by Michael Buffalo Smith
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Montgomery Gentry perform several times, including a handful of impromptu gigs during the annual Angelus benefit down in Tampa, Florida. During the four day Angelus event, there’s just no telling who you might find playing one of the late-night jams. Somewhere near midnight on a Friday night in January of 2006, I managed to be on the front row during one of these midnight jam sessions.
Members of The Marshall Tucker Band and Confederate Railroad were playing with Montgomery Gentry and members of their band, and it was hot. I looked up, and Chris Hicks of MTB was calling me up on stage. These are the best of times for me, when I am able to slide between the realms of music journalist and performer. I love that. Soon I was on stage playing Chris’ Les Paul (thanks again, Hit Man) and rocking out beside Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry. It was a blast. I became a die-hard fan.
Mere weeks ago I received my copy of their new record, Some People Change, a CD that in my humble opinion is the best album the boys have ever created. We spoke by phone with both Troy and Eddie, to talk about the album, the road, Angelus and the most important things in life.
Troy, you have to be excited about this new album, Some People Change.
Every time we tell one another it’s the best album we’ve done, and we always try to make the new one better than the last one. The comments and reviews we’ve heard so far on this album have far exceeded the other albums that we’ve ever recorded.
What are your over all thoughts on the album?
Oh, I’m very excited. It’s got a lot of the same messages in it, you know. A blue collar type of feel. It touches on our family and faith. And I think that musically it is more diverse than some of the other ones. I think the My Town record was starting to show a little versatility both musically and lyrically, and I think this stretches it out even more. Not to say it’s more radio listener friendly , but it’s not all honky tonkin,’ chest beating type of songs. The last couple of albums have laid back a little more. But it still has a manly, blue collar type of feel to it.
Tell me a bit about your roots. Where did you come from?
Eddie and I both grew up in Kentucky. We were born about 40 miles from each other. We met during the clubbing days. We had crossed paths in different clubs in the Lexington area before we finally teamed up, Eddie and myself and his brother John Michael Montgomery to form the Young Country band. We played together for 2-3 years before John Michael got the solo deal with Atlantic Records. Eddie and I continued to cross paths when they would come back into town. And Eddie and I would get asked to perform for various functions and we’d share the same band, just to make it easier, money wise. Then we just started singing together, and it seemed the more we did it, the bigger the crowds that started coming around to see us. And we knew somebody in Nashville that was interested in working with a duo. From there it was just the music gods, and being in the right place at the right time. We did a show for on record company and ended up signing with them, which is highly unusual.
When did you guys actually start calling yourself Montgomery Gentry?
It was late 1995 or early ‘96 when we sat down and said we were going to put the duo together. We started out as a band called Deuce, and started playing around locally. Then we cut four demo sides and started shopping it around Nashville. That’’s when Sony Music became aware of us, and became interested. So every time we came around, they would say, “here come those Montgomery Gentry boys.” So the last names stuck. They were looking for a different name anyway, other than Deuce.
What was your first big break?
I think it was right out of the box with “Hillbilly Shoes.” We were obviously skeptical with that release at the time. We knew some radio was excited about the record, but it was a little left of center from most of what was on the radio at the time. We knew we had a good niche that was kind of void at the time. But the song skyrocketed and made us something to be reckoned with. That really gave Eddie and I an edge up right off the bat. But that feeling that it was a life long career really didn’t happen until the My Town record, “Hell Yeah” and “My Town,” and “Something to Be Proud Of.” We might not be be multi-platinum sellers, but now we were established and could have life long careers in the country field.
What are your thoughts on the very excellent tune “Some People Change?”
Neal Thrasher, Jason Sellers and Mike Delaney wrote that one. Eddie and I were looking for a kind of spiritual, uplifting song, and we just couldn’t find the right song for this record. We had finished recording the album and Neal came to my house one night and just played me the first verse and chorus of the song on acoustic guitar. Right of the bat I knew it was a song for Eddie and I. I knew it would be a big hit. So it was the last song recorded and the first song out of the box for this album. It was perfect. We were looking for a song that, with all the trauma going on in the world today, the war in Iraq and everything else - and all the demons that people battle day in and day out, whether it be obesity, drugs, alcohol addiction or a workaholic - whatever it is, there’s plenty of help out there, even if a person is at the bottom of the barrel. They can rise back up to the top, and that was he message of the song, “Some People Change.” We have that inner strength. Society hasn’t gone too far overboard that we can’t change ourselves.
Eddie’s here now if you want to speak with him too.
(Eddie gets on the phone)
What’s goin’ on brother? How you doin’?
Fine man, and you? What are you doing today?
I’m fine. Just hanging out waiting to do the show.
I was in the studio yesterday with Marshall Tucker, and Doug Gray told me to tell you hello.
(Laughing) Oh yeah. I tell you. Me and Doug, man. I love him to death.
Of course I see you almost every year at Charlie Daniels’ Angelus Benefit. I wanted to ask your thoughts on that event.
I tell you what, Charlie Daniels is a class act and so is The Angelus. We try to help ‘em out as much as we can help ‘em out. What a great organization. And I'll tell you, when you go in and see the kids and stuff, it’s just totally remarkable. I just can’t say enough. I mean, that’s what America is all about, and that’s why it’s the greatest country in the world. I definitely want to thank all of our heroes past and present, and all of our heroes overseas right now. To be able to help somebody like The Angelus is a blessing. The man upstairs has been awfully good to me and "T" both, and just to give a little bit back is unbelievable.
It seems like Montgomery Gentry is carrying the torch for Classic Southern Rock. How do you feel about that?
(Laughing) I woke up and went to sleep with that stuff. When I was growing up we said “it’s not your daddy’s country music.” I remember the first time I heard Charlie (Daniels) and the Skynyrd band, and Tucker. It freaked me out. The music was in your face, the lyrics were in your face, and it was entertaining. It wasn’t just standing onstage and playing. It was rocking. They sang about the good times and the bad, and the partying too. I was all about that and I think everybody was. It was living life. And the guitar riffs. That’s what I loved more than anything I reckon was just the power of the guitars.
What was it like when you guys did CMT Crossroads with Lynyrd Skynyrd?
I don’t think my feet ever touched the stage. The hardest thing for me was standing there surrounded by all them guys and looking over at Gary Rossington, and looking back. Of course I was a big fan of Blackfoot too, and there I was beside Rick Medlocke. And of course Medlocke started on the drums with Skynyrd. If anybody watches me onstage i took a lot from watching Ronnie Van Zant and watching videos of him. It was just his attitude.
I was talking to Troy about the new album (Some People Change) and I think it is your best one yet.
Well thank you Michael, I do too. I agree 100 percent. We try to make every show better than the one was last night and we try to make every record better than the last.
I really like your song “Clouds.” I know it is a deeply personal song.
I had a son that got killed in a car accident five days before his third birthday in 1991. And my dad died of cancer in 1994. And I said I would never write about them because everybody would tell me I should write about them. And a lot of people didn't know about my son at all, because i didn’t talk about it. It was something I kept inside. But I was over at Jeffrey Steele’s house one day playing guitar on the porch and these lyrics started coming to me. I went back in and started telling Jeffrey and Tony Mullins was there, and he said “Man have you been smoking something?” And I told them the story, and Jeffrey said man, let me get on the piano. He came up with this melody and we wrote the song in five to eight minutes.
It’s a great song.
I appreciate it. I wasn’t going to sing it. I thought I’d rather have somebody with a lot of soul like Mary J. Blige sing it. I just didn’t know if I could sing it, it was too close.
Tell me about your recent USO Tour.
It will change your life. I wish every American could go over there and see all of our American heroes over there and what they are doing. I’ll tell anyone from the media they are not giving them fair enough coverage, and I’ll stick to that. And I’ll kick anybody’s ass that says it ain’t.
What’s next for Montgomery Gentry?
We’ll be traveling. We’re always looking for good songs. You never know where you’ll find a number one hit at. As long as it means something. So we’re gonna sing about the good, the bad, the ugly and the party on the weekend.