Montgomery Gentry ‘Carrying On’ With Macho Country

Reigning CMA Vocal Duo Tours With the Brooks & Dunn 'Circus'

A lot has been made of Montgomery Gentry ’s whiskey-bent and hell-bound image; the country duo’s Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry sometimes find it hard to live up to the hype.

“People expect more than what it is,” Gentry admits. “Eddie and I are just two average guys that like to go out and have a beer and have a good time. It’s something we don’t want to exploit, but it’s not something we’re going to hide either.

“We’re not these two guys out just partying nonstop, 24-7,” Gentry continues. “There are times that we hit a lull. We’ve been out on the road for three of four weeks straight and we get done with the show and we’re ready to go to bed or just chill and relax. Then we get a bunch of radio buddies and people from other bands that come over to our bus. They’re ready to rock and sometimes we got to just stand up and turn on and be that guy.”

Montgomery cuts in on him, “We work hard and we play hard.”

“We take our music and our business very seriously,” Gentry adds.

Indeed. More work than play on this particular day, the duo have made good on six hours of interviews by the time they sit down with for a late afternoon Q&A. Montgomery Gentry are spokesmen for Jim Beam, the liquor company that distills bourbon in their native Kentucky, but sitting at Sony’s offices on Music Row, they nurse a second round of Bud Light as they talk about award nominations, their current tour and their second album, Carrying On, released Tuesday (May 1).

The newcomers have a coveted slot on the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show, which also features Toby Keith and Keith Urban . Touted as one of the year’s hottest country tours, the concert trek kicked off Saturday (April 28) in Birmingham, Ala., and is scheduled to play some 60 dates before wrapping up in August.

Montgomery Gentry opened about a dozen dates for Brooks & Dunn shortly after releasing their debut album, Tattoos & Scars, two years ago. Last October, Montgomery Gentry were named the Country Music Association’s vocal duo of the year, ending Brooks & Dunn’s unprecedented eight-year victory streak.

Montgomery Gentry list Southern-rockers Charlie Daniels , Hank Williams Jr. , The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd as primary influences, but they also cite Brooks & Dunn’s rough-and-tumble energy as an inspiration.

“They’re unbelievably great songwriters and entertainers,” Montgomery acknowledges. “We’ve definitely learned some stuff from them. They’re a class act. We have a great relationship with them. They’ve welcomed us with open arms.”

Tattoos & Scars has been certified gold for sales of 500,000 copies. The album spawned “Lonely and Gone,” which reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, “Hillbilly Shoes” and “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm,” which reached the Top 20, and “Self Made Man” and “All Night Long,” which cracked the Top 40.

Montgomery Gentry won plaudits for the album last year, including ’favorite new artist – country’ at the American Music Awards and top new vocal duo or group at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Again competing against Brooks & Dunn, they contend for top vocal duo at the 36th Annual ACM Awards and will present an award during the broadcast Wednesday (May 9) on CBS.

Additionally, Montgomery Gentry are up for group/duo of the year at the TNN & CMT Country Weekly Music Awards, which will air live June 13 on TNN and CMT. For that program, the duo received a nomination for the Discovery Award, which recognizes new talent with the greatest promise for achieving career longevity.

The ACM awards are voted on by select professionals in the music industry, while the TNN & CMT Country Weekly Music Awards are chosen by fans who vote via telephone, online and magazine ballots. The duo believe both groups of voters are equally important.

“Being accepted by both fans and our peers lets us know we’re headed in the right direction and doing something right,” Gentry feels. “Sometimes it leans one way or the other. You’re accepted by the industry and maybe not accepted as well by the fans and listeners, or vice versa. When you grab a hold of both groups, it keeps you on the straight and narrow.”

Playing together off and on since their teens, Montgomery, 37, and Gentry, 34, honed their country-rock sound on the Lexington, Ky., club circuit. Before forming Montgomery Gentry, the friends joined forces in a band called Young Country with Eddie’s brother, John Michael Montgomery , who later found success as a solo act in the early ’90s.

After playing small bars for years, the pair feel they still connect with listeners in larger venues, such as the amphitheaters and arenas they perform in on the Brooks & Dunn tour.

“There’s a different vibe,” Gentry says. “You’re able to pull the crowd more into the show in the smaller venues. We’re kind of partial to honky-tonks because Eddie and I grew up in them. But the sensation of playing the big sheds and arenas where there is a sea of people is incredible. Hearing people sing our songs back to us, even songs that haven’t been singles, is really cool. It makes us feel really good about our work.”

Like its predecessor, Carrying On is decidedly testosterone-fueled country-rock. Typified by the cover of the 1974 Waylon Jennings hit, “Ramblin’ Man,” the songs offer a macho perspective rarely heard from Nashville songwriters these days.

“She Couldn’t Change Me,” the leadoff track and first single, tells the story of a man lamenting a relationship gone sour when the woman brings home a bottle of pink Chablis and pours out his home brew. In a typical Montgomery Gentry stance, the man stands his ground and the female character eventually comes around to his point of view. “She changed her mind when she couldn’t change me,” the lyric goes.

The man in “Cold One Comin’ On” drowns his sorrows in a cold beer. In a vein similar to “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm,” “My Father’s Son” relates the plight of a family farmer who stands up against urban sprawl.

Like their breakthrough hit “Hillbilly Shoes,” “While the World Goes Down the Drain” is a rowdy declaration of backwoods pride. “Drop me off on a mountainside where the beer and the deer reside,” they sing in the chorus, “I’ll spend my nights sitting around the fire making this guitar ring/I’ll be doing fine underneath the pines while the world goes down the drain.”

Outside the Jennings cover and one original, “Lucky to Be Here,” which Montgomery and Gentry co-wrote with Kenny Beard, the songs on Carrying On come from Nashville tunesmiths such as Gary Nicholson, Chris Knight, Clay Davidson and Mike Geiger. According to the duo, the Music Row songwriters, who usually keep their songs toned down to please radio, were glad to write from a masculine point of view for a change.

“A lot of them grew up with the same kind of ears that we have,” Gentry explains. “They listened to the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, Hank Jr. and that kind of stuff. They had no area to really write toward because they didn’t have an artist they could pitch [songs] to that could get radio play.

“Then we came around and got accepted by radio through ’Hillbilly Shoes’ and other songs that are a little edgy. It lit them up to where they could sit down and write some of the stuff that they’ve been wanting to write for a long time and feel they had a chance of getting it cut.”