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John Michael Montgomery and Walker Montgomery

John Michael Montgomery and Walker Montgomery  Picture

John Michael Montgomery and Walker Montgomery

John Michael Montgomery has turned an uncanny ability to relate to fans into one of country music's most storied careers. Behind the string of hit records, the roomful of awards and the critical and fan accolades that have defined his phenomenal success lies a connection that goes beyond his undeniable talent and his proven knack for picking hits. Since the days when "Life's A Dance" turned him from an unknown artist into a national star, John Michael’s rich baritone has carried that most important of assets--believability. Few artists in any genre sing with more heart than this handsome Kentucky-born artist. It is readily apparent in love songs that have helped set the standard for a generation. Songs like “I Swear,” “I Love the Way You Love Me” and “I Can Love You Like That” still resonate across the landscape--pop icon and country newcomer Jessica Simpson cited “I Love The Way You Love Me” as an influence in a recent interview. It is apparent in the 2004 hit “Letters From Home,” one of the most moving tributes to the connection between soldiers and their families ever recorded, and in “The Little Girl,” a tale of redemption that plumbs both the harrowing and the uplifting. It is apparent even in the pure fun that has always found its way into John Michael's repertoire--songs like “Be My Baby Tonight” and “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” where John Michael's vocal earnestness takes musical whimsy to another level. Walker Montgomery Walker Montgomery Painting Pictures with New Music and a Palette Full of Rust Walker Montgomery wasn’t raised in Nashville. But Nashville is still coursing through his veins. He was born in Nicholasville, KY and still considers that home, even though his father John Michael Montgomery was one of the biggest names in Nashville right around the time Walker was born. In fact, just a few years before Walker was born, his father’s “Life’s a Dance,” “I Swear,” “I Can Love You Like That,” “Be My Baby Tonight,” and “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” had all made it to the top of the charts. But until Walker turned 18, he’d only been to Nashville once or twice. And yet when he was 19, he moved the 200 miles south to Nashville for good. “Kentucky was always home. Not just for me, but for my whole family. I’m glad I was raised here. But because of that, when I did move down to Nashville four years ago, I didn’t know anything about anything. I was as green as I could get.” Even armed with his family’s last name and heritage, he paid his dues doing what was necessary to learn the country music business from the ground up. Montgomery did the rounds at writers’ nights at Live Oak, Whiskey Jam, The Listening Room Café: wherever he got the chance to play, he played. That said, his father didn’t raise him to be a country singer. He just simply raised him. “Our relationship isn’t a musical one. It’s just an ordinary father-son relationship,” he says. Then there’s the rest of his country music family tree: his Uncle Eddie is half of the duo Montgomery Gentry, his cousin Dillon Carmichael is an up-and-coming country artist, and his sister Madison is about to marry another country artist, which will make Travis Denning a brother-in-law to Walker. Knowing that his future likely held some kind of music in it, Montgomery first picked up a guitar in middle school. But it wasn’t until he was 16 and was playing shows that he had to get serious about honing that craft. “I never took lessons. My dad would show me chords, and then I'd listen to songs and play along. I don't read music. I just know what keys sound good together,” he says. “After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Kentucky for a glorious nine weeks. Here’s what happened: I wrote a song called ‘Simple Town,’ and it won a contest. The prize was getting to play the song at a pre-game event for a University of Kentucky football game. After I finished playing, one of the local radio guys came up to me and said, ‘Hey, if you record that song, I’ll put it on the radio.’ So we recorded it, he played it as promised, and it did really, really well. That’s when I thought maybe I could put college on hold.” Montgomery had already been playing at honky-tonks and bars for a few years by then -- in and around central Kentucky -- and says that was when music grasped hold of his heart. In the past few years in Nashville, his voice has matured into something he’s very proud of. “It has become the sound I wanted it to be,” he says. Before he had his own music to share with an live audience, he did what so many newcomers do: cover songs. “I did a lot of Luke Bryan songs in the beginning. The girls in the crowd always liked the Luke Bryan covers, and they’d put a little more in the tip jar when you played those. But I also played a bunch of Randy Travis, Tracy Lawrence, and obviously a lot of my dad’s songs. ‘Sold’ always got everyone on their feet.” Montgomery’s earlier songs have made a quantifiable impact on his day one fans and his brand new ones. “Simple Town” has already surpassed 3.6 million streams on Spotify, and follow-up tunes “Like My Daddy Done It” and “Saving for a Rainy Night” continue to boost Montgomery’s fanbase across all of the social media and music platforms, and more importantly, in real life. And now that he’s on the verge of releasing Rust, a six-song EP he produced with prolific hitmaker Dallas Davidson, Montgomery shares his thoughts on letting the best song win. “If I write a song, great. If I don't write it, great. I just want the most relatable song to reach people out there,” he says. So when it came time to choose the right songs to cut – ones that would fit his voice and the classic feel of the project -- Montgomery said that he and Davidson (and the other two Peach Pickers, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip) had a group text thread going and would all share music with each other that way. For “My Hometown’s Fault,” Montgomery says he was drawn to the way the ballad instantly “hits home” and paints a picture that reminds you of the places you grew up and everything you used to do. And on “Blue Eyed Blue Jean Gone,” Montgomery is pushing the sonic envelope with more drums and a definite rock flare. “It’s the song for any small-town guy who has a small-town girl with him, riding around in a ‘77 Ford F100 and playing music in Pioneer CD player.” Fellow country artist Michael Ray was one of the co-writers on “She Don’t Know,” and Montgomery appreciates that his friend let him be the one to cut it. “This song has blessed me in countless ways. This was my first release after the pandemic. It went viral. And now that concerts are back, I see more and more people singing along. It has such a good groove, it’s hard not to.” And Montgomery remembers hearing “Out of Nowhere” for the first time – a Morgan Wallen co-write -- on his way to the studio to record this EP. “I said, ‘That is the one, boys.’ It’s such a special song to me.” It was Montgomery’s first attempt at a fast-talking song (much like his father’s “Sold”) and after successfully recording it, it made him realize that he didn’t fall far from the family tree after all. As for “Bad Day to Be a Beer,” that was something Montgomery and his college buddies used to say to each other on game days during his short-but-sweet stay at the University of Kentucky. “When I heard this song, it was on hold for Luke Bryan. But he didn’t end up cutting it. I should send him a thank-you note for that,” he says. The EP’s last song – the title track “Rust” -- fit the bill for Montgomery and his deep love of his Kentucky roots. Fellow Kentuckian Ashley Gorley co-wrote the song, making it even more special for Montgomery. “Ashley is insane. He’s a wizard. I’ve never seen anyone like him.” Rust is due out on March 11, and Montgomery says he cannot wait to play it live for the fans who’ve been waiting so long for the post-pandemic return of live country music. Track listing for Rust: 1. “Rust” (Ashley Gorley, Nicolle Galyon, Brandon Lay) 2. “My Hometown’s Fault” (Rhett Akins, Jessi Alexander, Jameson Rodgers, Warren Haynes) 3. “Blue Eyed Blue Jean Gone” (Jameson Rodgers, Ben Hayslip, Jessi Alexander) 4. “She Don’t Know” (Dallas Davidson, Kyle Fishman, Michael Ray) 5. “Out of Nowhere” (Corey Crowder, Jared Mullens, Morgan Wallen, Joey Hyde) 6. “Bad Day to Be a Beer” (Brock Berryhill, Cole Taylor, Dallas Davidson, Ray Fulcher) John Michael's origins lie in deceptively modest beginnings. He was born in Danville, Kentucky, to parents who imparted a lifelong love of music. "Where most people have chairs and sofas in their living rooms," laughs John Michael, "we had amplifiers and drum kits." The family band played on weekends throughout the area, and John Michael and his brother Eddie eagerly soaked up everything about it. "To a certain extent," he says, "my dad always had a natural ability to draw fans and entertain people; I don't care if it was on the front porch, the living room, or on a stage. I think that transitioned to me and my brother being able to do that on stage." John Michael took over lead singing chores after his parents divorced, and he performed for a while in a band called Early Tymz with Eddie and their friend Troy Gentry. Nashville talent scouts began hearing about and then seeing John Michael perform and by the early '90s he had a record deal. The hits followed steadily, with songs like "Rope The Moon," "If You've Got Love," "No Man's Land," "Cowboy Love," "As Long As I Live," "Friends" and "How Was I To Know" establishing him as one of the elite acts of the era. He received the CMA Horizon award and was named the ACM's Top New Vocalist, setting off a long series of awards that included the CMA's Single and Song of the Year, Billboard's Top Country Artist, and a Grammy nomination. Heavy touring meant he kept the close touch with fans he had begun in the clubs back home. "You get to know your fans and what they like more and more through the years," he says, "and you kind of gravitate towards one another." Indeed, he has always had an extraordinarily close relationship with his fans, and they have stayed with him through good and bad times. Asked what he thinks gave him the edge in a career that calls millions but gives stardom to just a few, he pauses, then thinks back to the legacy of his parents. "I reckon it was good genes and good blood," he says with a smile. Few who know the depth and breadth of his own growing legacy would disagree.