20 Questions With John Michael Montgomery

He Admires Lionel Richie, George Strait and George Washington

John Michael Montgomery built his career on love songs like “I Swear,” but has found a second wind with story songs like “The Little Girl” and “Letters From Home.” Here, the Kentucky native answers fan questions about singing when he’s sick, sideways horseshoes and his love for Star Trek.

1. Where did you find the song “Letters From Home”?

The song actually was brought to me by my new producer, Byron Gallimore. It was the first time we had worked together, and he had brought that song up to me. He found it himself. He asked me to listen to it and I fell in love with it.

2. Have you heard from any of the troops, and do you plan to visit any of the bases?

I have heard from some troops ,and I’m getting ready to go to Fort Hood, Texas, and welcome a bunch of troops that are coming in from across seas and Iraq. Meet and sing and do a little show for them and do an autograph session with them. Obviously, I feel very honored to be part of a special moment like that. There are going to be a lot of happy families having their sons and daughters back home.

3. Do you have anybody close to you serving in the armed forces?

I’ve got a friend right now who’s serving in Kuwait. He’s got kids the same age as my kids, and they both go to school together. He got called up a few months and he’s over there right now. It definitely puts it in perspective. I can’t imagine leaving my family like that and having to be gone for no telling how long and not being able to see your kids grow up. It’s a very tough thing to go through.

4. At what age did you decide that music would be your career choice?

Probably my senior year in high school, I decided to try to start playing nightclubs full time. Just hone my skills and see how good I could get, rather than take the college route. Probably around 18 or 19 years.

5. I was just in Kentucky and saw a banner for you at Austin City Saloon in Lexington. Is that where you got your start playing music?

That’s where I was discovered. I had been playing music around central Kentucky for many years, and that was the last place I had been playing, five nights a week, when I was discovered by Nashville.

6. How would you feel if your kids wanted to go into the music business?

I would support them 100 percent. I don’t push it on them. My family never pushed music on my brother or me, but we always had the instruments lying around. You know, we’ve got golf clubs lying around, we’ve got guitars lying around, tennis rackets and obviously lots of books to read. Academics come first and if they get older and it looks like they’re going to get into the music business, it would be hard to say, “You’re crazy.”

7. Do your kids have your dimples?

Yes, they both have them. I think my son’s are going to be a bit bigger than my daughter’s, but that was probably a genetic deal that was pretty much going to happen.

8. Have you and your brother ever considered doing a song together?

We’ve never really talked about it. I know it’s crossed both of our minds. I would imagine down the road somewhere, just to have some fun, we’ll end up doing that. We sang together our whole lives on stage, so it’ll be great to do it on a song, on a record at some point in our career. But right now, we’re both extremely busy with our own careers. We have just enough time to see each other and just be brothers, you know?

9. I noticed that you and Eddie both wear horseshoe pins on your hats, and they’re always turned sideways. Is there significance to that?

That’s just a style, the Charlie One Horse hat; we wore since the beginning of our careers. Nothing superstitious. I like their hats. I like the styles that they had. So we’ve worn them for many years. There’s not really anything special about it.

10. How do you psyche yourself up to perform when you’re not feeling your best?

It’s very hard to go out knowing you’re not going to be at your best vocally, because people expect me, with the kind of songs I sing, to really deliver. And I’m not one of these artists that cancel shows. I almost have to be on my deathbed to cancel shows. There’s times that I go on out and suck it up. These people paid the ticket price. A lot of times, if I do a show that’s not very good vocally because of that, then I will not even ask them to pay me. I’ll basically just give the money back to the place and say, “I wasn’t at my best so I don’t expect to get paid for that.” A lot of artists won’t do that either.

11. Are you a fan of Star Trek?

I’m a huge Star Trek fan and a huge sci-fi fan. I love Star Trek. I love the first generation and second generation of Star Trek. Right now, as a matter of fact, if I’m not watching it, I’m watching the Sci-Fi Channel or Stargate SG-1.

12. Do you believe in aliens?

I think that’s above and beyond. I always wonder. Surely we are not the only people in this whole universe or the only living beings in this whole universe. I think it’s way above my ability to say, “Yes, there is” or “No, there isn’t.” Would I like for there to be? I would love for us to know there’s another life form out there, and it’s just not us on Earth in this vast universe with billions of stars and galaxies.

13. Which person would you most like to meet, dead or alive?

(long pause) That’s a tough question. Probably George Washington. The first president of the United States. That’d be pretty cool. I would just ask him what was going through his mind to make the decision to be the first president of a new country. An up-and-coming country that he fought for and the freedom. And when he sits in a room by himself, what’s he thinking?

14. When you were growing up, who was your favorite singer?

Lionel Richie was probably my all-time favorite singer. I loved his voice. I loved his writing. .. I was probably in sixth grade when “Brick House” came out and “Three Times a Lady.” I didn’t really know Lionel, I just knew the Commodores. And then he broke off and went solo. One of my all-time favorite songs is “Still.” I think it’s just a killer song. Lionel Richie brought me through my teenage heartbreak years. I think any fans that have an artist do that for them is an all-time favorite. “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” What a killer tune.

15. What discs are in your CD player right now?

Steely Dan. A variety CD of some bluegrass artists, from Nickel Creek to Alison Krauss to Bill Monroe. I’ve got a copy of my new album because I’m getting ready to put some new songs in my show, and I’m trying to figure out which ones I’m going to put in there. And then I got a Lynyrd Skynyrd CD in there. Let’s see, I just took one out, I can’t remember what that was. But I kind of switch out. I love old rock and roll. I love AC/DC. Aerosmith is one of my all-time favorite bands. I’ll pull out some Bob Seger. … I know what it was. I had a Patsy Cline CD in there. I love to listen to Patsy Cline’s voice. Back then there really wasn’t much production. It was just her voice. … I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I love to hear Sinatra and Tony Bennett. I love to buy box sets, so I’m hoping I can find a box set of Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra. I’m one of these people who for a month will listen to nothing but bluegrass. And then I want to listen to nothing but ’70s rock and roll. Then I want to listen to nothing but Journey and ’80s. I go through the decades, I guess.

16. Who are some of your favorite country bands from the 1980s?

Oh, Alabama, no doubt. I love that band to death. Randy Owen, I felt like, had one of the best voices to deliver a message in a song. I thought they were so raw and yet so real. There’s no doubt about it, I really enjoyed Alabama a lot. I listened to them a lot.

17. How has your music changed from when you started until now?

Back when I was in my mid-20s and I started doing my first album, I was more melody-oriented than I was lyric-oriented. As I’ve gotten older and lived through life — 12 years have gone by since those days — I have become more lyric-oriented and less melody-oriented with my songs. … I still cut good ol’ honky-tonkin’ beer-drinkin’ songs because that’s where I come from. But songs like “The Little Girl” and “Letters From Home” I think really that’s going to be my niche for my future. Back when I was younger, it was the balladeer love songs. But I think my future niche will be these small, short stories that will touch you deeply.

18. Do you have a favorite story song from country music history?

“He Stopped Loving Her Today.” That’s a pretty strong message. I don’t know if anybody’s ever beat that in a song. That’s got to be the all-time best country heartbreak song that ever was.

19. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now in your career?

I want to continue being able to make music that’s still good enough to be played on the radio. I would like to mirror George Strait’s career. That would make me very happy and not necessarily what he’s achieved as far as awards or hits but just the longevity and the quality.

20. Looking back over your music career, are there any songs you passed over and now wish you had recorded?

No, there isn’t. When I don’t cut a song, I make pretty sure that I don’t want to cut it. So I don’t have that bounce back on me and go, “Well man, I missed that one there.” That’s one of my things. I really, really try to find songs that I know that I like, that fit me well. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a hit if I pass on it. I’ve heard some other songs that I have passed on, that were hits for other artists. And new artists especially. They deserve a chance at some of these songs, to get a career. All the top stars can’t keep all the top songs. You’ve got to give some of these new guys a break.