Montgomery Gentry's journey into the front ranks of American music has been one of the most gratifying sagas of the past decade. Their road to gold and platinum albums, CMA and ACM awards, a Grammy nomination and highly successful tours has been paved both with musical integrity and with an abiding respect for the people and the genre they represent.
Seldom have entertainers been identified so closely with their fans, and seldom has the respect and affection run so deep in both directions. They share blue-collar outlooks; sunup-to-sundown work ethics; rootedness in God, country and family; and the ability to celebrate life and endure hardship. It is a relationship few other artists in the often volatile world of show business can boast.
Now in their 11th year on the national stage, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry can look back on one of country's most impressive legacies as duo, Montgomery Gentry. They have released more than 20 charted singles, with anthems like "My Town" and "Hell Yeah" becoming indelible parts of the honky-tonk landscape. They have hit the top of the singles charts five times, with "If You Ever Stop Loving Me," "Something To Be Proud Of", "Lucky Man", “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll With Me”.
Brothers Eddie and John Michael Montgomery and Troy Gentry joined forces in a band called Young Country until John Michael landed a record deal. His brother joined his band and Troy went solo, winning the national Jim Beam Talent Contest in 1994. When Eddie returned to Kentucky, he and Troy found themselves on stage together at various charity concerts and they decided to join forces again.
"It just seemed like the more we were playing together around town, the bigger our following got," says Troy. Nashville heard the buzz, and Columbia Records signed them.
1999's Tattoos and Scars announced them as a new force in country music, deeply rooted in the blue collar honky-tonk ethos that had sometimes been overlooked in the crossover success of the ‘90s. By their third album, 2002's My Town, they had become leaders of a movement that would come to breathe new fire into country music and help bring to the forefront artists like Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich while drawing from established artists like Hank Jr. and rockers from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Kid Rock.
The hits came with regularity. Eddie and Troy were named the CMA's Duo of the Year in 2000, and received that year's American Music Award for Favorite New Artist--Country, the Academy of Country Music Award for Top New Vocal Group or Duo, and the 2000 and 2001 Radio & Records Readers' Poll award for Top Country Duo. The duo has performed for millions of fans over the years, both as headliners and as part of three Kenny Chesney tours, with the Brooks & Dunn’s "Neon Circus & Wild West Show", with Toby Keith in 2008 and as a headliner on the Country Throwdown Tour in 2010.
Their place as honky-tonk ambassadors has long since been established. They were part of the Rolling Stone 40th anniversary issue, they are integral parts of Farm Aid and Country in the Rockies, and they joined forces with Maya Angelou after the release of "Some People Change."
Their humanitarian efforts are another example of that place where life, art and community come together in a meaningful way and were recognized for these efforts when the ACM and Home Depot presented them with the 2010 ACM/The Home Depot Humanitarian Award.
"Our charitable work hit really close to home with the passing of my mom from cancer," says Troy of their work with the T. J. Martell Foundation, which funds cancer and AIDS research and on whose board both serve. Troy is also deeply involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Eddie works with Camp Horsin' Around, a camp for chronically and terminally ill children, which provides recreation and medical attention.
Their desire to help make the lives of others better is reflected in their desire to live their own lives fully.
"Life is very short," says Eddie, "and you'd better live every second of it, because you never know when your name's going to be called. That's the way I've always lived my life. My parents taught me to live that way. We were raised very poor but we always had a lot of fun, especially with music. And music is the most healing thing in the world. Everybody speaks different languages, but when you put a record on, people from everywhere can enjoy it, whether they understand the words or not."
Through it all, they remain one with their fans, people who live fully, and work and play for all they're worth. Their rootedness can be seen in the fact that they are still playing with the band they had in their honky-tonk days. It's part of what keeps them honest, and that honesty shines through every bit of their latest CD. Back When I Knew It All continues their tradition of connectedness as it restates their position as the honky-tonk poets of their generation.
"We keep to our roots," says Eddie. "We'll always talk about the good, the bad, the ugly and the party on the weekend. We'll always include the Man Upstairs and our American heroes."
"And when we sing a song," adds Troy, "it'll always tell a story. That's just who we are."