How Riley Green and Alabama’s Randy Owen Became Good Friends
Riley Green is Alabama proud on his new If It Wasn't for Trucks EP. The "I Wish Grandpas Never Died" singer digs into his Cotton State roots across the five songs, but also teams with one of his heroes: Alabama's Randy Owen.
He calls him a friend, too.
Owen famously grew up in Fort Payne, Ala., about 50 miles north by way of County Road 19 from Green's Jacksonville, Ala., hometown. That's where the younger singer retreated amid the coronavirus pandemic, but lately he's been chasing animals (his words) in far away fields in Nebraska, Kentucky and more.
"I'm doing as little as I can get away with," he shares with Taste of Country during a recent phone call.
Of the five new songs on If It Wasn't for Trucks (Sept. 11 on BMLG), only "Better Than Me" was written within the last few months. The rest are at least a year old. Heck, "If I Didn't Wear Boots" was nearly Green's debut single, and then it didn't even make his 2019 full-length album, Different 'Round Here.
"I haven’t felt pressure to write because it's never felt like work to me," the 2019 Taste of Country RISERS star and ACM New Male Artist winner says matter-of-factly.
Watch Riley Green Sing "I Wish Grandpas Never Died"
"Better Than Me" is relevant without being preachy. The Owen duet is even a little uplifting, something Green hops his fans will notice and appreciate.
"I've been chasin', rat-racin' / Doing anything to win / My grass looks like Augusta / I got around to painting that fence / I've been calling up my mama / Doing some old friend checking in / It seems like where I'm going, might be better than where I've been," Green sings at the chorus. Owen joins at the final verse, patiently singing about how the good Lord knows better than he does.
Both men attended Jacksonville State University, though they were there several decades apart. When a tornado ripped through the area a few years back, they met playing a local benefit show.
“Since then we’ve become pretty good friends," Green shares. "He sends me comments on songs and what he thinks of this."
When there's a living, breathing country superstar an hour up the road, it's a little easier to think you can follow. You better believe Owen and his group cast long shadows across a state that has produced relatively few country stars — relative to Georgia or Texas, anyway.
“Randy Owen was huge in Alabama, but the crazy thing is, he’s huge everywhere," the 31-year-old Green says. "Alabama, I put 'em up there with the Eagles."
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Like "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," this song — and another called "Behind the Times" — bring something vintage to a modern country audience.
"I think there’s a generation that I learned from that I think a lot of kids used to learn from, that I don't see happening as much anymore," he says. "You used to ... if you needed to know something, you went to your dad or your grandad, and now you Google it or go to YouTube or social media. You don’t ask someone who has been alive for 80-something years that has lived through it."
Riley Green sings about this silenced generation of old-timers like Brad Paisley sings about love. A familiar character runs through all these songs — someone fans get or don't get, but if they do, watch out. This sense of nostalgia is why this relative newcomer is an ACM Award winner who's ready to perform five days after his new EP drops. But he's not pulling back his bow and aiming his pen at this audience like he does an arrow or rifle at a duck pond:
"I don’t know that I put that much thought into it," he says casually.