The origins of Alabama Shakes lie at East Limestone High School near Athens, Alabama, where budding singer-songwriter Brittany Howard met fellow student Zac Cockrell at psychology class. The pair bonded over Led Zeppelin and The Ramones, and began jamming together, fleshing out Howard's songs.
After Howard and Cockrell graduated, they approached punk-rock drummer Steve Johnson, who was working at a local music store, to join the band. The trio recorded some of their songs for a demo recording at Clearwave Studio in Decatur, Alabama.
At this stage The Shakes, as they were then known as, were still very much part-time. Johnson worked at a nuclear power station and Cockrell an animal clinic. Howard was a chef at a steak restaurant chef "Miserable," she recalled to The Observer. "Work, work, work – just to give your money to the utility company. Every day I went in thinking: 'F--k this place.'"
Guitarist Heath Fogg was the last to join on his return to Athens from college in Tuscaloosa. Initially part of a rival band, he switched groups after hearing The Shakes' Clearwave demo.
By the early 2010s Howard had switched jobs, working 12-hour days at an Athens post office, still dreaming of a career in music. "I was like, 'Please, God, let me quit my job,'" she told Billboard magazine. "'I'll do whatever it takes to never work again.'"
Alabama Shakes released the four-song self-titled EP in September 2011. The record was recorded in anonymity, using money scraped together from gigs as a cover band,. It gained them media attention and within a year, the band went from virtual obscurity to playing venues such as the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee and the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Alabama Shakes made their US national television debut on February 7, 2012 on Conan
, where they performed their debut single, "Hold On
Brittany Howard is 5 feet, 10 inches and biracial (her father is black, her mom is white).
When Howard was 7 years old, her 13-year-old sister died from cancer. The Boys & Girls
closing track "On Your Way
" is dedicated to the singer's fallen sibling.
Much of Alabama Shakes' reputation coincides with Brittany Howard's powerful voice. Consequence of Sound
asked her when she started singing? "It's always been this way," she replied. "I can't remember the start. It was something that was just for fun in our household - you sing all you want, and nobody's gonna slap you."
Brittany Howard is partially blind in one eye because of the retinoblastoma treatment she had as a baby. It was for the same cancer that killed her sister Jaime.
Brittany Howard first realized that she wanted to be a musician at the age of 11 when she saw her first live concert in her high school gym.