Although Randy Kelley has not lived in Jasper for over 30 years, he still considers it his home. He was born in 1958 to Mancil and Henrietta Kelly in Hamilton County Hospital in Jasper. He and his two brothers, Jim and Gerald, attended the local schools, traveled the town on their bikes and quenched their thirst at one of the drugstore soda fountains in town. When the family moved to Fort Payne, Ala., in 1974, they left behind many friends and memories.
In a recent exclusive interview with the Jasper News, Kelly said that he loves Jasper and the surrounding area. "I still remember the smell of the Suwannee River, that smell means welcome home to me," he said. "Of all of the rivers I have seen in my lifetime, it is the one I treasure the most."
Kelly has traveled extensively around the world to countries such as Spain, Italy and France. He now owns a hosiery mill in Honduras that manufactures socks for Wal-mart and other stores. He also owns a distribution center in Fort Payne.
How did a young man from Jasper become friends with Jeff Cook, a member of the country music group Alabama? According to Kelly, as he was driving to work one day in 1980, he heard the song, "My Home's In Alabama" on the radio. He thought it was a fantastic song, but he had no idea who sang it. He heard the song three days in a row at the same time each day and decided that he had to have it. So he bought the record and found out that the group was called Alabama. He then discovered that Jeff and the rest of the guys were his neighbors.
He began fishing with Cook and working security for him. Over the years they developed a deep friendship. Cook refers to Kelly as his CFB "chief fishing buddy." Not only do they fish together, they play music together, frequently travel together and often work on projects and up-coming events together.
About two years ago, Kelly read an article in the Jasper News about the Bass Tournament at Bienville Plantation in White Springs sponsored by the Jasper Volunteer Firefighters. His love of the area prompted him to ask Cook who is an avid fisherman to attend the tournament. Cook enjoys helping people and is supportive of community events, so he readily agreed to participate in the 2004 Tournament. But conflicting schedules with Alabama's Farewell Tour forced him to cancel.
Cook says he is really looking forward to this year's tournament on Saturday, April 23. He has been appointed by the last five governors of Alabama as the Alabama State Fishing Ambassador. The current governor, Bob Riley, has made it a lifetime appointment.
Fishing is Cook's passion. "If he could figure out a way to hold a guitar and play it with one hand, and hold a rod and fish with the other hand, he would be perfectly happy," Kelly said, laughing. According to Cook, the only type of fishing he hasn't tried is ice fishing.
When asked about his favorite fishing gear, Cook replied, "I like a medium-heavy action rod, any brand, with a Shimano 2000 spinning reel. I would start with a small shad-rap or 4" lizard - black with red metal flake and then try something else if that didn't work."
A concern for the environment led to Cook's involvement in a company that developed a biodegradable material to replace plastic grubs and worms. The company manufactures the world's first and only molded fishing lures made entirely out of edible ingredients. The lures are completely biodegradable and will dissolve in the water in about three to four days. Unlike plastic lures, fish can eat and digest them. The lures are durable in fresh and salt water, last longer than live bait and will not melt in a tackle box.
Cook's other hobby is electronics. When he was 14 he secured a broadcast license and worked as a disc jockey at a radio station. He has a degree in electronic technology and has owned radio and television stations. He is currently developing an Internet radio station.
To help other talented musicians share their music, he built Cook Sound Studios where musicians can cut demos, records, etc., at an affordable price. The studio provides top quality recording services in a full-service professional facility in Fort Payne.
When the group Alabama discontinued touring, Cook started the All-Star Goodtime Band. The nine multi-talented musicians play a variety of music including country, soul and rock-n-roll. Although the band is not currently on tour, they are still making appearances. They have three CDs available and are working on two more.
As a part of Alabama, Cook participated in the June Jam at Ft. Payne for 16 years. The band's annual benefit concert helped generate millions of dollars for schools, charities and public organizations. The June Jam escrow account continues to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to support worthy causes.
During the 16 years of the June Jam, Cook sponsored the Annual Celebrity Bass Tournaments to raise money for children with cancer.
It is in this spirit of helping others that Cook is appearing at the Eighth Annual Open Bass Tournament this year. "I really enjoyed the last time I fished there and I am looking forward to this year's event," Cook said. "I would like to encourage everyone to get your entry fees in and let's fish."
On a personal note, according to Kelly, Cook is just a good ol' boy who loves life and lives it to the fullest. "Being on tour with Jeff is a pleasure," Kelly said. "He is not your typical arrogant star, he is always gracious about signing autographs. I have never seen him turn one down."
"One of the hardest things for me to understand," Kelly continues, "is how I can fish with Jeff all day long and then when I see him on stage playing his heart out, it's just like magic. And then I become a fan all over again."
Kelly is looking forward to being in Jasper again and renewing some old acquaintances. He is excited that he is able to give back to his home community some of what it gave to him. "The tournament is a wonderful opportunity to benefit the community by supporting the volunteer firefighters," Kelly said. "I will always have a soft spot for Jasper. Hope to see you there!"
The Eighth Annual Open Bass Tournament sponsored by the Jasper Volunteer Firefighters will be held at Bienville Plantation in White Springs on Saturday, April 23. Funds raised will be used to buy new equipment. The tournament will be directed by Southern Shiners, Inc.
Prize amounts range from $100 to $2,500, based on a full field of 100 boats. Prizes will be pro-rated for more or less boats. Entry fee is $200. There will be a $25 late fee for registering at the gate.
For entry forms or more information contact the Jasper Fire Department or call 386-792-2181 or 386-792-2211.