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Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry

Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry Picture

Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry

You might catch Eddie Montgomery taking a quick glance at an empty space beside him when he and The Wild Bunch take the stage to play the expected duet hits as well as tunes from his brand-new and mostly raucous solo debut “Ain’t No Closing Me Down.” By tragic circumstance a solo artist, Eddie always feels the presence of Troy Gentry, his honky-tonking partner back to the days they played for beer or a chunk of flesh at a pig roast near their eastern Kentucky roots. “I think he’ll have a blast with it, man,” says Eddie of his late partner. “I think he’s a part of it already. I’m sure he’ll be with me.” The man who is always “with” Eddie on stage and immersed in the soul of his first solo album is his long-time partner, Troy Gentry, who died Sept. 8, 2017, in a helicopter crash that could have put a tragic end to Montgomery Gentry sound. Except Eddie made a promise that the MG sound would go on: Which, at its heart, is what this new album is all about. Rowdily honed in honky-tonks and at parties in their Kentucky homeland, Montgomery Gentry rocked to stardom in 1999 with propulsive collection “Tattoos & Scars.” Over the next 18 years, the duo had 20-plus charted singles, collected CMA, ACM and Grammy nominations and awards with such unsubtle, blue-collar rallying cries as “Hell Yeah,” “My Town” and the irrepressible “Hillbilly Shoes.” Their No. 1s included “If You Ever Stop Loving Me,” “Something to be Proud Of,” “Lucky Man,” “Back When I Knew It All” and “Roll With Me.” Grand Ole Opry members since 2009, MG also belong to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, where they join the likes of Bill Monroe, Tom T. Hall, Skeeter Davis, Lionel Hampton and Eddie’s brother, John Michael Montgomery. The last name on that list – “John Boy,” as Eddie refers to his brother – was with the other two young men when they tore up roadhouses and pig roasts, following the career path carved out by the Montgomery boys’ dad and his outfit, “Harold Montgomery and Whatever You Wanted To Call It.” The heart of that outfit: Harold on guitar and mom, Snookie, on drums. “Me and John Boy were roadies,” says Eddie. “We seen a lotta things in honky-tonks…. The bartenders were our babysitters, and we moved around a lot. I must’ve had my mid-life crisis by the time I was 8.” “I’m happy where I’m at.” And part of the reason for that happiness is that he always has his best friend to lean on: “Troy is always with me. He helped me write this album with my heart and soul.” Eddie continues describing how this new album was birthed after he knew it was time to go on as the M without the G. “I was just wanting to wait until it felt right for me, and when it come to me in my heart, with Troy and myself. “Ain’t a day goes by that I don’t think of him,” he says. “We made a promise, a deal, way back when. It was over Jim Beam. It was: If one of us goes down, we want Montgomery Gentry to go on. Keep the music going. We were a honky-tonk band, and he’s with me, and he’s always going to be.” He smiles. “We were together so much, we finished each other’s sentences and everything,” a brotherhood that remains in his solo billing: “It’s always going to be ‘Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry.’” In fact, The Wild Bunch – the outfit that rode the range with MG for years -- provides accompaniment with this album, a change from the past, when Eddie says Music Row session players would be called in. It is both a tribute to his late friend as well as the sonic bridge for the guy who hopes to carry this legacy well into the future. “I wanted to showcase our band. I wanted music that’s real and in your face.” Even though he was fulfilling a promise to Troy, Eddie took a year off after the accident to ponder how and if he’d carry on. The COVID pandemic gave him an extra year-and-a-half. With the help of some of Nashville’s best honky-tonk-flavored writers, he has fashioned an album that is both a tribute to the past and a rowdy reach into the future. “I wanted to comfort my soul and have the greatest writers help me put it together.” Much of the soul-salvation can be found in the song, “Alive and Well.” “It’s pretty much my life,” he says of the song that salutes his best friend as well as two sons who are gone. “One died quite a few years ago. I lost my other son a year before, the same month as Troy. September is not my favorite month.” While it is a farewell, it also is a promise to keep going, the promise he delivers in the rest of the album. “When I wrote that song, it helped my heart. It helped me a little bit, I reckon, to heal the wounds. But the scar is always there.” The promise to keep on going is proclaimed in full MG-style in the first cut, “Ain’t No Closing Me Down,” a rock-driven dose of barroom braggadocio that sprung from his holing up at home located on the outskirts of a golf course during the pandemic. “After the corona hit, I got a bunch of grills and stuff. I pulled my truck out of the garage. I was puttin’ up TVs, got a PA in my garage. I got one of those glass, commercial refrigerators in there. And people started coming to the house.” While the world was shut down, Eddie welcomed all comers. Nobody was closin’ him down. Golfers would climb off the course to visit, joining other friends from miles around. “I’d always be grilling. They’d come up and grab a hamburger or some ribs, a Jim Beam and a beer.” Some songs offer even more hope, like “Ain’t She Beautiful,” which isn’t about his “smokin’-hot wife,” but rather about the nation he cherishes. John Boy’s son, Walker Montgomery, wrote that one, and Uncle Eddie happily recorded it. “It was a great honor for me to cut my nephew’s song. I don’t think I coulda wrote it any better. I love this country. It’s the greatest country on earth. I love our great American heroes. I don’t care who decides to try to destroy it, it’s going to keep on going, because it’s the only place you can decide what you want to do, who you want to be.” Other songs include “Higher,” a duet with Tanya Tucker: “What an honor, singing with Miss Tanya. When I hear it, I don’t even listen to me singing, I listen to her.” “That’s the Kinda Man I Am” is about attitudes and beliefs inherited, sometimes by force, from his mom and dad. “I believe in the man upstairs, and I believe in our freedoms,” he says, adding the most painful lessons were in learning how to do the right thing. “You did something wrong, you got your ass busted by a belt. One of the hardest things I ever hit in my life was Mama’s backhand.” “My Son” is a cautionary tale he co-wrote with producer Noah Gordon for the soundtrack of a movie called “Old Henry,” a bit of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid fantasy. But the song means a lot more to Eddie, the father who lost two sons. “A lot of it is going back into my soul. I taught them how to live. Taught them that some of the stuff I chased, I probably shouldn’t have. Like my old man said ‘Son, do as I say, don’t do as I do.’” And there are plenty of fun songs, like “Play That Game,” inspired by honky-tonk mating dances he witnesses from the stage. “Kickin’ It Up” and “Sounds Like a Tuesday” join the ranks of lighthearted songs. His familiar voice breaks a bit when talking about “She Just Loves Me,” both a thank you and a love note to his wife, Jen Jen, and her devotion. “It’s the first love song I’ve ever written. I’m in love with her. She’s been there to pick me up when I felt down. I can’t say enough about her.” In fact, she was the first one to hear the rough version, after Eddie made an acoustic demo and took it up to the house. He didn’t want to sing it to her, because “I wasn’t for sure I could get through it, singing in front of her.” So, he played her the demo and “It freaked her out.” It was enough of a reason for celebration that they went to the club and did – as they rarely do – “act like teenagers.” “Now it takes me two days to recover,” he says. “My daddy always told me that would happen.” The man with the thick, honky-tonk voice and hell-raising reputation, the same fellow who salutes the death of his best friend in this album, admits that things change when a guy ages. “I’m more into staying home and piddling in my garden and stuff.” Still, after he parks the garden rake and dons that wide-brimmed black hat, straps on a guitar and climbs onstage with The Wild Bunch, “it’s kind of like old times.” Except T Roy is missing. Or is he? “He’s right there on stage, every time I hit it. He’ll always be there. “I like writing about everyday life: The good, the bad, the ugly and the party on the weekend. We know life has got a bunch of ups and downs. Stuff’s gonna happen, or you can keep your ass up on the porch. ‘‘Me and T Roy, we always lived life. You live life and make sure you do, ’cause it won’t be here tomorrow.”

Lonestar Portrait

With Special Guest:

Not every musician has the opportunity to revisit and even potentially improve upon their biggest hits. But on the forthcoming TEN to 1 record, the award-winning band Lonestar— Dean Sams (keyboards, acoustic guitar, background vocals), Michael Britt (lead guitarist, background vocals), Keech Rainwater (drums) and Drew Womack (lead vocals, guitar)—are taking a fresh look at all 10 of their chart-topping country songs. This streak started in 1996 with the band's second single, the rock-edged "No News," which describes a man left bereft (and confused) when his girlfriend suddenly disappears, and the following year's tender "Come Cryin' to Me" and “Everything’s Changed.” The band's quadruple-platinum 1999 album Lonely Grill spawned four No. 1 hits (including the beloved global smash "Amazed") and established Lonestar as music's preeminent pop-country band—a status they'd maintain through the 2000s and beyond, thanks to songs full of energy and creative lyrics ("What About Now") and ("Mr. Mom"), along with heartfelt messages and soaring melodies (“I’m Already There”). With these re-recordings, the band members were mindful of striking a balance between preserving the sonic elements fans were familiar with—and not repeating them. "It was a high wire act trying to figure out how to change it a little bit and not throw people off too much," Britt says. "I've seen bands that when they do the big hits that I know, and they change it up too much, I feel disappointed. I think people want to sing along—the vocal melody is what people really are latching onto the majority of time. "That's what was in everybody's minds when we were trying to come up with different arrangements, was trying to keep the vocal melody true," he continues. "Don't change it so much that people go, 'That's not even the same song.'" As a result, many of Lonestar's re-recordings have merely cosmetic updates and changes. "Mr. Mom" is "a little bit more country-sounding," Britt says, while Sams created some loops for "Smile" to "make it more modern-feeling, and have a little more motion," he says. "It's a little bigger-sounding than what the original record is. We kept most of the songs pretty close to the originals, but with just more updated, modern sounds." The changes to "Amazed," meanwhile, reflect the power ballad's status as an exclamation mark during concerts. "Since it's usually the biggest part or finale of the show, we've made it a little bit more bombastic," Britt says. "We didn't want to change it so much as just to make it more epic." TEN to 1 reflects the ways Lonestar's hits have evolved over the years during the band's rousing, high-energy concerts. For example, Britt improvised a guitar solo in the studio for the new version of "Tell Her," just as he's done live in the last few years. "We've all played these songs live so much that we've morphed them over the years and play them a little bit differently," Sams says. "In re-recording them, it was taking all the different things that we have done and harnessing it into the best direction for today. Michael's got a lot better guitar sounds than he had when we made a lot of these hits; Keech has better drums." Sams also produced the TEN to 1 record sessions, and he approached the songs with fresh ears from both a musical and studio perspective. "I had to look at the music this time, like, 'As not only a band member, but as the producer of this record, how can I keep the integrity of what made the songs the hits they were—but also update them so when people listen to them, there's something unique and different about them that catches their ear for today's time?'" Perhaps the biggest example of this contemporary updating is "Come Cryin' to Me," which the band members agree is the biggest sonic departure. A particular concert by indie-folk act The Lumineers inspired a completely new direction for the song; Lonestar's updated version has gang vocals, four-on-the-floor beats, and percussion that adds a galloping vibe. Womack, who joined the group in early 2021, also put his own soulful spin on the songs, and brought his deep experience recording session and lead vocals to the studio process. "I sat there and listened to each song about 20 times, and the phrasing and the feel of the new tracks, and tried to absorb it to where I can sing it in one take," he says. "And then I went in and sang four or five passes, and then go back and listen to it and choose the best track." The vocalist is also no stranger to chart success. He co-wrote Kenny Chesney's first No. 1 hit, "She's Got It All," while his former band, Sons of the Desert, also had multiple country hits in the '90s and collaborated with Lee Ann Womack on her crossover hit "I Hope You Dance." Drew Womack also has deep personal and professional ties to his new band; Sons of the Desert crossed paths with Lonestar many times, even opening shows for them early on. "We actually covered a couple of the songs that I'm re-recording," Womack says. "It's surreal re-recording for a greatest hits record songs that I covered back when I was 23, 24. But it's been great. We have very similar tastes in music and similar temperaments. And I've always been a band guy from day one—so this is just like coming home, like flopping right back into a band. It feels right to me." The rest of Lonestar also speak of how easily Womack fit into the lineup. "Everybody has a best friend somewhere—and then all of a sudden, at the job that you love, you get to work with them every day," Rainwater says. "It's a great feeling that one of your good friends is now one of your bandmates. And it shows on stage when we play—it comes through in the music a little bit, in the attitude and the stage presence." Adds Sams: "His vocals are soulful. What I love about him is that you feel every word that he sings, which is probably the biggest compliment I can give. He has this really unique way of attaching himself to the lyric of the song and making the audience that is listening to him feel that he is feeling. It's a gift." Lonestar's roots date back to the early '90s, when Sams originally moved to Nashville from his native Texas intending to be a solo artist. However, after a few months, he realized that he was better suited for a band and recruited Britt and Rainwater. Lonestar found success out of the gate with their self-titled 1995 debut, which spawned the hit "Tequila Talkin'" along with "No News." Other honors soon followed: The band has won many of music’s top honors, including Academy Of Country Music awards for New Vocal Group in 1996, and Single and Song Of The Year in 2000, along with Humanitarian Of The Year in 2002. They also won Country Music Association's Vocal Group of the Year and International Artist Achievement award in 2001. All told, Lonestar have sold more than 10.5 million records since their formation. Sams and Womack have already started writing new songs together, which has been a hugely positive creative experience. "We jelled very quickly," Sams says. "When something feels comfortable, it really makes the creative process much more enjoyable and fun, and it actually doesn't feel like work. Drew is such a positive person and he fits in with me, Michael and Keech so much. And there's just this newfound energy and life that we haven't had for some time." And so as Lonestar looks toward a big career milestone—the band is celebrating 30 years in 2022—and the release of TEN to 1, they are full of gratitude for what they've accomplished already, and excited about what the future holds. "People that we used to look up to back in the day—like the Rolling Stones, Boston, and even bands like Alabama—they're older than us," Rainwater says. "We look up to those people as like the senior class. But now we are sort of the senior class that people seem to look up to and ask questions about and ask for our expertise." Adds Sams: "It's amazing that we're still standing and putting on great shows after all these years. The fans are still coming out to our shows night after night, to see us and hear our music. That's almost 30 years of touring, and I can't tell you how grateful I am—and I've never once taken it for granted."