Eddie Montgomery doesn’t mind getting in people’s faces. In fact, it’s what he does best.
Since the mid-1990s, his music with Troy Gentry, the other half of country duo Montgomery Gentry, has combined working-class sentiments and Southern rock guitar riffs. As Montgomery has put it in past interviews, and reiterated recently from a tour stop in Wisconsin, “We’re gonna sing about the good, the bad, the ugly and the party on the weekend, baby.”
“Me and T [Gentry] . . . we were friends before we were a duo, and it’s something me and T put together; Nashville didn’t put this together,” he said. “We got into the business because we love music; we didn’t get into it because we wanted to be stars or make a bunch of money. We had passion, and we still do; we’ve got that passion, and if that ever dies, we’ll hang it up and go home.”
Nevertheless, the band’s rough-and-tumble attitude has propelled them to the top of the country charts with nearly every album the duo has released, starting with their 1999 debut “Tattoos & Scars.” Last year’s “Back When I Knew It All” has continued the pattern, spinning off two No. 1 singles — the title track and “Roll With Me” — and “One in Every Crowd,” which cracked the top 5.
With their induction into the Grand Ole Opry on June 23, and the next single, “Long Line of Losers,” making its way up the country charts, the duo is hitting the road for the summer, both by themselves and opening for Kenny Chesney for a handful of dates. A big part of the tour is festivals — including the duo’s headlining slot at this year’s WGNA Countryfest on Saturday.
Who: Montgomery Gentry, Jason Michael Carroll, Heidi Newfield, The Lost Trailers, Sarah Buxton, Loose Cannon
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Altamont Fairgrounds, Route 146, Altamont
How Much: $32 advance; $37 day of show; children 10 and under free
More Info: www.wgna.com.
The 16th annual festival, organized by Country 107.7 WGNA FM, will also feature performances by up-and-comers Jason Michael Carroll, Heidi Newfield, The Lost Trailers and Sarah Buxton, and local Troy band Loose Cannon. The all-day event begins at noon at the Altamont Fairgrounds.
Benefits for soldiers
In addition to ongoing support for “Back When I Knew It All,” Montgomery Gentry has kept busy with other projects. “For Our Heroes,” a collection of rare tracks and one new song, was released in May through Cracker Barrel Old Country Store’s music program with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured active duty soldiers. It’s an issue close to Montgomery’s heart.
For the Countryfest review, click here .
“This is the greatest country in the world, where we can dream and do as big as possible,” Montgomery said. “I want to thank our American heroes overseas for letting me live my dream, and letting my kids live their dreams.”
The album has become the fastest-selling Cracker Barrel release, and despite limited release hit No. 11 on the Billboard Top 200. And the duo isn’t slowing down anytime soon, with plans to hit the studio again this year for their next album. Once again, the duo is working with Blake Chancey, who produced their 2002 album “My Town” and “Back When I Knew It All.”
“He’s the one that signed us, brought us to the big dance,” Montgomery said. “He gets us, so we hooked up with him.”
Right now the duo is searching for songs, as well as writing (Montgomery was co-writer on “One in Every Crowd” from the last album).
“We’re gonna write as much as we can, and if we’re lucky enough to get songs on the album, that’s great,” Montgomery said, “but we’re never gonna sacrifice our album [by saying], ‘Well, we wrote this, and we want it on there.’ The best songs are what’s gonna make it on the album.”
But according to Montgomery, the live setting, especially festivals, is where the duo is happiest.
“You know, the studio’s fun and we have a big blast out of it when we’re in the studio, but there’s nothing like when you step on that stage in front of everybody,” he said.
“You have 10 to 50 thousand people out there just screaming, singing your lyrics, you can’t even hear yourself because they’re singing so loud.”
The duo’s excitement over live performance makes sense given their long history together playing clubs throughout their home state of Kentucky. Music ran in both Montgomery and Gentry’s famillies, with Montgomery spending his teenage years in the family band.
“We’re all pretty much born into it,” Montgomery said. “My mom is a drummer and my dad is a guitar player.”
The duo first played together in Early Tymz along with Montgomery’s brother John Michael. The group eventually evolved into Young Country, with John Michael billed up front, and became popular around Kentucky. John Michael broke out as a solo artist nationally in 1992, and for a time Montgomery and Gentry went their separate ways.
After a stab at a solo career, Gentry again began playing with Montogomery in the mid-’90s under the name Deuce, sharing lead vocal duties.
This group evolved into Montgomery Gentry and was signed to Columbia in 1999. Although their meteoric rise since then might seem rapid, it didn’t come without a fight.
Labels were leery
“Our music was always a little south center, left of center,” Montgomery said, laughing. “They [the labels] would tell us we were too rock, too real; I forget how many excuses they came up with. ‘It’s too close to home; it’s too rock; it’s too much in your face.’”
“We knew, ‘Hey, if we can get out there and we’re gonna keep playing, we’re not gonna go away,’ ” he continued. “We knew if people heard our music, they would show up, and we’ve got some hardcore friends out here.”
Things have come full circle for the duo now, with their induction last month into the Grand Ole Opry by Little Jimmy Dickens and Marty Stuart.
“It was unbelievable,” Montgomery said of the induction ceremony. “It made me go back to when I was a little kid, sitting with my dad listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. It brought back a lot of memories.”