Alabama Shakes performing in Santa Monica in 2014
|Origin||Athens, Alabama, United States|
Alabama Shakes is a blues rock band from USA formed in Athens, Alabama in 2009. The band currently consists of lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Steve Johnson. The group rose to prominence in the early 2010s with their distinctive and soulful roots rock sound.
The band began their career touring and performing at bars and clubs around the Southeast for two years while honing their sound and writing music. They recorded their debut album, Boys & Girls, with producer Andrija Tokic in Nashville while still unsigned. Online acclaim led ATO Records to sign the band, which released Boys & Girls in 2012 to acclaim. The album had a hit single, "Hold On," and was nominated for three Grammy Awards. After a long touring cycle, the band recorded their second record, Sound & Color, which was released in 2015 and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and won four Grammy Awards.
Brittany Howard grew up interested in music, filling notebooks with lyrics and teaching herself to play drums, bass, and guitar. Howard, from East Limestone High School, played in multiple bands growing up that helped to formulate and craft her taste in music. Her most serious band in her early years was Kerosene Swim Team, a rock band that consisted of Owen Whitehurst and Jonathan Passero. They went on to have a single titled "Coffins and Cadillacs" featured on a compilation track from now defunct indie label Volital Records. They would practice daily after school in Passero's garage, Whitehurst's garage, and Howard's house. They mainly played house parties, and their songs consisted of a mix of covers and originals penned by Howard. Both Whitehurst and Passero went on to continue playing backup for Howard, with Whitehurst playing with Howard and Shakes' bassist Zac Cockrell in what would eventually become The Shakes. Whitehurst would play drums and piano, with Howard and Cockrell playing their current respective instruments.
Howard met upperclassman Heath Fogg in junior high when he played guitar at house parties. She met classmate and bassist Zac Cockrell in a psychology class some time later, and they soon began to spend time listening to their favorite music together and writing their own. After graduation, Howard hosted twice-weekly jam sessions at her great-grandparents' former home. Drummer Steve Johnson, who had heard Howard singing at a party years prior, began attending the jam sessions at the suggestion of Cockrell. They began making music together and recording homemade demos having little else to do in the small town.
The group made its live debut in May 2009 under the name "The Shakes". Fogg, by this point a guitarist in the Tuscaloosa-based Tuco's Pistol, invited the group to open for his band at Brick Deli & Tavern in Decatur. The band was nervous to perform for an audience, as they felt "vulnerable." Their set included covers of Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Otis Redding, and AC/DC. The show went over well, and Fogg soon joined the group. During this time the band members held other day jobs: Howard as a fry cook and then a postal worker, Johnson at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant, Cockrell at an animal clinic, and Fogg painting houses. For much of their early years, the Shakes performed shows on weekends at "sports bars and country dives." They also began recording their debut album at Tokic's Bomb Shelter--the home of producer Andrija Tokic--in Nashville, funding the recordings themselves. The band chose Tokic's over other studios because they record mostly live to tape, and they believed it would spur a livelier performance. The band would complete arrangements in their hometown and drive an hour and a half north to Nashville to record in intervals over the course of 2011.
Their first breakthrough came when Justin Gage, a Los Angeles music blogger and SiriusXM host, found a photo of Howard performing online. After contacting the band, he posted an MP3 of their song "You Ain't Alone" on his music blog, Aquarium Drunkard, in July 2011. By the next morning, the group was awash in offers from record labels and management companies. Gage also contacted Patterson Hood, vocalist of the band Drive-By Truckers, who attended a show not long after. He arranged to set the band up with his managers, Christine Stauder and Kevin Morris. Alabama Shakes released the four-song EP Alabama Shakes in September 2011, which gained media attention (including NPR) and earned them an invitation to play at the CMJ Music Marathon industry showcase in New York. The band began negotiating a record deal with ATO Records and added "Alabama" to their name after Joseph Hicks, of Halo Stereo, noticed how many groups shared the name "The Shakes". They began to open for the Drive-By Truckers. The group considered their ambitions met, but soon, Fogg later recalled, "everything kept going--at, like, a super-fast rate."
The band's first full-length album, Boys & Girls, was released in April 2012. It debuted at number 16 on the national charts as a digital-only release, but climbed to number eight as physical releases were distributed. The album received near-universal acclaim. After a European tour, they opened for Jack White over a summer tour and performed at several major music festivals, including Sasquatch, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. The album's lead single, "Hold On" was a radio hit (peaking at number one on Billboard's Adult Alternative Songs chart) and was dubbed the best song of the year by Rolling Stone.
The New York Times credited their "rapid ascent" to "Howard's singular stage presence." The group received three nominations for the 2013 Grammy Awards: Best New Artist, Best Rock Performance for "Hold On", and Best Recording Package for their debut album, Boys & Girls. After the Grammy's performance, Boys & Girls returned to the top ten, peaking at number six a year after its release.Boys & Girls was certified Gold by the RIAA for sales of over 500,000 in the United States on March 13, 2013. It has since sold over 744,000 copies in the US.
The band began recording their second album in late 2013. The group listened to anything and everything for influence, without regard for its public reception in the end. They spent over a year in the studio, with no clear end-goal, as they had not written any new songs due to their exhaustive touring schedule.
The group's second studio album, Sound & Color, was released on April 21, 2015. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in the US, making it the band's first number one album. The record's lead single, "Don't Wanna Fight", was a number two hit on the Adult Alternative Songs chart. The album eventually earned three Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Music Album.
The band played for the VMworld 2015 Party at ATT park in San Francisco on September 2, 2015 and Barclays British Summer Time in Hyde Park, London on July 8, 2016.
In 2018 the band won a Grammy for their performance of "Killer Diller Blues" in the multi award-winning film The American Epic Sessions directed by Bernard MacMahon. They recorded the song live on the restored first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s.
Early critical reviews of their debut, Boys & Girls (2012), noted that the band borrowed from mid-20th century rhythm and blues. Alongside Howard's voice, the songs were compared to artists such as Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin. Howard herself took inspiration from Bon Scott of AC/DC in her vocal style, praising his "soulful" way of singing. As the acclaim mounted, "reviewers speculated" that their sound was in homage to the music produced in Muscle Shoals, Alabama nearly five decades prior. Cockrell and Fogg were aware of the Shoals legacy, but Howard was more influenced by bands such as Led Zeppelin and artists like David Bowie. The success of debut single "Hold On" led some to believe the group "[was] trying to pass themselves off as revivalists, something they never aspired to be."
|2013||N/A||Best New Artist||Nominated|
|"Hold On"||Best Rock Performance||Nominated|
|2016||"Don't Wanna Fight"||Won|
|Best Rock Song||Won|
|Sound & Color||Album of the Year||Nominated|
|Best Alternative Music Album||Won|
|2017||"Joe" (Live from Austin City Limits)||Best Rock Performance||Nominated|
|2018||"Killer Diller Blues"||Best American Roots Performance||Won|
|2012||Alabama Shakes||Q Award for Best New Act||Nominated|
|Americana Music Honors & Award for Emerging Artist of the Year||Won|
|2013||BRIT Award for International Group||Nominated|
|NME Awards for Best New Band||Nominated|
|2015||NME Awards for Best International Band||Nominated|
|2016||BRIT Award for International Group||Nominated|
|Sound & Color||Billboard Music Awards for Top Rock Album||Nominated|