June, but otherwise he will only perform with them when he's up for it. Gentry and Owen told the Tennesseean that Cook's instrumental and vocal parts will be covered by other musicians, but his microphone will always be on stage, whether he's there or not.
A spokesperson for the group could not be reached for additional comment at press time.
"We could hire 10 people, but we can't replace Jeff Cook in the group Alabama," said Gentry. "Like Jeff said, when this is all you've ever known and you love the music, you want to see it go on as long as possible. Alabama has surpassed what any of us ever dreamed of, but I still love to play more or as much as I did (yesterday), and I know Jeff does, too."
The group has sold more than 75 million singles and albums since its debut in 1980, notching 43 No. 1 songs thanks to such hits as "Mountain Music," "Dixieland Delight," "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" and "I'm in a Hurry (and Don't Know Why)." They are also three-time Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year winners, five-time Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year honorees and ACM's Artist of the Decade in 1988.
Cook said he first realized something might be wrong when he couldn't cast his fishing lure anymore, an issue that progressed to difficulty hitting guitar notes. While the fiddle player thought he might have a pinched nerve, Owen and Gentry worried it could be signs of a stroke. Cook's doctor informed him it might be Parkinson's and when the test results came back he said he felt "empty." He told his bandmates about the diagnosis right away with all three agreeing he might have to step back, while the band would continue on with Cook's blessing.
"He wants us to go on," Owen said. "We want the music to go on. I'm going to be very honest. I don't know if I have the fire. The only way I do, is knowing that Jeff is totally, 'Go get it.'
"Go get it," Cook chimed in, "with witnesses." The trio hold out hope that Cook's health will improve enough that he might rejoin them on tour on a regular basis some day, but in the meantime he still plans to record with them. "Whenever he can come be there, he will," Owen said. "And I think he will. I believe he will. I don't see the future, but I feel the future."
To read the full story in the Tennessean, click here.