Adecade ago, the country duo of Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry seemed an unlikely candidate for success, much less longevity.
In a conservative, albeit changing, genre, they were on the other side of the rowdy divide — a debut album title like “Tattoos & Scars” might give you some idea of where they were coming from — pushing the envelope a bit with their rock ’n’ rollified brand of country music. But 10 years, three platinum albums and 17 Top 20 country hits later, Montgomery Gentry is still here, even boasting a membership in the Grand Ole Opry that was bestowed earlier this year.
“You know, it feels great,” says Gentry, who played
with Montgomery and his brother John Michael Montgomery in the band Early Tymz in their native Kentucky before starting Montgomery Gentry in the wake
of John Michael’s solo career.
“We’re one of those acts fortunate to still be out and touring and making music. We’re thankful every day that we’re still able to get in the studio and record and get out on the road and travel and do what we love to do.
“I mean, this is Eddie and I’s passion. We just love doing it. And to think we’re 10 years into it, and hopefully like the mentors and some of the other acts we’ve looked up to — the Charlie Daniels and Waylon (Jennings), Willie (Nelson), (Merle) Haggard and Hank (Williams) and everybody — we’ll be able to have that success as well and be able to play as long as we want to, I hope.”
And Gentry, 42, credits that high-energy, rowdy flavor that raised eyebrows in 1999 as the reason for Montgomery Gentry’s enduring appeal.
“Eddie and I have always been very accessible and close to our fans,” he explains, “and I think our music speaks volumes. Our music is definitely American-made. It’s songs that people can identify with.
“When we got ‘Tattoos & Scars’ finished, we were hearing it was a breath of fresh air. The music back then was kind of sterile, and Eddie and I kinda shook it up a little bit. ‘Hillbilly Shoes’ (the duo’s first single) was an uptempo, rowdy kind of song, and it turned people’s heads.”
The music also earned Montgomery and Gentry a reputation for, shall we say, spirited personal behavior. That perception had some merit; “You take two guys out of Kentucky who played bars all their life and are now doing it on a national level, we were out there a little bit and having a good time,” Gentry acknowledges. But, he adds, there was no great harm in that, either.
“It was no more than a lot of acts that are out there,” he says. “I think there was more emphasis on us just because of the fact that musically we were rowdy. I think between record labels and publicists and everything else, they made the persona of partying a little bigger than it probably was.
“At the same time, though, we were those guys that everybody wanted to hang out with ’cause they assumed there was always a party going on.”
The high times have had their ebb and flow, of course. Gentry made headlines in 2004 for falsely tagging a bear killed on a private game preserve in Minnesota; apologized, paid a fine and surrendered his hunting and fishing rights in the state for five years. Meanwhile, Montgomery Gentry’s 2006 album, “Some People Change,” was a bit of a commercial disappointment that even their record company president felt “strayed musically from what the base had been ... I think we got a little too soft.”
But 2008’s “I Knew it All” redeemed the duo; the album debuted at No. 3 on the country charts, while the title track was the fastest-rising single of their career and one of two chart-toppers to come from the album. And Montgomery Gentry’s second decade got off to a sweet start in June, when they were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by Marty Stuart and Little Jimmy Dickens.
“It was honestly a surprise — a very exciting surprise,” Gentry says of the Opry honor. “Eddie and I have tried to be as much a part of the Opry as we could when we were in town. There’s just something special about that place ... and the people who have performed there that’s kind of glamorous to us. It’s something we wanted to be a part of.
“And Eddie probably a little more so than me. His dad was an entertainer, and his lifelong dream was to play the Opry. Eddie would make comments that his dad said, ‘You really haven’t made it until you’ve become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.’ ”
Montgomery Gentry are now making their next album, which they plan to put out in early 2010 with a new single coming imminently in order to qualify for the Academy of Country Music Awards. Gentry says a batch of songs have already been recorded and mixed — one of which, with the working title “Shotgun Wedding,” he says, “sounds like a newer version of ‘Hillbilly Shoes.’ ” Montgomery and Gentry also “wrote a little bit more for this project than we did in the past,” including a patriotic song called “Freedom Never Goes Out of Style” with Gary Hannan and Phil “Philbilly” O’Donnell.
Other new titles include “Can’t Feel the Pain” and “ ’Til the Cops Show Up,” and Gentry is confident fans will be satisfied with what he and Montgomery are coming up with.
“It’s comprised of a little bit of everything we’ve done in the past,” he says. “There’s songs that will remind you of all the projects we’ve done, so I think it’s got a little bit of something for everybody, and it’ll bring back some of the old songs or past records we’ve done, and that’ll make everybody happy, I think.”
Montgomery Gentry and Steel Magnolia perform at 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 6) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $55 and $29.50 reserved and $15 general admission. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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