Few things are more challenging than moving forward after a heartbreaking loss. Fans, friends and folks in the music industry would have understood if Eddie Montgomery decided to call it quits after his musical partner Troy Gentry was killed last September in a helicopter crash. Yet Montgomery is forging ahead with the Feb. 2 release of Montgomery Gentry’s Here’s to You, the album he and Gentry recorded to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a duo.
“What’s so weird about the whole thing is we talked about this years ago,” Montgomery shares with Sounds Like Nashville as he leans across a conference room table at Average Joe’s Entertainment. “We said if anything ever happened to one of us, we wanted the other one to keep Montgomery Gentry going. I kind of joked about it because I thought it was going to be me because I kind of lived on the wilder side.”
The usually gregarious Montgomery is more somber this Wednesday afternoon as he summons his emotional strength to face a barrage of media interviews about the new album and his upcoming solo tour. He’s keeping that promise to his partner and carrying on the Montgomery Gentry mission. “Me and T just kind of always done our thing because you know we put this together. Nashville didn’t put this together,” he says of their creative partnership, forged from friendship and mutual devotion to the music, not any Music City machinations. “When we came to town we knew who we were and what we wanted to record.”
Montgomery is excited for fans to hear the new album, which he and Gentry finished recording two days before Gentry lost his life in the crash on Sept. 8. “I think probably it’s the best vocal I’ve heard on T-Roy through the years,” Montgomery says of Gentry’s work on the new album, especially the first single, “Better Me,” which featured Gentry on lead vocals.
Montgomery said they worked hard to find just the right songs for the new project. “I bet you we listened to probably 4,000 songs before we finally got down to these. It just kind of flowed.”
The duo worked with producers Shannon Houchins and Noah Gordon to craft Here’s to You and Montgomery is pleased with the way it turned out. “I think it’s a hell of an album,” he smiles confidently. “There are different things I like about all of the songs. We started doing ‘Drink Along Song’ in our shows before we even recorded it. We did it live and we knew it was going to be a hit because as soon as soon as we started singing it by the second chorus everybody was singing it back to us. I love ‘King of the World.’ ‘Feet Back on the Ground’ is about your mama and it’s the way I feel sometimes when I go to mom’s house because she’s always cooking or something. ‘Needing A Beer’ takes me back to the nightclubs because we were always singing about the working class. People would be coming in and celebrating a promotion or they might be celebrating because they were getting divorced.”
Montgomery will be taking the new music to the fans when he heads back out on the road, kicking off the new tour on Jan. 19 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, SD for what’s sure to be an emotional night. “For the last 35 years I’ve been looking to my left and he’s not going to be there,” says Montgomery, who began performing in bands with Gentry long before they launched their duo career. “I’ll tell you there was a while I didn’t know if I could do this or not. All our guys that we’ve had for 20-25 years in the band, we’ve been through everything together. . . When we hit the stage, we’re a family and we’re all going to come in together just like we always have and help each other out.”
He’s definitely going to miss performing with Gentry, especially the funny little things he’d say on stage over a microphone that could only be heard by Montgomery, the band and crew. “We might be doing ‘Lucky Man’ or something and he’d go back to the talk-back mic and he’d say something off the wall. Of course, on the talk-back mic only us guys and the crew guys could hear it,” Montgomery recalls with a laugh. “He’d talk some kind of crap on it and we’d be like, ‘What in the world are you talking about T-Roy?’ We’ll be missing that.”
As he grieves the death of his musical partner, Montgomery says the duo’s fans have been instrumental in his healing. “We don’t call nobody fans. We call them friends and we’ve been blessed enough we’ve got a hell of a lot of friends around the world,” he says. “I can’t thank them enough for all the cards and letters. Sometimes I’ll stop at a gas station and somebody will come up and tell me a story. I had one guy stop me when I was coming out of a Quik Stop and he was like, ‘Man, I’ve just got to tell you something. I know what you are going through. I lost my best friend of 40 years. He was riding on a motorcycle last year and got killed.’ He said, ‘We’ve got all your CDs and listened to your CDs all the time when we’d ride. I know what you are feeling. Your music has helped me get through this.’ It’s stuff like that. I know they’ve got my back and I’ve got their back.”
Though his earthy days with Gentry ended much sooner than he ever imagined, Montgomery is thankful for the many years they made music together. “A lot of people get in the music business because they want to be a star or want to make millions of dollars, but me and T, it’s just who we are,” he says. “We love music. It’s who our parents were and we joked about it. My mom was a drummer. My dad was a guitar player and the bartenders were my babysitters. T-Roy’s dad owned a bar all his life, so that’s just who we are. We were around working class people and around music every day.”
The Kentucky natives began performing in bands with Eddie’s brother, John Michael Montgomery, who went on to become a successful solo artist while Troy and Gentry became an award-winning duo. They blasted onto the national music scene with their 1999 debut album Tattoos & Scars and over the next two decades continued to populate country radio with such memorable hits as “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” “Hillbilly Shoes,” “Something to Be Proud Of,” “Roll with Me,” “Gone” and “My Town.” They won Vocal Duo of the Year from both the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association and were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry in 2009. “We couldn’t believe it. Me and T talked about it,” Montgomery says of the duo’s success. “I still can’t believe it’s been 20 years. It just flew by. I still live in Kentucky and I drove down here yesterday. It’s just the little things I thought of when I was driving. I remember coming down here and we were just getting our record deal or working on it. T always drove to Nashville. And of course, we always hit the bars when we went downtown. I remember when we first come to town we were [named] Deuce and we were hitting all the bars and hanging out and that’s when Montgomery Gentry came about because we’d walk in some place and someone would go, ‘Oh God! Here come those Montgomery Gentry boys!’ And the name stuck.”
That’s why it’s important to Montgomery to carry that name forward as he soldiers on. “There are always questions in your mind: ‘Can I do this without T?’ Because when you’ve been with somebody for 35 years, clicking on stage and once that’s gone you’re like, ‘Oh hell!’ I know he’ll be right there and he’ll be kicking us in the butt going, ‘Come on boys! Let’s get this going here,’ because I know that’s what he’d want. That’s what we talked about was to keep Montgomery Gentry alive and going. He’d want people to know Montgomery Gentry is still rocking.”