While there are a handful of entertainers who have been credited for “carrying the torch” for country music, newcomer duo Montgomery Gentry may actually be the first to carry sticks of dynamite. Nope — Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry aren’t out to blow up the world or anything, but they are adding some atomic energy to country as we know it.
With their first single, “Hillbilly Shoes,” already blowing smoke up the radio charts, it’s no surprise that the release date of their Columbia Records debut disc, Tattoos & Scars, was moved up time and time again.
Having been heavily influenced by outlaw/southern rock legends like Merle Haggard, Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Greg Allman and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Montgomery Gentry brings that same raw-edged, ingenious talent and stripped-down honesty all back home again.
“We’re just doing the same thing that we’ve been doing for years,” explains Montgomery, “so we really haven’t changed a thing — we’ve just always been this way,” he laughs.
“I think radio is maybe ready for a little bit of a change, and I think that’s allowing them to accept us a little bit more — being a little edgy,” adds Gentry of their roadhouse-rowdy style of country music. “So I just hope people are ready for some of that again, because if we had to change what we do, we probably wouldn’t fit in around here.”
Montgomery Gentry not only “fit in around here” quickly, but the two Lexington, Kentucky, natives were exactly the kind of act for which Columbia Records was searching. It basically took one trip to see these good ’ole boys do what they do live on stage to secure them a recording contract.
Their hard-driving, split-level harmonies and often rebellious stage antics have been known to drive a crowd into a good-timin’ frenzy, and that’s exactly the way Montgomery Gentry likes it.
“We’re not really starting off the bat being different or anything,” Gentry admits. “Those guys like Waylon and Willie had their days of drinking and running and having fun. That cycle slowed down for a while, so it’s all coming back around and we’re starting to pick it back up again.”
“Oh yeah,” chimes in Montgomery, “we just like having fun.”
It’s that fun factor and gritty cutting-edge approach to music that’s garnered these two seasoned artists a loyal audience for several years. The two started playing together about 12 years ago in Lexington with a little band called John Michael Montgomery & Young Country. Gentry parted ways briefly to pursue a solo recording career, while Montgomery remained in his brother John Michael’s entourage.
“But we just kept hooking up with each other and doing benefits and stuff like that together all the time,” explains Montgomery. “We were always on the same show and using the same bands. People would actually call us separately, but then we’d end up always being there together — playing the same gigs everywhere. So about three years ago, we were thinking ’Ya know, we love the same music and we’re always on the same stage together, so why don’t we go for it together.'”
“We just always clicked when we were on stage together,” adds Gentry. “There was just something about it.”
Both separately and together, Montgomery Gentry learned that playing to a rough and rowdy honky tonk crowd meant more than crooning out pretty voices and hitting a few clever guitar licks. They realized early on that to cater to people who are having a romping good time, they had to sing and play like they were part of the party, too. Luckily, they always are.
“We had some rough honky tonks up there in Kentucky — there’s no doubt about it,” says Montgomery. “It used to be seven days a week with live music every night.”
“I wouldn’t say that it’s all about aggression or any kind of fighting side of anybody,” adds Gentry, “but everybody back there was just at home and that’s the partying kind of music they like — something that everybody could get out and drink to and dance and have a good time to.
“It was just about folks thinking ’Hell, I’ve worked my butt off all week and I deserve to have fun this weekend, so I’m gonna turn it loose,'” Montgomery further explains. “One time we just had to stop the whole show right in the middle of it to cheer the fans and thank them for being there. We had to stop and have a drink with them.”
“So to do that and make that happen, you just had to play that kind of music,” confirms Gentry.
Naturally, Montgomery Gentry’s Tattoos & Scars album unveils the same kind of rawhide country and “live” feel as does their longtime Kentucky roadhouse shows. It was either record it the same way or not at all. With cut titles like “Tattoos & Scars,” “Daddy Won’t Sell The Farm,” “Trouble Is,” “Trying To Survive” and “Lonely And Gone,” their debut album doesn’t serve up any candy-coated country songs either. The Joe Scaife-produced project leans more toward what both Montgomery and Gentry have lived and learned themselves.
“It’s all about everyday life stuff,” Gentry says. “There’s really not a positive love song on our album — not that love doesn’t happen, but these (the bad relationships) are things that happen every day too. I think that the album is our way of saying ’This is what we’ve gone through and we know you’re going through it, too.'”
“It took us over a year and a half to find the songs,” adds Montgomery. “We had to dig and dig and dig. We just wanted songs that had very strong lyrics and songs that talked about what we’ve been through and lived. Everything on that album, we’ve been through.”
“Playing only those ’I-love-yous’ didn’t get us to this point,” laughs Gentry. “We have gone through all those hard times, and we have gone through all the broken hearts. That’s what’s shaped us and molded us to who we are. It just wasn’t the ’I-love-yous.'”
“There’s nothing wrong with all the ’I-love-you’ stuff,” says Montgomery, “but c’mon, man, we know everything ain’t perfect. We wish it was, but it ain’t. You know that once you step outside that door that there’s somebody out there trying to bite you right dead on the a**,” he laughs. “So let’s give the working man a break too, and talk about him a little bit and how he’s out there working every day for something and then somebody else is trying to take it from him. Let’s just be real honest and truthful, we’re not perfect, but hell, we’re us.”
It’s that common-man honesty and soul-driven spirit that gives Tattoos & Scars the kind of guts that real country music is all about. Whether it’s the rocker romp cuts like “Daddy Don’t Sell The Farm” or heart-hurting ballads like “If A Broken Heart Could Kill,” the disc is bound to spin toward anybody who’s lived life without all the fluff and cover-up walls.
“Anybody that used to listen to the older Merle Haggard, the Seger, Skynyrd or the Waylon and Willie albums, you’d put ’em in and you wouldn’t have to skip around,” ponders Montgomery. “They were so good, you’d have one for your house and car, too. That’s the kind of album we tried to make this one.”
“We also wanted to really capture what we do on stage as much as we could on the new album,” says Gentry.
“So we just went back and did it like our old heroes done it,” adds Montgomery. “We put all the guys in one big room, dropped some ceiling mics in and here we went. So it’s live in the studio.”
Outside the studio and off the stage, one can bet both Montgomery and Gentry will be the same in other circumstances — themselves.
“You may even see us on the street somewhere and we might even have a beer in our hands,” laughs Montgomery. “Regardless, we’re going to have fun and we’re gonna be real.”
“The thing about us is what you see is what you get,” concludes Gentry. “We’re not trying to candy-coat anything.”