2018 marks unchartered territory for Eddie Montgomery. The Kentucky native is headed out on the road under the Montgomery Gentry banner — though without the man who has been his best friend and musical partner for close to four decades. Troy Gentry passed away on Sept. 8, 2017, from injuries suffered in a helicopter accident. Montgomery knows that the stage is not going to feel the same without him.
“It’s going to be a little different this year, but that’s the way that T-Roy would want it,” Montgomery said to Billboard, adding that Gentry was very excited about the new music that the duo had just completed. “The new music takes me back to when we cut Tattoos and Scars,” Montgomery said of their 1999 debut album. The new project, Here’s To You, will be released next Friday (Feb, 2). The singer thinks longtime fans will like what they hear. “It reminds me a lot of that first CD,” said Montgomery.
The loss of Gentry hits Montgomery on many levels. First and foremost, there is the personal connection that the two shared. “With me and T-Roy, Nashville didn’t put us together. We did. We were friends first. We had been together 35 years, and knew each other longer than we knew our wives. That was something that very few duos could say. We had been through a lot together over the years – hopefully there is video tape out there that nobody ever finds,” said Montgomery good-naturedly. “We had a lot of fun, and we’re going to keep T-Roy with us. He’s going to be in our hearts forever.”
There’s also the musical alliance that they formed together, having played music together for over a decade before signing with Columbia. Montgomery says that there will undoubtedly be a void. “There’s no way that we can even get on the bus without thinking about him,” he says emotionally. “He used to carry this big wooden spoon all the time, and he’d always be stirring something up, and getting people fired up about something – just smiling. That’s what we’re going to take with us, this year…and forever. That’s the bottom line.”
In coping with the tragedy, Montgomery says that hearing from their audience has helped more than anyone could ever begin to imagine – and each person that has reached out has had a special memory or story that touched his heart.
“We don’t call them fans – we call them friends, and I would hear from social media, or running into the store, and people would say ‘I remember this time when T-Roy did this or that,’ talking about some of the crazy stuff, because he loved to live life,” said Montgomery wistfully. “One night at a gas station, a man came up and said ‘Me and my best friend in the world – we’ve been friends for 35 years – we were riding motorcycles one day, and he lost control of his and got killed. I know what you’re going through.’ You hear stories of all kinds. It’s helped a lot.”
Also of comfort has been the support of his colleagues from the industry, which surprised him a bit. “We have always just been who we are, and to see all of the industry and all of our peers, I didn’t know that we had made a mark. We were blessed to have made a lot of friends – among the legends and superstars. They were calling on the phone, and showing up at the funeral. I can’t thank them enough. They have reached out to me, inviting me to be on shows with them, and that – along with all the letters and the cards – has been unbelievable.”
Of course, listeners will be looking for a deeper meaning on some of the songs on Here’s To You. And, in the case of the lead single, “Better Me,” Montgomery says there was definitely something different about the recording process this time.
“The weird thing about that song is that when we would listen to songs, a lot of times one of us would bring a song into the meeting and say ‘I love this song, but I hear you singing it.’ With ‘Better Me,’ Troy said ‘I really love this song, and I really want to sing it. Any other song, I don’t care, but I really want to do this one.’ I didn’t have a problem with it. Of course, who would have ever known (what was going to happen). He had just gotten done with that song a couple of days before the accident,” he says.
Another emotional song on the album is “Feet Back On The Ground,” which Montgomery handles the lead vocals on. The lyrics, about a close relationship with his mother, are ones he knows very well.
“The first time I heard it, I automatically thought about my mom. I go over there when I can, but when you’re on the road, you don’t get to see them all the time. When I get over there, she’s always cooking. You don’t get that every day on the road. It brings you back to home and how you were raised. It makes you slow everything down a bit.”
But many of the songs on Here’s To You will show a rollicking and light-hearted side that will definitely strike a familiar tone, such as “Needing A Beer,” of which Montgomery says “Bobby Pinson is one of our great friends, and he’s an unbelievable songwriter. That is one of those songs that is like when we were playing the honky-tonks. We’d have people coming in because they were celebrating because they got married – or got a divorce, or a promotion. I think that song is about the every-day working class person – whether you’re going to school to better yourself, driving a tractor-trailer down the highway, or being a musician. A lot of people will be able to relate to that one.”
And in the “Hell, Yeah” tradition, there’s the sing-along vibe of “Drink Along Song,” which the duo had been already doing in their live shows. Montgomery says they knew that song had the potential to be special.
“It’s one of those songs that when you get to listening to it, it’s exactly what it is titled. The first time we did it on the stage, by the second chorus, people were singing it along back to us. We thought ‘This has gotta be a hit.’ When you get a sing-along song, it’s over. It’s just a fun song that makes you smile and tap your foot. It makes you want to sing along with it.”
At the end of the day, Here’s To You is simply a reflection of the values and lifestyle that the duo has always tried to exemplify – and they were able to do it their way. “We were blessed and lucky enough that all of our friends had our back – and radio also. When we came to Nashville, we knew who we were. We didn’t need anyone from Nashville telling us who we were. Sometimes the label heads try to tell us who we are, but we knew the style of music that we wanted to do, and what we wanted to sing about. Everybody had our back, and we’ve had a great run over the past 20 years.”