Tonight (Friday, Feb. 2) Eddie Montgomery returns to the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. His three-song set will mark the first time he has taken to the Opry stage since the tragic passing of his Montgomery Gentry bandmate and music brother Troy Gentry.
Gentry died on Sept. 8, 2017, at age 50, following a tragic plane crash in Medford, New Jersey, just hours before Montgomery Gentry were scheduled to perform. On Sept. 14, a public celebration of life was held onstage at the Grand Ole Opry, the same stage where the duo had been inducted as Opry members in 2009.
“Me and T-Roy talked a long time ago and decided if something ever happened to one of us, that we wanted the other to keep rockin’.” Montgomery tells MusicRow.
If tonight’s Opry performance is bittersweet, it’s also cause for celebration, heralding the release of Montgomery Gentry’s ninth studio album, Here’s To You (Average Joes), out the same day. The album has already reached No. 1 on the iTunes Country chart.
The 12-song collection was completed two days before Gentry died. At the conclusion of Gentry’s celebration of life, the single “Better Me” was released. Numerous artists and execs in the Nashville industry touted the song, honoring a fallen member of the Nashville music community.
“T-Roy really loved that song,” Montgomery said of “Better Me.” For years, we might hear a song and go, ‘Well, that’s a Montgomery Gentry song. I hear T-Roy singing this,’ or he’d bring me a song and say, ‘I hear you on this.’ ‘Better Me’ was the first time T-Roy came up to me and said, ‘Eddie I really want to sing this song.’ I’ll tell ya man, it surprised him how we’d grown up over the years. He was such a great father and husband to Angie and Kaylee. It was unbelievable. It was the best vocal I’ve ever heard him do.”
Montgomery Gentry released their debut album Tattoos & Scars in 1999, but Eddie and Troy’s friendship stretches back to childhood, where Montgomery’s parents played music in a bar owned by Gentry’s father.
“We grew up in nightclubs,” Montgomery says. “My mom was a drummer, my dad was a guitar player and the bartenders were our babysitters. After the accident, I just couldn’t believe it. People came up to me after the funeral and they were like, ‘Are you going to keep playing?’ At the time I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never done nothing else.’
“I got to thinking that T-Roy was always about new music. There wouldn’t be no time at all after we had a CD out and he would be like, ‘Man, I’m ready for some new music.’ I knew also that if we didn’t put this album out, T-Roy would come down and haul us out and kick our ass.”
Here’s To You, made of a dozen songs dedicated to working class citizens, feel-good partying, and loyalty to family, is classic Montgomery Gentry. The album pays homage to both Gentry’s legacy as part of the duo, and to the loyal fanbase the duo has brought with them from years of playing clubs, through earning Platinum albums and several CMA and ACM awards.
“We’ve never called anybody fans, we’ve called them friends,” Montgomery says. “We’d been together about 35 years, and we had a lot of friends around the world and they’ve had our back since we came out with Tattoos & Scars and they’ve still got our back. I reckon that’s just from growin’ up in the nightclubs. We were just about the working class, whether you were going to school and trying to make it better or we’d play a song for someone that might be coming in to celebrate a promotion. We just talked to everybody and that’s the way we were because we played six nights per week in a honky tonk.”
If “Better Me” has instantly become one of Gentry’s signature songs, then “Feet Back On The Ground” penned by Neil Thrasher, Casey Beathard and Tony Martin, proved a personal favorite for Montgomery.
“I played that for my mama, and she said that was the first [song] we’d done that almost made her cry. I’ve never seen my mama cry. It’s a killer written song and it reminded me so much of when I go see her now to this day.”
Though Montgomery is determined to keep doing what has come naturally for the past three decades—recording music and bringing fans an energetic live show—he is taking one day at a time. Asked whether there are plans to release any previously recorded songs that feature Gentry’s vocals, Montgomery says, “Right now, I just want to get this one out and get to playing it live and you know I figure our fans will let us know what they want, and that’s where we will go from there.”
For now, Montgomery’s focus is on rocking the Grand Ole Opry stage, just as Gentry would want him to.
“For the last 30 years plus, I’ve been used to looking to my left and seeing T-Roy and playing off of him. It’s definitely different and weird,” Montgomery says. “But I know T-Roy would be right there going ‘C’mon, let’s go. Let’s do this.’ I’m sure he’ll be there pranking us somehow. I’m waiting on that, because he was always a prankster.
“Our guys that have been playing with us, most of them have been with us 20 or 25 years. It will be very emotional for all of us and I’m sure T-Roy will be right there with us. We are going to have a hell of a party. We’ll laugh and cry, and have a drink or two.”
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